Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The DeHarts of Virginia: Moonshine in the Sunshine

Descended from a Dutch ancestor, many of the large DeHart family were settlers in Patrick County, Virginia, a region just east of the Blue Ridge Mountains not far from the North Carolina line. There they engaged in a wide range of businesses, the most lucrative of them making whiskey.

The DeHarts differed little from many of their neighbors. Although some residents avoided taxes by running illegal stills producing “moonshine,” by the 1880s dozens of Blue Ridge stills were operating under state license. A business census of that time listed 54 distillers in Patrick County, but strangely enough, only two saloons. With improved roads and railroads, liquor could be shipped from the region to coal camps, factory towns and larger cities.

Most of these operations were small. They largely produced limited amounts of brandy from apples or peaches after the fruit harvest. An exception was Fleming DeHart. Born in Patrick County in 1838, Fleming was the son of Thomas DeHart and Martha “Patsy” Via. He apparently had little education and signed legal documents with “x.” A early sign for his distillery above indicates some problems with spelling.

Despite limited book learning Fleming had a wealth of business “horse sense.” He amassed a substantial amount of rich valley farmland and as an adjunct to agriculture started making whiskey from rye and corn. In 1865 he had married Millie Jane DeHart, a distant cousin. The couple produced four children of whom the first, Isaac (Ike), born 1966, and Joseph, born 1870, would walk in their father’s footsteps.

Around 1879 Fleming built large home, shown above in a later newspaper photo. He called his farmstead “Hartville, Virginia.” The location was just his estate and did not appear on Virginia maps. Hartville eventually covered 620 acres and more than 100 people are said to have lived there. In a later newspaper account Fleming was described as a very generous man who welcomed people to his “town.” In time Hartville would even have its own U.S. Post Office, probably to facilitate the shipment of DeHart whiskey.

With prosperity and the coming of age of the two sons the distillery expanded even further and in 1889 was incorporated as the Fleming DeHart Distilling Company. By 1900 Millie Jane DeHart had died and Fleming was sharing his house with Ike and his wife, Mollie. Because Ike was the elder son, he eventually inherited both the farm and the house as his father aged.

The son proved to be every bit the businessman his father had been in managing and expanding the DeHart enterprises. A contemporary article described Ike as farming some of the best land in Virginia, growing fruit and field crops, raising cattle, harvesting lumber, running a grist mill and operating a country store. It added: “DeHart operates a legal still in the area, shipping his products to many parts of the country.” Mollie DeHart was the postmistress of Hartville.

Ike brought more formal education and advertising savvy to the DeHart whiskey business. He began to bottle his whiskey, the better ship it to distant locations. He also hired excellent artists to provide the labels for his liquor. The “Old Ike” brand clearly was a spin-off from his nickname. He also featured well-designed labels for his corn liquor.

A clear indication of marketing talent was the emphasis on DeHart labels touting the “purity” of the whiskey. What today is called the Pure Food and Drug Act had passed in 1906 and canny distillers picked up the word for merchandising purposes. The purity of DeHart’s "Mountain Dew Corn Whiskey" was emphasized with a waterfall image. As the market for the products of the Fleming DeHart Distillery expanded, the family became increasingly wealthy.

Their liquor business stayed strictly legal, annually obtaining Virginia Commonwealth licenses. Later they kept their whiskey in U.S. Government bonded warehouses. Federal records show taxpaying transactions for the distillery almost from the time the “bottled in bond” legislation was passed until Prohibition. Although some of their whiskey was raw enough to be akin to “moonshine,” the DeHarts opted to make it in the sunshine.

The casualty in this success story appears to be Joseph DeHart, the younger brother. Brought up in the distilling business, Joseph found himself as the second son crowded out of the grand inheritance enjoyed by Ike. In 1889, age 26, he married Daisy Via, apparently a cousin. Joseph determined an independent course, not only starting his own distillery but changing the spelling of his name to "de-Hart."

Joseph’s operation was near Woolwine, Virginia, also in Patrick County. He is seen here in an early 1900s ad extolling his liquor, which he called "Mountain Rose Corn Whiskey,"  a close approximation of his brother's flagship brand.  Moreover, his ad may be a slap at his brother, announcing that “I have not made up a dozen or more names for my whiskey and as many prices, which is now so common with the clever whiskey advertising of today....” Joseph’s plain and simple “new” corn whiskey was $2 a gallon and “old,” $2.50.

Despite boasting only two products, Joseph also prospered during the early 1900s. He built a large home near Woolwine. Joseph was keenly aware of the Prohibition pressures in Virginia and when the Commonwealth voted to go dry in 1916, he wrote an ad advising Virginians to lay in a 10 year stock of his corn liquor and “Make Hay While the Sun Shines.”

How Brother Ike dealt with the last days of alcohol in Virginia has not been recorded, but his national market base apparently kept the distillery going a year or more beyond 1916. In time the heirs of Ike DeHart, showing the same generous spirit as Fleming, donated family land to Patrick County for a park. A monument stone, shown here, marks the location. Note that it cites the “government distillery” -- a reference to the DeHarts’ strictly legal operation.

The county park on the site has a range of recreational options but also contains the DeHart family cemetery.  Fleming, who died in 1923 shortly after his 85th birthday, has a large grave marker that identifies him as “Father.” Ike with his second wife are buried nearby.   Joseph de-Hart, perhaps indicating estrangement from the family, is buried elsewhere.


Saturday, November 26, 2011

D. Canale Pushed His Cart into a Memphis Dynasty

In 1859, an immigrant Italian boy of 16 stepped off the steamship John Simon onto the dock at Memphis, Tennessee. It would be his home town for the rest of his life and by the time of his death he had created a liquor and mercantile family dynasty that survived until 2010. His name was Domenico Canale, shown above.

Canale, also known as Dominic, Dominick or D., was born in San Pietro de Rovereto, a community in the city of Zoagi, near Genoa, on the Italian Riviera. He was the son of Giovanni Canale and Antoinette Vaccaro Canale. A year after Domenico’s birth, three of his mother’s brothers, led by A. Vaccaro, migrated to Memphis, establishing a liquor and wine distributorship and import business that initially was very successful.

When Canale left the river boat he walked into the welcoming arms of his uncles who gave him a home and employment in their enterprises. After working for the Vacarros for several years and saving his money, he struck out for himself. He began selling fruits and vegetables from his own push cart while continuing an interest in the liquor trade. The Canale company claims its origin in 1866.

During this same period Domenico married Catherine Solari, a woman seven years his junior who had been born in the same district in Italy as he had. She was the sister of a noted Italian-American painter, Mary Solari. They would have eight children, five sons and three daughters.

Within seven years Canale had graduated from his produce wagon to selling from a warehouse at Eight Madison St., near Front Street.  Called D. Canale & Co., his company sold wholesale vegetables and fruit and also a quality bourbon whiskey that he named “Old Dominick.” Canale also distributed a number of beers including Pabst Blue Ribbon and Champagne Velvet. At the time it was a natural extension for a produce house to distribute beer since beer at that time was not pasteurized and produce houses could provide refrigeration.

The D. Canale organization first shows up in Memphis business directories as a liquor house in 1885. The Old Dominick brand of whiskey rapidly gained a local and regional customer base, advertised lavishly by Canale in large signs in downtown Memphis, as shown above, and, remembering his own roots, in a modest line over Joe Spinoza’s produce wagon. Canale sold his whiskey in stoneware jugs, with his name prominently displayed, as well as in glass bottles. He also became known for his giveaways to saloons and other favored customers, including paperweights and shot glasses. Eventually he opened a branch office down the Mississippi at Helena, Arkansas.

As Canale prospered the Vaccaros were on a different trajectory. A. Vaccaro had grown in influence in Memphis serving it as Police and Fire Commissioner. In 1869 he had helped found the Union and Planters Bank in Memphis. In 1883 the company was reported flush with revenues of $300,000 annually. By the late 1890s, however, the liquor organization was foundering and with A. Vaccaro’s death in 1899, reported to be $124,000 in debt. Forced into bankruptcy, the surviving brothers let the firm go out of business.

Meanwhile, Canale’s continued success was drawing attention in Memphis business circles. In 1905 a book entitled “Notable Men of Tennessee” featured him with the photo shown above.  His brief biography stated that “today [he] stands at the head of the fruit business of Memphis and, perhaps, of the South. It added that: “Mr. Canale is what is rightly termed a self-made man, and has won his position in the social and commercial life of Memphis by his industry, his native ability, and the exercise of correct business principles.”

The same biography reported that Domenico belonged to the Memphis Business Men’s Club, the Merchant Exchange, the Industrial League and was a member of the Catholic Church. It noted the pride that the Canale’s took in their children and the “high respect and parental love constantly manifested by them.” Those sentiments presumably led Domenico as they matured to take four of his sons -- John, James, Anthony and Andrew -- into the business, which he incorporated in 1910.

Increasingly through the early 1900s, counties in Tennessee were going “dry” under local option and having negative effects on D. Canale & Co.  Domenico, however, died in 1919 before the advent of National Prohibition. He is interred in Calvary Cemetery, a Catholic burying ground in Memphis.

Because whiskey and beer were only part of D. Canale’s business, the firm weathered the Temperance “storm” by concentrating on fruit and vegetable sales. With Repeal the Canale family continued “Old Dominick” for a time, updating the label as shown here, but eventually dropped their liquor business to concentrate on beer and produce. Over time D. Canale & Co., led by a 90-year dynasty of family members, branched into food services. The Canales sold their beverage business in 2010 but continue to own other enterprises in Memphis.

The family still honors the founder’s legacy by overseeing the Canale Charitable Foundation, the largest privately funded foundation in Memphis.  Fittingly, this organization dedicates its funding to preserving and improving the home town a 16-year-old immigrant Italian boy named Domenico adopted in 1859.

Note: Recently a descendant put material about D. Canale on Wikipedia and included some images I sent to him. The item contains details on the Canale firm after Domenico’s death that are not found here. It can be accessed at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Domenico_Canale.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Theodore Gier Turned Whiskey into Wine

Theodore Gier came from Germany experienced in making and selling wine, found American drinkers first and foremost wanted whiskey, provided it, and used the proceeds to become one of California’s great Wine Barons. In the process he left a legend of flamboyance and erratic behavior that reportedly landed him in jail more than once.

The story begins in 1860 when Gier was born in Piene, Hanover, Germany.  Educated in German schools and with some knowledge of wine making, he joined the tide of Europeans migrating to the United States about 1880. After stopping briefly in Chicago, apparently drawn by the prospect of a more promising future, he left for California in 1881 where he bought a small ranch.

Shown above in maturity, Gier soon sold his ranch and in 1883 began a grocery store in Oakland. The venture apparently was a success with his sales of liquor particularly leading to profits. In 1886 he married Ferdinanda Hornung, a native of Marysville, California, also of German descent. They would have three children, daughters Grace, Elsa and Amalie. With his increasing wealth in 1892 Gier began a liquor and wine dealership he called the Theo. Gier Company. A billhead shows his addresses on Fourteenth Street and a branch on Washington Street where he also ran a saloon.

While Gier seems from the beginning to have favored wine and winemaking, he realized that his customer base was more accustomed to drinking hard liquor. As a result, much of his merchandising was aimed at selling his flagship brand, "Metropole Whiskey." The Metropole sign shown left also depicts one of most collector coveted shot glasses, one etched with a red insignia. Gier also featured less ornate shot glasses for Metropole. His whiskey could be purchased in quart or flask sized amber bottles and was advertised by trade cards featuring children.

Gier began to buy vineyards in Alameda County. In 1893 he purchased a vineyard in Livermore, in 1898 another at Napa and in 1901 the second vineyard at Livermore. He also owned a vineyard at St. Helena, purchased in 1903. His extensive wine making interests were conducted under the name of the Theodore Gier Wine Company that was incorporated for one million dollars. He operated vineyards said to have been more than one thousand acres and had wine cellars at his vineyards capable of storing more than a million gallons. Ever flamboyant, he called his lands “Giersburg,” as shown above on a postcard and issued elaborate lithographed signs advertising his wines.

While Gier was winning medals for his vintages and becoming a "wine baron," he also was being recognized as a California business leader. He was one of the founders and director of the Security Bank & Trust Company of Oakland, aided in the establishment of the Merchants' Exchange, which he served as president and director, and was one of the founders and directors of the Oakland Chamber of Commerce. He was a major promoter of the Oakland Exposition of 1897, issuing a trade card on its behalf that also touted a Gier medicinal tonic. He also was a prime mover for construction of a tunnel between Alameda and Contra Costa counties.

Gier’s fortunes, however, were about to change. He had always maintained strong German ties. During the Box Rebellion in China he made contributions to the international force fighting the Chinese. For that effort, in 1903 Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany honored him with the Order of the Crown. With the outbreak of World War I, however, the Kaiser was America’s enemy. In 1818 Gier and some cronies were jailed for a short time for singing German patriotic songs in public. A press account indicates this prominent Oakland businessman subsequently was forced by vigilantes to kneel and kiss the American flag.

The end of the war was followed rapidly by National Prohibition when sales of whiskey and wine were forbidden. Even so, some California vintners continued operations, although they took extraordinary efforts to conceal their illegal activities. Among the scofflaws was Theodore Gier. He moved wine from one cellar to another without proper permits and eventually was caught selling wine to an undercover agent. Following a trial in which he was found guilty, Gier, now in his 60s, served jail time. In additions to fines, he lost 20,323 gallons of wine from his Napa area winery, unceremoniously dumped by authorities into a sewer.

When the Feds confiscated his vineyards they were said to be worth $2 million, 10 times that in today’s dollar. By 1929 Gier had lost most of his wealth and was pressed financially. He sold his land holdings to the Christian Brothers, a religious order, for a measly $50,000. Of that only $10,000 was in cash, the rest was part of a real estate swap. A report which I have been unable to substantiate says that not long after the sale Gier committed suicide. Thus ended the spectacular career of an entrepreneur who was able to turn whiskey -- and its profits -- into lots and lots of wine.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Frank Tullidge Was Shaped by War, Prospered in Peace

The life of Frank G. Tullidge was unalterably changed by his service in the Union Army during the Civil War during which he was engaged in many major battles. He returned from combat to found a liquor business in Cincinnati that brought him community prestige and prosperity.  And he did it with a certain flair and sense of humor.

Tullidge’s story begins about 1844 when he was born in the village, now city, of Richmond, Indiana. His parents, Alfred and Belinda, had immigrated as a young couple from England and settled in that Midwest frontier community. There his father opened a grocery store and established a reputation as a lively and flamboyant character. Frank was educated in Richmond, worked with his father in the store, and might have lived out his life as a grocer except for the outbreak of the Civil War.

Now in his early 20s, Frank was eager to join the “Boys in Blue” but initially Mother Belinda was strongly opposed. Overcoming her opposition in 1861 he enlisted for three years in the 8th Regiment, of the Indiana Volunteer Infantry.  Tullidge was made a lieutenant and second in command of his company. In that role he saw action at major battles, including Chickamaugua, Missionary Ridge, Kennesaw Mountain and the siege of Atlanta. Eventually he was promoted to captain and released from command to join the staff of General George Henry Thomas as an inspector.

When the war ended, Tullidge was one of the first to join a veterans organization of officers called the Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the U.S., or MOLLUS. They were dedicated to maintaining the Federal union. About the same time he moved south from Richmond, Indiana, about 40 miles to the much larger city of Cincinnati. He may have been drawn there by another former soldier, William H. Richardson. Together about 1868 they founded a liquor business under the name Richardson & Tullidge.

The company used the whiskey brand names: "Big Lick Pure Old Rye - 1868", "Buck Horn 1868", "Bugher Fire Heat Rye 1864", "Fire Heat S. M.", "Gold Wedding 1864", "Gold Wedding 1868 Bourbon", "Golden Feast Rye", and "R & T Private Stock." Their advertising was vigorous and emphasized the company as “Fire Copper Distillers and Purifiers by Heat.” Their special methods, they emphasized in an 1872 ad, were “for the special purpose of distilling pure and wholesome liquors for druggist sales and physicians’ prescriptions.” 

The partnership, although it encompassed three moves in Cincinnati, lasted only eight years. In 1876 Richardson departed and Tullidge renamed the firm Frank G. Tullidge & Co. A trade card emphasized the change. He moved once again, this time to 35-39 Race Street, his address for the next eight years. Over time Tullidge’s company would move with some frequency -- to Vine St. for four years, West Fourth for eight, East Fifth for eight, East Third for two, and Main for one.

Reducing the number of whiskey brands in his stock, Tullidge put a major emphasis on “Pop Corn Whisky” (his spelling), claiming sales of 27,547 gallons in 1879. He featured it on postcards and at least one unusual trade card, shown above.  It shows a man looking into a huge gaping mouth while the caption reads: “Don’t look down in the mouth simply because business isn’t as good as it might be.” The message is aimed at saloon owners suggesting that Pop Corn Whisky might be the answer to their financial woes. The whiskey could be purchased by the barrel, half barrel, or 10 gallons as a sample size.

Tullidge also provided fancy giveaway items to his saloon customers, including a large framed picture of a lightly clad aristocratic damsel being attended by a half-nude slave girl. It was styled to hang in a bar and bore his name at the bottom. He handed out a fancy match safe with his logo emblazoned on it. He also advertised widely his import business of brandies, cordials and imported liquors such as Nordhauser Whisky, a type of German schnapps made of corn.

Throughout his career, Tullidge continued to be involved in Civil War veterans affairs. When Civil War General Andrew Hickenlooper died in Cincinnati in 1904, the press recorded that Frank was among the generals, colonels and other high-ranking officers who acted as pallbearers. As a mere captain, Tullidge must have earn his place escorting the hero’s casket because of his prominence among local veterans.

Other details of Frank Tullidge’s personal life remain scanty. We know he grew prosperous, occupying a large home in Clifton, a suburb of both Cincinnati and Dayton. He had one son, Frank, whom he could afford to send to Yale University. But few other family details are available. His liquor company disappeared from city directories in 1911, five years before Ohio voted “dry.” We can speculate that the firm ended with Tullidge’s death or some disability. But that is only speculation.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

J.H. Kearns: His Sunny Side Saloon Had a Bloody Past

Seldom does a building dominate the story of a whiskey man and his organization. In the case of J. H. Kearns of Lebanon, Marion County, Kentucky, however, the site of his Sunny Side Saloon has been made memorable by a bloody Civil War battle.

Shown top right in more recent times, the building originally was the commissary for the Union garrison stationed in Lebanon. It stood directly across from the railroad depot. Both structures were direct targets of a major Civil War attack in 1863 by Confederate General John Hunt Morgan’s Raiders.

During an intense and bloody day long conflict, Morgan’s youngest brother, Lt. Thomas Morgan, was mortally wounded. As he lay dying he was carried to “Sunnyside” the nearby home of a Presbyterian minister, shown right. Thomas initially was buried in Lebanon, but reburied later in the Morgan family plot in Lexington.

Angered by the death of his brother and the unwillingness of the garrison commander to surrender easily, General Morgan burned a number of buildings in Lebanon, including a frame house attached to the brick commissary. Amazingly the latter building escaped significant damage although Morgan’s Raiders emptied it of food and supplies.

Kearns was just over three years old at the time of Morgan’s Raid and obviously had no memory of it.  He was born “John Kerons,” son of Patrick and Mary Kerons, Irish immigrants, who lived and farmed in Loretto Precinct, not far from Lebanon.  His father appears from census records to have been fairly affluent and may have been able to give his son a start in merchant life.  With his wife, Katherine Smith Kearns, whom he married in 1878 or 1879, he fathered nine children of whom eight lived to maturity.  All had successful careers, including a Jesuit priest who became a college president.  None other than John H. entered the whiskey trade.

After the Civil War, the commissary structure was briefly a grocery store before being bought by Kearns in the late 1880s and named the “Sunny Side Saloon,”  doubtless a reference to the old mansion nearby.  By adopting so cheerful a name he apparently was heedless of the bloody history of the site.  The saloon soon became a favorite watering hole for the citizens of Lebanon.

Kearn’s saloon also sold whiskey to be taken off premises and he commissioned a wide series of ceramic jugs for that purpose. The few provided here demonstrate the breadth of formats he used. Kearns must have issued hundreds of jugs as they frequently come up for sale on auction websites.

Possibly seeking a more ready supply of whiskey for his saloon, in 1905 Kearns joined George R. Burks, the scion of a longtime Marion County distillery family in a whiskey-making operation in nearby Loretto, Kentucky.  Burks had revived a distillery that his great-grandfather had founded and in 1905 sold partnerships to Kearns and another local.  Shown here in an illustration, the partners called it the Burks’ Spring Distillery Company.  Under this new management, the partners allowed various liquor dealers claim proprietorship of the distillery and bottle its product. Among them was Thomas Smith & Sons of Boston.

In 1907 Kearn’s saloon business came to a screeching halt when Lebanon, under Kentucky’s local option laws, voted the town dry, and Kearns, like others local saloonkeepers, was forced to shut down his operations.  The action did not, however, affect the Burks Spring Distillery that continued to operate.  Perhaps in disgust, Kearns and his family moved to Louisville.  The 1900 U.S. Census found him there with wife, Kate, and seven of his children, ranging in age from 27 to 13 years old.  His occupation was given as “distiller - whiskey.”  Later that same year Kearns died at the relatively young age of 52 and was buried in St. Louis Cemetery, Louisville.

With the coming of Prohibition in 1919, the Burks’ Spring Distillery was sold to a Lebanon local who farmed the land and raised cattle. The distillery buildings were allowed to deteriorate but were not razed. When Bill Samuels Sr. founded Maker’s Mark Distillery in Loretto in 1953 he incorporated parts of the old Burks’ Distillery into his operation and subsequently restored some of the original structures. In addition, Kearns was forced to shut down his saloon.

The commissary building that J. H. Kearns turned into a saloon subsequently was put to other uses and still stands in Lebanon, with Kearn’s name emblazoned on the side. Nearby a memorial sign has been posted near the place where the young officer, Lt. Thomas Morgan, and others, both Yanks and Rebels, fell.  It is a continuing reminder of the bloody past that the ground of the Sunny Side Saloon enshrines.

Note: After this post appeared in 2011, I received an email that began thus:  Hello Jack Sullivan, this is Wendell Grayson in Springfield, KY and I grew up in Lebanon and have now grown to 71 years old. I've been a history buff my entire life and  the Sunnyside Saloon building has always been special to me. Mr. Grayson was kind enough to provide additional information about Kearns and his saloon as well as point up one or two serious errors in the original text.  I am grateful to him for his continuing help and have incorporated his information into this article.