Monday, July 23, 2012

John Lutgen of San Francisco: Unshaken by Quaking

   John Lutgen and his whiskey company had gone from success to success in  San Francisco,  moving each time to larger quarters and in 1906 occupied a spacious building at 29-31 Battery Street. A local writer had opined : "Their trade has been prosperous from the start, and has since extended not only throughout the State, but also throughout the coast, their establishment being one of the representative liquor houses of the Golden Gate City."  At 5:12 a.m. on the morning of Wednesday, April 18, 1906,  one of the greatest natural disasters in American history struck San Francisco and all that changed radically.

Before describing its effects on Lutgen, it is important understand where he came from and who he was.  John was born in 1847 near Bremen Germany, the eldest son of Henry and Oddeli Bottger Lutgen. When he was 11 years old his father died and as the oldest, he was left to carry on the family.  As soon as he reached 19 he left Germany, braved an often treacherous ocean crossing and went to work in New York City. After two years in the Big Apple,  probably  clerking in a store, he set out for California, arriving via the Panama Canal.  He quickly got a job with San Francisco grocery where he labored for six years, learning the retail trade.

By 1871 Lutgen had saved enough money to think about settling down and taking a wife.   He was married that year in San Francisco to Miss Sofia Borman, like himself a native of Germany.  They would have four children,  two girls and two boys.  Tragically both sons, named Henry and John, died during childhood.

In 1877,  Lutgen teamed up with another German immigrant from Hanover, two years his senior, named Henry Wichman.   Described by contemporaries as “of medium size, fair and rather heavy set and reserved and quiet,”   Wichman appears to have been an excellent foil for the more flamboyant and outgoing Lutgen.  They called their firm the Wichman, Lutgen & Company, the name it bore until its demise.

With only modest amounts to invest, their first location was a store front at 809 Montgomery Street, described as an “out the way” district of San Francisco.  They remained at that address for two years then relocated to 321 Clay Street.  Those quarters soon became too small and in 1879 the partners moved across the street to 318-320 Clay, between Front and Bradley, as  noted here on a 1891 trade card.  The card identifies the firm as importers of wines and liquors and manufacturers of Dr. Forester’s Alpine Stomach Bitters.

The Wichman, Lutgen Company featured Gilt Edge Whiskey as its flagship label and merchandised it as Kentucky bourbon,  My surmise is that the partners were rectifiers, that is, blenders of whiskey and that Gilt Edge was a blend.  In 1899 they trademarked the name, one that earlier had been used by an Illinois outfit.  They bottled Gilt Edge in clear glass flasks and in amber bottles, both painted and embossed.   Lutgen showed a flair for merchandising,  featuring fetching women on advertising signs for his whiskey and at least once, shown here, giving advertising space to a local shoe store.  Fancy monogramed shot glasses were another giveaway item to customers.

In 1904, the firm incorporated with a value of $250,00, several million dollars by today’s reckoning.  Each partner received 3,998 shares, valued at $25 each.  About the same time, once again needing more space, the company moved to the Battery Street address.  The number of brands emanating from the firm continued to expand.  Among them were "Autocrat,” "Foerster's Whiskey Co.,” "Forest Lawn,” "Forester's Malt Whiskey,” "Forrest Lawn Whiskey,” "H & H,” "Identical,” "Marin County Club Bourbon,” "Marin County Club Special,” "Old Identical,” "Pomona,”"Romona,” "Silver Edge,”"Silver Plover,” and "Silver Plover Gin.”

Increasingly John Lutgen was being recognized as a major figure in the community.   He lived in the nearby suburb of Alameda where he owned, as one observer said “a beautiful residence on Santa Clara avenue, a neat cottage of modern architecture surrounded by a beautiful lawn set to shrubbery and flowers.”  He was a member of the Board of Library Trustees in Alameda and active in several German benevolent societies and Masonic orders.  Although Lutgen and wife Sophia must have mourned the loss of their sons,  their daughters grew to maturity and married well.  One son-in-law,  Frederick Staude, was taken into the firm and listed as its Secretary/Treasurer.  Life was being good to the Lutgens.

Then came that fateful morning in 1906.  Within 30 hours of the earthquake’s first jolt, a firestorm consumed much of San Francisco as an inferno swept through the city for three days. In all, more than 3,000 people died. Twenty-eight thousand buildings were destroyed over 500 blocks of San Francisco.  Property damage has been estimated at $235–500 million in 1906 dollars — equivalent to the entire 1906 Federal budget.  Today the amount would be between $4.8 and $10 billion.  Among buildings destroyed was the Battery Street structure housing the Wichman, Lutgen Company.  Going up in flames as well were thousands of barrels and cases of whiskey, the firm’s records and all its equipment.

if Lutgen was tempted to quit, he gave no indication.  Almost immediately he made plans to relocate the company into temporary quarters at 431-439 Clay Street  to carry on the whiskey trade.  Meanwhile he planned, designed, and supervised the construction of a new building at 134 Sacramento Street.   The company moved there in 1911, its final home. Meanwhile its whiskey trade recovered gradually in the wake of the quake and fire. Wichman retired from the firm and Staude moved up the management ladder.  In a January 1913 trade magazine,  Lutgen reported that 1912 had been a very good business year compared to 1911.  Despite the “drying up” of certain territories, through an aggressive policy the firm had sold more goods than the prior year.  He said he looked forward to considerably better business in 1913.

Despite his optimism, Lutgen did not survive the year.  In November 1913, at the age of 66,  in apparent good health,  he was stricken following a luncheon and died a few hours later.  At his graveside stood his widow, his two daughters and their families, grieving over his coffin.  Among mourners was his son-in-law,  Frederick Staude, whom Lutgen had groomed as his successor.  Staude would guide the firm for the next six years until it was shut down by Prohibition.

John Lutgen’s obituary, noting that his demise had been “a grievous surprise to everyone,” hailed his heroic post -catastrophe efforts both to construct a new headquarters and greatly to extend and expand the reputation of his firm.  It was reputed to have become one of the leading mercantile houses of the Pacific Coast.  The writer added:  “In the passing away of Mr. Lutgen San Francisco loses one of her old-time merchants, a man who was respected by all for his integrity and loved for his just character.”


Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Jacob Bergerman Sold Whiskey in the Heart of Mormon Land

 To quote one observer:  “It is a sight you would never encounter today: liquor bottles proudly displayed to the public in a big shop window, only a couple of blocks from Temple Square, right out there on a bustling thoroughfare for the whole world -- Mormon and gentile alike -- to admire.”  He was talking about the picture shown above of the Salt Lake City store where Jacob (“Jake”)  Bergerman sold whiskey at the home base of the tee-totaling Mormons.  He called his firm the Utah Liquor Company.

Jake was a native New Yorker, born in 1856. He was the son of Marcus Bergerman who uprooted this family in the spring of 1868, when Jake was only 13, and moved to Colorado, settling in Pueblo.   Jacob finished his education and at age 19 in 1874 began an apprenticeship in the printer’s trade, which he practiced for three years. Apparently growing restless,  he left that job to roam the southwestern parts of Colorado,  clerking in the town of Ouray for 16 months.  Early in 1879, he had amassed enough money to begin his own general store in the mining boom town of Kokomo.  After only a short time there,  he took his merchandise to another boom town called Carbonateville.  There he entered a partnership with Frank Ralph, its postmaster.

Together with Ralph,  Bergerman moved again in 1880 to Robinson, Colorado, and ran a general store there until the late 1890s.  Sometime during this period,  Jake was joined in marriage to Esther.  They would have two children,  Sadie and Rose.   It should be noted  that the once boom towns of Kokomo, Carbonateville and Robinson today are all Colorado “ghost towns.”  Bergerman may have sensed that downward trajectory in Robinson and about 1898 moved to Salt Lake City where he opened a liquor store, initially located at 167 South Main Street. Although the company letterhead claims a founding date of 1874,  while Jacob was still an apprentice printer in Colorado, the Utah Liquor Company first shows up in Salt Lake City directories in 1898.

From the outset,  Bergerman does not appear shy about selling whiskey in the heartland of the Mormons.   Early on, for example, he issued a metal token good for 12&1/2 cents in trade at the Utah Liquor Co. that had an image of the Mormon Tabernacle on the reverse.  Bergerman also showed considerable imagination in the containers he chose for his liquor.  Among them are patterned molded gray canteens with cobalt decoration that depict on one side a scene of men drinking and on the other has the address of his firm.  Known in 1/4 and 1/2 gallon size, they were made by the White’s Pottery in far off Utica, New York.  During this early period he also commissioned a shoulder jug stenciled with stylized fleur-de-lis.  This jug was issued in 1/2 and one gallon sizes.

Bergerman seems quickly to have achieved recognition in the Utah business community as a canny operator.  During the early 1900s, he became the proprietor and manager of Calders Park, a well-known Salt Lake City recreational site and resort.  He ran a saloon on the premises where both boisterous parties and more respectable sorts, as the pair shown in this John Held New Yorker cartoon,  could have their leisure.   In 1904, he was awarded a lease to manage what the press called “an ideal pleasure resort” named “The Lagoon.” Hired by a regional railway company,  Bergerman was put on notice that his contract was dependent upon enforcing order among patrons and insuring that “all concessions in the shape of restaurants, bars, etc. must be conduct (sic) in first class manner.”

At some point in this period, probably 1903, Bergerman moved the Utah Liquor Company to larger quarters at 223 South Main,  the storefront seen in the photo.  At that location he also continued to bottle his liquor in interesting ceramic jugs,  even one with an error in the address of the Utah Liquor Company.  Of particular interest is a wide mouth crock that advertises Jake’s firm as “The Family Store.”  It bears the pottery mark of the Minnesota Pottery Co. of Red Wing.  In glass there were at last three clear highly embossed megaphone shaped cylinders denoting the Utah Liquor Company. Bergerman continued to advertise vigorously at the new location and took the “Lewis 66” brand of rye as his flagship label.  This was a whiskey from the Strauss-Pritz Company of Cincinnati, an outfit that was noted for its giveaways to dealers.   Bergerman is known to have featured three varieties of  carnival glass plates.

In addition to his business activities,  Jake was a member of a number of fraternal organizations in Salt Lake City.  They included the Elks,  and two orders of Freemasonry, the Free and Accepted Masons and the Royal Arch Masons.  He also was a member of Congregation B’nai Israel, which had been founded as a Reformed Congregation in 1891, according to a Jewish Heritage website.

Prohibition came slowly to Utah.  Prominent Mormons, despite the Church’s mandate against alcohol, feared that pushing the cause would erode their political base and revive the bitter clash between Mormons and non-Mormons in the state.  Continued attempts during the first two decades of the 20th Century to pass statewide “dry” legislation failed until 1917.  Ironically, it then was a colleague of Bergerman who pushed through the ban on liquor.  He was Governor Simon Bamberger, a non-Mormon, German-born Jew, and the man who in 1904 had awarded Jake the management  lease on the Lagoon resort.  About 1916, as his political career was being launched, Bamberger voluntarily stopped the sale of liquor at the Lagoon and offered to pay $1,000 to anyone who could prove he or she was a better prohibitionist.

On the first of August, 1917, the Governor signed a law making it a crime in Utah to manufacture, sell or consume alcohol.  The local press estimated that the law would affect four thousand persons in Salt Lake City alone who were dependent on the liquor business.  Among them obviously was Jake Bergerman.  As the deadline approached,  liquor stores such as his sold their stocks at bargain prices. The Salt Lake Tribune estimated that hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of liquor had been so acquired and stored in the cellars of Salt Lake residents.

Now 61 years of age,  Bergerman was faced with the need for a new occupation.  Apparently having accumulated some wealth he ventured into real estate.  Records indicate that in 1923 he purchased the Bernice Apartments, located at the corner of 800 East and 100 South.  This was a major residential building that had been constructed in 1912 by a well-known local architect and builder named W.C.A. Vissing.  It remained in the Bergerman family through at least 1934 and currently is on the National Register of Historical Places.

In ensuing years Bergerman’s health declined and on September 14, 1928, he died at his home at 480 East Broadway in Salt Lake City. The cause of death listed by the county coroner was stomach cancer but he also apparently had been troubled by heart problems.  Jake was buried under the Bergerman marker at the B’nai Israel Cemetery, located within Salt Lake City.  Near him today lie the graves of his wife, Esther, and daughter Sadie, who never married.  Much of his legacy resides in his innovative merchandising of his whiskey which has provided modern collectors with a treasure of desirable artifacts.

Note:  Although the information for this article was drawn from a number of sources, a key one was a 2003 article by Stan Sanders for Bottles and Extras, the journal of the Federation of Historical Bottle Collectors (FOHBC).  It provides details on Utah Liquor Co. collectibles.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

From the Rhine to the Ohio: the Odyssey of Philip Hollenbach

From the knowledge Philip Hollenbach demonstrated about German wines, we can assume that, born in Germany in 1851, he grew up not far from the vineyards of the Rhine River.  At the age of 18 in 1869 he emigrated to the United States on a journey that would take him to the banks of the Ohio River at Louisville, Kentucky,  where he forged a highly successful career in the liquor trade.

When Hollenbach first arrived on American shores,  he likely had a background in wine making.   His initial stop was in Alabama where for a year he was involved in tending vineyards for a local winery.  After a year he sought new horizons and moved to Louisville.  Hollenbach claimed 1871 as the year of his initiation into the beverage trade, leading me to believe he worked for a Louisville wine and spirits shop, perhaps securing employment by his knowledge of wines.

Within three years Philip had accumulated enough wealth to start a family.  That year in Louisville he married Karolina Jenne, like himself a German immigrant.  They would have three children, Carrie, Louis and Philip.  In 1878, he teamed up with his brother, Louis, to begin his own wholesale liquor business.  Under the name Hollenbach Bros., the company initially was located at 193 Market Street near Sixth, later moving to 101 West Market Street.

Hollenbach Bros. were wholesalers and whiskey blenders.  Like others rectifiers, Philip and Louis apparently had difficulty getting sufficient raw product from area distilleries.  As a result, in 1882 they took charge of the Glencoe Distillery, located at 2540 Broadway in Louisville. That plant had a mashing capability of 160 bushels of grain per day, fully sufficient to keep Hollenbach Bros. in whiskey for blending purposes.  The distillery had been built in 1872 by Frederick and Philip Stitzel. The Hollenbachs kept the Stitzels in charge of the distilling operation.  Their flagship brand became Glencoe Whiskey, promoted widely on trade cards and advertisements. 

When fire razed the Glencoe Distillery in 1883, it was quickly rebuilt. An 1892 insurance record described the new distillery to be of frame construction.  The facility also included cattle pens located 79 feet south of the still and three warehouses.  One warehouse was constructed of brick with a metal or slate roof and the other two were clad in metal sheeting.

About 1885 Philip’s brother Louis left the partnership. Louis subsequently purchased and operated a wholesale and retail whiskey and wine business in Chicago on LaSalle Street near Madison.  The break must have been amicable since Louis was listed as the sole agent selling Glencoe Whiskey in Chicago and all Western states.  Within a short time  Philip Hollenbach took a new partner,  a man named Vetter who had been a Louisville city marshal.  Vetter was described in a local journal as “an excellent and popular businessman and a valuable acquisition.”

The company, now named Hollenbach & Vetter, moved to 234 Second Street.  According to accounts their building was four stories in height,  enjoyed street frontage of 24 feet and a depth of 100 feet.  It was said to have a commodious cellar and was well stocked with liquor and wines, both in barrels and in cases of bottles.  The firm claimed to stock, in addition to its house Glencoe Brand, all well-known Kentucky whiskeys.

The partnership with Vetter proved to be short-lived.  By 1888 Hollenbach was the sole proprietor and the firm name changed again, becoming Phil Hollenbach & Co.  By 1887, Hollenbach was claiming a second distillery called the “Fortuna Distillery.” In ensuing years, Glencoe Whiskey became less and less prominent in company advertising and Fortuna Whiskey became Hollenbach’s flagship brand.  As shown here this whiskey was featured on trade cards,  the company logo, mini-jugs,  back of the bar bottles, and other giveaway items. 

Although accounts differ widely I believe at some time in the early 1900s,  Hollenbach divested himself of part or all of his  interest in the Glencoe Distillery, which subsequently was sold to the Weller distilling family. That facility continued to produce Hollenbach brands such as Fortuna, Pride of the West and Glencoe.  A 1911 ad indicated that Hollenbach was claiming proprietorship of only the Fortuna Distillery.  Assuming Federal records are complete, a distillery of that name never really existed except for Hollenbach merchandising purposes.

Meanwhile, Philip was being recognized as a leader of the liquor industry in Louisville. In 1908, as president of the German-American Alliance of Louisville, representing some thirty or forty German societies, he led an effort for an anti-Prohibition demonstration.  Joining with other organizations, including Irish-American societies, they created a new pressure group, called the Civic League of Kentucky, to fight the “Dry” forces. During this period Hollenbach once again moved his establishment, in 1911 relocating a final time to 528 West Main Street,  along Louisville’s famed “Whiskey Row.”

Philip had been recognized in Louisville for his expertise on German wines and in 1914 was asked to supply a chapter for a book published there on alcoholic and other beverages.  Apparently harking back to his own youth on the banks of the Rhine,  Hollenbach noted that bards of old had been inspired to sing the praise of German wines.  He went on to recommend them heartily to the American drinking public.

In 1920 Prohibition ended the days of Phil. Hollenbach & Company. The Glencoe distillery similarly was shut and dismantled during the period 1920 to 1935.  Remaining buildingswere used by a broom and mop company and a fruit preserving outfit.  After Prohibition Hollenbach’s son, Louis, is said to have revived the distillery and probably was the source for the post-Prohibition sign shown here for Fortuna Whiskey.  As for Philip Hollenbach,  I have been unable to established his date of death or grave site.  However, for his epitaph, it seems appropriate to end with a poem quoted in Hollenbach’s article on German wines:

        “Drink to the Rhine!  And every coming morrow
        Be mirth and music thine!
        And when we meet a child of care and sorrow,
        We’ll send him to the Rhine.”

Friday, July 6, 2012

Buffalo’s Gustav Was the Other Fleischmann Brother

Just about the time the last guns of the Civil War had been silenced, brothers Charles and Max Fleischmann emigrated to the United States, settling in Cincinnati.  There they founded a business empire based on yeast and distilling spirits that made them and their families rich and famous.  Less recognized was their younger brother, Gustav, shown here, who arrived later on these shores and successfully pursued the whiskey trade in Buffalo, New York.

Born about 1849, Gustav watched his brothers leave home, yearned to come to America, and at the age of sixteen bade his mother, Amelia, and father, Abraham, goodbye and headed over the Atlantic to seek his fortune.  He settled first in New York City, working as a stonecutter for the noted sculpture firm of Casoni & Isola.  He also attended night school and the Cooper Institute to pursue studies in mathematics and design to improve his skills for his occupation.  Gustav might have spent his life cutting stone but health problems caused him to abandon that work and go to live with his brothers in Cincinnati.

They welcomed him into their business ventures and helped him learn the techniques of distilling.  After several years working with Charles and Max,  Gustav was anxious to step out on his own.  Buffalo seemed a likely place to engage in the whiskey trade.  At the time the Federal Government had levied a 90 cents per gallon tax on liquor and forced companies to manufacture at least 80% of capacity, whether for profit or loss.  As a result a number of New York distilleries had closed their doors.  Only several remained.  One was located in Buffalo, a prime site because it was a grain terminus.

That distillery had been built just before the Civil War at the corner of Pratt and William Streets.  It was shut by the Feds in 1872 and bought by a Buffalo local named Moore. He operated it for a decade before he suffered the same fate, taken over by the government for failing to operate at 80% of capacity.  When the property came up for sale again, Gustav Fleischmann saw an opportunity.  With financial backing from his brothers he created a partnership with an experienced Buffalo whiskey man named Edward Cook.  Together they bought the distillery.  Although Gustav’s name appeared on the company letterhead, business was done as E. N. Cook & Company.

In rapid fashion the partners turned Moore’s distillery to making rum and opened another distillery for grain alcohol products.  The latter boasted a four story warehouse building said to be capable of holding up to 15,000 barrels. An 1884 ad pictured the two distilleries, the grain operation on the left. The latter was said to be capable of producing up to seventy barrels of whiskey a day from twelve copper distilling tubs, each with a capacity of 5,500 gallons.  The partners supervised between forty and fifty employees and oversaw the operation of an ice house, blacksmith shop, carpenter shop, stables and cattle pens. The company also maintained separate corporate and sales offices on Buffalo’s Main Street.

The efforts of the partners met with quick success.  In effect they were the lone distillery operation in all of Western New York State. Other whiskey men in the region were merely wholesalers and rectifiers.  E. N. Cook & Company expanded into markets in Pennsylvania and Massachusetts.  For many years the firm paid Uncle Sam $30,000 a month in taxes, indicating tremendous production.

In 1893 Fleischmann bought out Cook’s interest in the firm.  He quickly reorganized the company and changed its name to the Buffalo Distilling Company. The company used a plethora of the brand names, including "Continuous,” "Diamond Old Tom Gin,”  "Maple Gin,” "Old Colonial Rye Malt,” "Old Mahogany,” "Silver Barrel,” "Silver Medal,” and "Superior Old Tom Gin."  The flagship labels were “Golden Grain Whiskey” and “Four-Cee (also written 4-C) Canadian.”  Neither brand seems to have been trademarked.

Gustav advertised both whiskeys extensively, including providing saloons with signs.  Among them was one with a particularly bottom-heavy nude who clearly is enraptured by Golden Grain.  His giveaways to favored customers including celluloid wrapped match safes and a celluloid pocket charm shown here. Its reverse side indicates that Gustav may have had a sense of humor.  It reads:  “This charm if carried in the pocket of a person who drinks Golden Grain Whiskey prevent Bald Heads, Hard Work, Love, Warts on the Nose, Bicycle Fact, Dark Brown Taste, War Craze, Swelled Head,  Delirium Tremens, Unhappy Marriages, Insanity and Punctured Tires.  Avoid Substitutes.”  He also issued a metal pocket charm for Four -Cee.  Ironically, it has a swastika symbol on the obverse.

Gustav, like his brothers, was active in multiple forms of commerce.  He was president of the Meadville (Pennsylvania) Distilling Company,  the Frontier Elevator Company of Buffalo and, for a time, the Merz Universal Extractor & Construction Company, all facets of the larger Fleischmann family business empire.  He was a noted hunting enthusiast and a member of the Adirondack League Club from whose hunts he was reputed to bag several deer every year.  He also was a member of the Elks Club. 

According to contemporary reports, Gustav owned a fine residence in Buffalo.  He also purchased a sumptuous vacation home in Ontario Canada, not far from Niagara Falls.  He named it  “Clarette,”  in tribute to two of his daughters, Clara and Thometta.  Shown here, the house stood on a four-acre block with gardens and stables at the rear.  Also on the site were a guesthouse and staff cottages. Fleischmann sold it in 1912.

Like many other firms in the whiskey trade,  Buffalo Distilling Co. was put out of business by the advent of Prohibition.  Thus ended the whiskey career of a man of whom it was said in 1898 by a publication called “Men of New York”:  “Gustav Fleischmann is one of the many sons of the Old World who have attained prosperity in this new land and have contributed their full share to the growth and development of their adopted country.”

Monday, July 2, 2012

Abraham and the Overholts: “Comin’ Thro the Rye”

The stern-faced elderly gentleman shown here is one of most famous faces and names in the liquor trade.   His name is Abraham “Abram” Overholt and his picture is on bottles of whiskey in American packages stores from coast to coast .  Beginning in 1810 Abraham and his Overholt clan came through rye whiskey to achieve fame and fortune.

The Overholts were Mennonites, a religious sect that was often persecuted in Europe for their beliefs,  one of which was that creating alcoholic spirits for imbibing was an honorable profession.   As a result,  when Abraham’s father, Henry, brought his wife and twelve children from Bucks County to the Jacobs Creek area of Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania,  he had an interest in distilling.  Settling with other Mennonites in an area known as West Overton Village,  he bought a farm and inherited a small distillery made of logs.  Production was limited to a few gallons a week.

Born in 1784,  Abraham was 16 when the family moved.  As he was maturing he showed considerable talent as a weaver but his major interest was in making whiskey.  In 1810, at the age of 26, he took over the still.  He began producing about eight gallons a day but soon had increased the output to 200 gallons -- in effect, creating a commercial distillery.   He also added a grist mill.  About the same time he married Maria Stauffer,  daughter of a prominent Mennonite.   They would have eight children.  Before long Abraham built his family a fine Georgian home,  shown here, at the site of his West Overton operations.   He called his product “Old Farm Pure Rye Whiskey.”  Eventually He brought his son Henry Stauffer Overholt into distillery management and titled his business the A. & H. S. Overholt Company.

As the distillery continued its expansion, a village of workers’ houses were created.  These tenants worked for Abraham as coopers, millers, laborers and later, 

even coal diggers when a deposit of coal was found on the land. Two other Overholt houses were built on the grounds, one for Henry  about 1846 and second for another son, Christian, constructed about 1854.  The latter doubled as the company store.  An illustration from the 1870s above shows the West Overton complex.  The distillery is shown with smoke billowing from its stack.  This building had been constructed in 1860 and the original distillery and grist mill torn down.  A cooperage was added.

That same year another of Abraham’s sons, Jacob, together with a cousin, Henry Overholt, built a second distillery in nearby Broad Ford, with the blessing and financing from Abraham.  It was at that facility the first rye whiskey bearing the Overholt name was distilled, bottled, and sold.  Note that at first it was branded simply  “Overholt” and that only later was “Old” added.

Abraham is said to have been directly involved in the management of the family’s distilling operations until his death in 1870 at the age of 86.  His son, Henry, unfortunately died the same year.  Jacob Overholt and other family members took the reins.  As a sign of respect to Abraham they added his picture to the label of the their rye whiskey.  They sold it in bottles of several sizes and shapes and advertised widely.  One of their slogans was: “You are not safe without Old Overholt in the house.” The Overholts also issued giveaways to favored customers, including paperweights and saloon signs.  About 1878 they opened a sales office in Pittsburgh.

In 1906 the Overholts constructed a six and one-half story bonded warehouse of brick. Shown above,  it has been restored as a museum.   Under the supervision of Abraham C. Overholt,  son of Henry S., they also built a boiler house, an office building and a dry house  The company was reorganized in 1907 into two entities. The now renamed West Overton Distillery managed whiskey production and the A.C. Overholt Company maintained control over the physical structures and other family  enterprises.

In 1846, Abraham Overholt hired John W. Frick, a Swiss immigrant, to work in the grist mill located in the village.  While working, he met Abraham’s daughter, Elizabeth, and they were married in 1847.  On December 19, 1849 their son, Henry Clay Frick,  destined to be one of America’s most notorious and wealthiest “robber baron” industrialists, was born in the spring house located adjacent to the homestead in which Abraham and Maria Overholt lived.

Frick spent the first thirty years of his life at West Overton.  It was here that Grandfather, Abraham is said to have taught the future multimillionaire the importance of a strong work ethic and the inner workings of business which included shrewd bargaining and the importance of taking risks.  As a young man,  Frick went to work as a bookkeeper for the Broad Ford distillery, eight miles away. He also is said to have established the coke industry at West Overton.

Frick was the last in the line of Overholt clan to own the distilling business.  When he died in 1919 as National Prohibition was about to be enacted, his stake in the enterprise went to his friend Andrew Mellon.  When Mellon was appointed Secretary of the Treasury in the Prohibition-era administration of Warren Harding he turned over a stockpile of about two million gallons worth of Overholt Rye whiskey to an organization called the Union Trust Company.   During Prohibition, Overholt Rye was sold as “medicinal” whiskey – legally by prescription, but also furtively in speakeasies.  By 1925,  the two million gallons had been sold, some overseas.  The press used the circumstances to embarrass Mellon.

The Overholt brand, meanwhile, was purchased by the National Distillers Products Co., who owned it until 1987, when National Distillers was bought by Jim Beam Brands.  Since then, Overholt Rye has been an active Beam Brand, sold under the name Old Overholt Straight Rye Whiskey.   Abraham’s picture remains on every bottle.

In 1922, Helen Clay Frick, Henry's only surviving daughter, began to purchase the buildings in West Overton where her great grandparents,  Abraham and Maria, had lived and her father was born. In 1928, Helen Frick founded the Westmoreland-Fayette Historical Society to operate and maintain the site, known as West Overton Museums.  Today, West Overton Village consists of the remaining eighteen Overholt buildings. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.   The site celebrates the man who began it all and through rye whiskey has come to be a familiar face to many Americans--Abraham Overholt.