Tuesday, April 29, 2014

The Bonnies and the Breakaway Brother

Trademark disputes over liquor branding never failed to gain attention in the pre-Prohibition era.   When the conflict involved brother against brother in the distilling hotbed of Louisville, Kentucky, interest could be intense. That is the situation that faced the Bonnie brothers when one of their siblings broke away, started a completing company, and merchandised whiskey with the Bonnie name and a familiar-looking label.

The Bonnie brothers were four:  Frank W., born 1840;  William O., 1845;  Robert T., 1848, (all  in Ohio), and Ernest S., 1860, recorded as born in Kentucky.  Their parents,  Frank and Lucinda (Abbey) Bonnie were Easterners who moved to Oxford, Ohio, sometime before 1840. In time all four Bonnie brothers would find their way to Kentucky.

The 1870 Census recorded Frank living in Versailles Township in Woodford County, Kentucky, with his wife and baby.   His occupation was given as “merchant.”  In 1872 the Louisville business directory listed a new whiskey wholesaler located at 29 Fourth Street between Main and River near Water Street.  It was called Bonnie, Murphy & Co.  Within two years, Murphy had departed and the company had reorganized as Bonnie & Co.  Frank Bonnie was listed as head of the firm.  William O. (right) and Robert P., shown below, were part of the management.  In 1879 the firm reorganized and all four Bonnies, including youngest brother Ernest, were involved in its operations.  They called their company “Bonnie Bros.”

For the first 20 years of its existence as “rectifiers” (blenders) of whiskey and wholesalers, the Bonnie firm was dependent on drawing liquor from a range of Kentucky distillers.  Among them were the J.B. Wathen & Bro. Distillery (RD #363, 5th District of Kentucky) and the Fern Cliff Distillery (RD #409, 5th District).  Both plants were major producers of raw whiskey for companies that were wholesalers and rectifiers, some claiming to be distillers in their own right.  The Wathen distillery, founded in 1880 and located not far from Louisville,  had a mashing capacity of 2,000 bushels daily and storage for 83,000 barrels. The Fern Cliff Distillery, founded in 1883 and located inside the city, was smaller, with a daily mashing capacity of 800 bushels and storage for 25,000 barrels. The Bonnies also are recorded in government documents as drawing whiskey from the Crystal Springs Distilling Co., a  smaller Louisville operation that had been founded in 1867.

Being totally dependent on outside sources for their whiskey was often a difficult situation for the Bonnies.  Competition for those stocks among Louisville and other Kentucky liquor wholesalers could be fierce.  Prices too often were elevated and supplies short.  Little wonder then that after almost two decades of such problems the brothers looked around to buy a distillery of their own. They found one right in their home town.  It had been constructed about 1883 by J. B. Mattingly, from a noted Kentucky distilling family.  While the record is not entirely clear, it appears that the Bonnies bought the property about 1890 when Mattingly was forced into bankruptcy.  Insurance underwriters records compiled in 1892 indicate that the distillery was relatively new and located between Bank and Tyler Streets.  In addition to a frame still house,  the facility had two warehouses that were brick with metal or slate roofs.  A barn for cattle, to whom spent mash was fed, was located 235 feet north of the still house.  Over time, the Bonnies would add other buildings.  A wooden saloon sign, shown here, presented a picture of the expanded facility.

Owning their own distillery gave Bonnie Bros. the freedom to greatly expand the number and variety of their liquor brands.  The four featured on the sign -- “Bonnie Rye,”  “Nelson Club,”  “Old Trenton,” and “Joel B. Frazier” - were “flagship” labels, but the firm featured more than a half dozen others.  Among them were “Belmont,” “Big Rock,”  “C. C.,”  “Kentucky Turf,”  “W. H. Kirby,” and “Woodford County,”  Their most unusual brand was “Dog On Good Whiskey” that featured the profile of a canine on the label.  Federal record indicate that of these the Bonnies trademarked Big Rock, C.C. and Joel B. Frazier in 1906 and, as will be seen, more importantly, Bonnie Rye and Bonnie Bourbon.

The brothers marketed their whiskey in both glass and ceramic containers.  They also were merchandising far beyond the bounds of Louisville and Kentucky.  Shown below right is a Bonnie postcard that featured a comely lass bearing an armload of roses/  The other side told a potential customer -- likely a local dealer or saloon-- that the brothers'  representative soon would be in their town and dropping by.  That company man probably would not come empty handed.  He might present his contact with a shot glass advertising  Bonnie Rye,  a back of the bar bottle to hold Old Bonnie, or a watch fob with the “Dog On.”

As their company continued to grow and prosper, both William O. and Robert P. Bonnie were gaining recognition as outstanding Louisville businessmen.  The photo of the brothers above are from the book, “Notable Men of Kentucky at the Beginning of the 20th Century,” published in 1902.  By that time William O. Bonnie was living with his family and three servants in a large house in Louisville.  William’s first wife having died, he had remarried. She was Katherine, a woman some 27 years younger, who had been born in Ohio. The couple had three children of their own, ranging in age from 2 to 8 years. William’s two boys from his earlier marriage were also in the household.  Meanwhile, Robert P. Bonnie had married Maude Johnson Williams in 1880.  They would have a family of four, three of whom would graduate from Yale University including sons Shelby, Robert P. Jr. and Hundley.

In 1895, Frank Bonnie, age 55, withdrew from the firm, selling his interest in the business, including the whiskey brand names to his remaining three brothers.   His share must have been lucrative.  In the next U.S. census, asked his occupation, Frank replied “Capitalist,” indicating that he was investing, most likely in Louisville real estate.  Frank’s exit was followed in four years by Ernest Bonnie, apparently still in his 30s, wanting out.  Why he broke away has not been explained.  The remaining two Bonnies bought him out for $70, 000, more than a million in today’s dollars.  For that compensation Ernest sold all interest in the business and in the Bonnie Bros. brands of whiskey.

Unlike his brother Frank, however, Ernest Bonnie had no intention of retiring from the whiskey trade. Taking two Bonnie Bros. employees with him, he shortly thereafter went into competition with his siblings using the name, E.S. Bonnie & Company.  Below is an intriguing trade card with that company name showing a boy urinating in the snow and tracing the words “Good Drink.”  Was this a symbolic gesture by a young “breakaway”  who was trying to send a message to his older brothers?

After a series of partner changes,  Ernest in 1903 incorporated the firm and changed its name to Bonnie & Company.  Although he initially had sited his firm on Second Street within a year he moved to the 600 block of Louisville’s Main Street,  known as “Whiskey Row,” a prestige location where Bonnie Bros. Company had long been ensconced.    More important,  Ernest Bonnie began selling whiskey under the brand name, “Bonnie Club.”  His older siblings quickly objected that the use of that brand pirated labels of Bonnie Bros.  After a heated exchange of correspondence on the subject Ernest abandoned the use of the label “Bonnie Club.”

In 1907, however, he died and his firm passed into other hands, some of them likely the former Bonnie Bros. employees.   The new management issued a brand of whiskey that carried the label “E.S. Bonnie Rye.”  It then dropped the letters “E.S.” and began to sell “Bonnie & Co. Rye” with a label, though differing in some respects from the Bonnie Bros. label, that was similar in its most notable features.  William and Robert Bonnie had had enough and in 1914 took its competitor to court for trademark infringement.   After a Louisville court found in favor of Bonnie Bros.,  Bonnie and Co. appealed the decision to the Kentucky Supreme Court.

The appellants argued that the Bonnies had not entered into the court proceedings with “clean hands” and thus were not entitled to relief.  They argued that the Bonnie Bros. label was a violation of the Federal Food and Drug Act of 1906 because the law had been interpreted by some as meaning that “rectified” or blended whiskey should be labeled as “imitation” whiskey.  Straight whiskey producers in Kentucky were arguing for that interpretation in Washington.  The Kentucky Court disagreed noting that Bonnie Bros. plainly had labeled their product as a blend and that was good enough. In upholding the lower court ruling, the panel of judges asserted that Bonnie & Co. Rye had been labeled in a way to confuse and deceive consumers and represented “unfair competition” under the trademark laws.

Despite the competition set in motion by their brother,  the other Bonnies were expanding their Louisville facilities.  By 1910 the distillery was mashing 200 bushels per day and had four warehouses with the capacity to store and age 27,500 barrels.  During this period,  William O. Bonnie was the president and had brought two of his sons into the operation.  W.O. Bonnie Jr. was vice president and Herbert T. Bonnie, treasurer.   Shelby, put his Yale education to good use as a company officer, but unfortunately died at the age of 33.

As the 20th Century completed its first decade, the Bonnies became increasingly aware of the pressures of Prohibition forces.   A pro-Dry U.S. Congressional hearing into efforts  to fight the Temperance Movement featured a letter from Bonnie Bros. to an official of the Angelina County Liquor Dealers Assn. of Luftkin Texas.  The letter was in response from the Texans for money to fight a statewide prohibition referendum.  The Bonnies pointed out that they had sent the group a substantial amount of money earlier and added “We have done about all you can expect us to do....”

No matter how much the Bonnies contributed to the “Wet” cause, statewide bans on liquor proliferated and in 1919 National Prohibition was enacted.  Bonnie Bros. was forced to close.  After Repeal family members attempted to restart operation but ultimately they were not success and sold out in 1938.  Under several owners, the distillery survived until 1977 when it was closed forever.  Nonetheless, the longevity of their whiskey-making indicates that the Bonnies,  despite the “breakaway” brother,  had created something special in Kentucky.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

David Fluharty of Baltimore: Hiding in Plain Sight

 The name on the sign at the Baltimore building said “Lamdin, Thompson & Co., Importers and Jobbers,  Wines and Whiskies.” The name on the rye whiskey label read “Little Corporal,” advertised by a picture of Napoleon Bonaparte with the characteristic hand stuck in his vest. Lurking behind both names was a canny Maryland whiskey man named David Garrison Fluharty.  But few Baltimoreans ever knew.
They knew about Lamdin, Thompson & Co., of course.   Those names were prominent on the company’s letterhead, as “Importers and Jobbers”  of wines and whiskeys.  The firm had first appeared in local directories, located at 34 Pratt Street.   The Baltimore Sun told its readers about how the Great Fire of 1904 had destroyed that Lamdin, Thompson location and, later, how the liquor wholesaler had risen from the ashes only a year later, constructing and occupying a four-story building at Number 117 Light Street.  The drinking public also was aware of the two Lamdin, Thompson flagship brands,  “Albion Rye” and  “Little Corporal Rye.” Fluharty, however, remained out of public view.

He was born in Federalsburg, Caroline County, Maryland, in October 1857 and subsequently moved with his family to Dochester City.  According to the 1870 U.S. Census, his father, Samuel, was a carpenter and his mother, Mary Emily (nee Todd), a housewife.  Both were native Marylanders. The family was of Irish descent.  Their name was a variation of O’Flaherty and originated in Connemara, Country Galway. In the census David was recorded with three siblings,  Rachel, 10;  India, 7;  and William, 3.   His father’s brother also was living with the family.  It is unclear how much education the young David was given.  With the circumstances of the family it is likely that he early went to work,  probably in the liquor trade,  and eventually moved from Dorchester to Baltimore.

In 1884, at the age of 27, David married.  His bride was Georgianna Flint, age 23, and she like her husband was Maryland-born, as were her parents.  The 1900 Census found them living in Baltimore with two children,  William, 15, and Sadie, 14.  Fluharty’s occupation was given as  “Wholesale Liquor Dealer.”

By 1899, Fluharty had accrued sufficient reputation and financial resources to be included as a partner -- albeit a silent one -- in a new Baltimore liquor dealership organized by Abraham D. Lamdin and William A. Thompson.  Lamdin had run a similar business for several years in the 1890s, located at 707 East Baltimore. The new company was conducting a “rectifying operation,” that is, blending and compounding whiskeys and other ingredients to achieve smoothness and taste.

Lamdin, Thompson featured a number of brands.  Among them were “Collie Malt Whiskey,”  “Plymouth Rock,”  “Sussex Club,” “Swallow,” and “Village Choice.”  As noted earlier the firm’s flagship brands were Albion and Little Corporal,  both trademarked in 1905.  They were sold in glass containers of several sizes, including flasks in aqua and cobalt, as shown here. The company was merchandizing its products widely.   A contemporary report on Lamdin, Thompson declared:  “...The firm carries a full line of whiskeys and are direct importers of fine wines, gins, and brandies.  The facilities of this house for business are unsurpassed, and the territory which it covers is very extensive, having representatives throughout the country.”

Like many Baltimore whiskey wholesalers, Lamdin, Thompson provided an array of give away items to favored customers, particularly saloons stocking their goods.   Shot glasses were among them. Shown here are two glasses advertising Little Corporal Rye,  one in fancy lettering, the other plain.  A more expensive gift was a celluloid and metal match safe or “vesta,” that advertised Albion Maryland Whiskey on one side and The Little Corporal Whiskey on the other.

In 1906 Isaac Lamdin died and the firm reorganized but kept the same name. Although Fluharty’s name nowhere appeared in Lamdin, Thompson literature, he played a key role in the firm.  His signature appears on several items of business correspondences that recently have come to light.  Moreover, his response to the 1910 census indicated that he was representing the company in sales efforts around the United States.  Yet Fluharty continued to avoid the limelight.  An exception was a story from The Baltimore Sun of March 28, 1904.  Fluharty was relaxing at his home, 1807 Guilford Avenue, on a Saturday night when he heard a noise and went to investigate.  It turned out to be a burglar.  The intruder threatened the Baltimore merchant with a knife and got away.   The headline read:  “Drew Weapon on D.G. Fluharty and Made His Escape.”

Residing with Fluharty at the Guilford Avenue address, according to the 1910 Census, was his wife, Geogianna, and both their children.  By this time their eldest, William, had married and was living there with his wife, Madelyn, and a son, David, obviously a namesake for his grandfather. 

Fluharty and his partners continued to pilot the Lamdin, Thompson firm through the early years of the 20th Century until closed down by Prohibition in 1919.  David Fluharty died in 1922, age 64.  He had been content with his role as the “silent partner” in a highly successful Baltimore liquor dealership, one with nationally recognized whiskey brands.  Although the firm is long gone,  the artifacts of those brands remain to remind us of  David Fluharty, the whiskey man who was able to hide in plain sight.


Tuesday, April 22, 2014

The Sprinkles of Whiskey: Distilling Their Story

Living on his farm in Liberty Township, Yadkin County, North Carolina,  the elderly Hugh Sprinkle must have thought frequently about how distilling whiskey had impacted his life, the lives of his sons, and even the lives of his grandsons.  It had been a bumpy, three generation ride but the Sprinkles had persevered.

Shown here with his wife, Hugh Sprinkle was born in 1833 into a family with deep roots in Yadkin County located in the northwestern Piedmont Region of the state.  The county was rife with legal distilleries, most of them small operations on farms that used homegrown corn and rye to make small quantities of whiskey for local sales.  It is possible but not documented that Hugh’s father had such an operation.

Hugh himself first appears in the public record during the Civil War.  By the end of March, 1862, the Confederacy was running short of soldiers.  President Jefferson Davis proposed that all men between the ages of 18 and 35 should be enrolled in Confederate service and 19 days later the Confederate Congress passed the first conscription law in U.S. history.   Sprinkle was 29, married, with two small children at home and like many Southern hill farmers without slaves, not passionate for Dixie’s cause.

In 1863 a group of Yadkin men, among them Hugh Sprinkle, resisted being conscripted against their will and precipitated what came to be known as the “Bond School House Affair.”   In February a group of resisters, numbers differ, gathered in a one-room log school building near a Quaker Meeting House.  With the help of Quakers,  they planned to hike over the mountains to Union territory.  Alerted to this gathering, the local North Carolina militia rode up to arrest the resisters and gunfire broke out.   Two members of the militia were killed, including a captain, as well as two of the resisters.   Many escaped but a number were arrested and charged with murder, among them Hugh. 

Friendly local officials wrested them from military control and a firing squad, putting the prosecution into civil justice hands where bail was set at  $250 and a future trial date set.  It appears that that the judicial procedure held Sprinkle basically innocent of the shootings and may have agreed to drop charges if he would join the Confederate Army.  The record shows that in November 1863, Sprinkle enlisted as a private in the 31st North Carolina Infantry at Camp Holmes, N.C.  Subsequent to his joining the 31st fought at White Hall, then moved to the Charleston area where it was engaged in various conflicts including the fight at Battery Wagner.  Ordered to Virginia the regiment took an active part in the battles at Drewry's Bluff and Cold Harbor, and later endured the hardships of the Petersburg siege north and south of the James River. In 1865 the 31st fought its last battle at Bentonville, North Carolina.  The history of his unit would indicate that Hugh Sprinkle saw plenty of combat but managed to survive.

After  the war, he returned to Yadkin County and resumed farming.  The 1870 U.S. Census recorded him there, living with his wife, Martha, and four children, including an eldest son, named Benjamin Franklin (known as “B.F.”) Sprinkle.  During ensuing years Hugh was running a distillery in connection with his agricultural pursuits.  A North Carolina directory listed the following:  “Distillery (whiskey), Yadkinville, Hugh Sprinkle.”  Moreover, in the 1880 census B.F. Sprinkle, age 21, gave his occupation as “working in distillery.”    

The Sprinkles continued making whiskey without important intrusions until 1903.  That year the North Carolina legislature, in an attempt to appease Prohibitionist forces, passed a law that required all distilleries to operate in incorporated towns.  Some whiskey makers were forced out of business, others took the expedient of incorporating.  It appears that the Hugh and his sons took that step.  An U.S. internal revenue document for that year records a town of Sprinkle, N.C., where several distilleries were registered.  Sprinkle was recorded as having a post office.  If it was like the other distillery incorporations, the town elected a mayor and aldermen, wrote bylaws and ordinances, often with tongue-in-cheek.

By this time, the distilling torch had been passed to Hugh’s sons,  Benjamin and Hugh Clinton.  Although evidence is scant, they appear to have expanded production and sales to some degree, while still farming.   In 1880 B. F. Sprinkle had married a woman named Harriet Steelman of Davie, North Carolina, and they raised a family in Rockingham County.  Shown here is a photo of the the couple surrounded by six of their children.  The three standing boys -- Benjamin Jr., James T., and Henry L. -- all would follow in the family tradition of whiskey-making.

Whatever distilling operations the Sprinkles engaged in after 1903 were disrupted and terminated in 1909  when North Carolina dealt its whiskey-making industry a final blow by passing a statewide ban on all alcohol production.   Soon after the state legislature revoked the incorporations of some “whiskey towns.” Displaced distillers moved to Virginia where liquor was still legal.  Others headed to Florida.   The whereabouts of the Sprinkles immediately after 1909 is absent from the public record.

The first evidence I can find of the H.L. Sprinkle Distilling Company -- named for Henry L. “Hence” Sprinkle, the son of B.F. -- was its 1912 incorporation in the town of Girard (now Phoenix City),  located in Russell County, Alabama.  The purpose of the business, as recorded with the state was the: “manufacture, purchase & sale of whiskey.” During this period the Sprinkles also appear to have operated a distillery in or near Pensacola, Florida.  It was incorporated in 1914 with a capitalization of $15,000.    Unfortunately Florida documents do not record the individual incorporators. The Sprinkle company letterhead claimed that this facility was the only distillery in Florida “operating both dryer and compressor, saving all the byproduct of the grain for feed.” 

Although the Sprinkles almost certainly had relocated to Jacksonville several years earlier, their company first shows up in a 1916 local directory. That likely is the result of a gap from 1905 to 1916 in extant Jacksonville directories.  When the company did appear it was listed as located at 34 East Bay Street. Hence Sprinkle, Hugh’s grandson, was recorded as the president and his brother, James T.,  as the secretary-treasurer.  

By the following year a major change had taken place in the management.  Now James T. Sprinkle was named as President,  Hugh Clinton was vice president and B.F. was secretary and treasurer.   B.F.’s third son, Benjamin Franklin Jr., was working as a clerk. According to the directory James was residing in Pensacola where I surmise that  he was in charge of the distilling operations and that the other three Sprinkles were managing sales operations at the liquor store in Jacksonville.  The three were recorded as living in Jacksonville.  The following year saw further changes in the directory entry. James was still the president but now B. F. was vice president, Hugh Clinton was secretary-treasurer,  and Benjamin Jr. was the manager of the H. L. Sprinkle Distilling Co.  James was still living in Pensacola and B.F. was recorded as living in Reidsville, North Carolina.

Because of its proximity to rail lines up and down the East Coast,  Jacksonville had become a hub of whiskey  dealers, many of them in mail order sales.  Some 77 were listed in the 1916 directory.  Among them were I.C. Shore who arrived from North Carolina via Virginia.  Another was John Casper, originally from North Carolina, who changed the name of his firm from the Casper Co. to Atlantic Distilling in Jacksonville.  One Sprinkle ad seemed pointed at Casper, who was something of a rascal, in emphasizing that their company always advertised under the Sprinkle name:  “Our reputation is so well known that we never have to change our name.” In a 1915 ad, the firm boasted: “This is the original NORTH CAROLINA STYLE CORN, shipped to you just as it comes from the Distillery.

As shown here, much of the Sprinkles' whiskey was sold in glass gallon jugs with the embossed motto, “Sprinkle Whiskey Wants Your Business.” Three cities appeared on each bottle.  Early jugs bear the Girard, Alabama, address.  After Alabama went dry,  the Sprinkles moved that retail outlet to Monroe, Louisiana. That city also was embossed on gallon jugs.   In addition, the Sprinkles also became known for issuing a variety of small ceramic mini-jugs, many of them bearing the name of the family’s flagship brand, “Ridgeway Straight Corn Whiskey.”  Another brand,  shown here on a company giveaway celluloid and metal pocket mirror, was “Private Stock Corn.”

Despite their exile from their old home place in North Carolina the Sprinkles seem to have found success in a short time with their Florida base.  Not only did the company provide its customers with whiskey, it also bottled and sold its own brand of beer,  Sprinkles' “Dixie Delight.”  As shown on an ad here, it emphasized that its brew was “The Good Wholesome Brand” and suggested that “All people should drink good wholesome beer daily with their meals.”   This merchandising mix of liquor and beer is itself enough to set the Sprinkles apart.  At this time a feud was raging between distillers and brewers, with some of the latter blaming the Prohibition movement on the liquor industry, apparently in the hope, fruitless as it turned out, that beer would escape a national alcohol ban.  

The Sprinkles' advertising throughout the South, both for whiskey and beer,  emphasized mail order sales,  suggesting orders by the case.   Although this was a lucrative trade, it was not without its problems.   Although Georgia had voted itself “dry,” the law allowed residents to have limited amounts of alcohol shipped to them monthly from out of state.  Frequently, however, local authorities would seize such shipments and arrest the express agents. As a result express outfits often refused to carry “wet” good into dry states.  In 1913 the Sprinkles took a proceeding to the Georgia Supreme Court to force the Southern Express Company to carry their liquor to its destination.  In a 1916 letter B.F. Sprinkle Jr. attempted to rectify a situation in which a liquor shipment had been sent to an individual identified as a minor.  He promised to reimburse the 70 cents in express charges if the whiskey could be returned for reshipment to an adult.  Such were the travails of the mail order liquor trade.

Because of their struggles with prohibition forces in North Carolina, the Sprinkles must have been keenly aware of the tightening noose of National Prohibition around the liquor industry.  With the passage of the Volstead Act in 1919,  the H. L. Sprinkle Distilling Company shut down its distillery and sales offices.  According to Sprinkle descendants, the family had a stock of liquor when America went dry but were allowed to book passage on ships and take their wares abroad to sell.   After their supplies were gone,  B.F. and Hugh Clinton began investing in gas stations in North Carolina.   In  the 1920 U.S. Census the occupation of James T. Sprinkle was listed as “green grocer” in Pensacola.

The man who had launched the family into distilling, Hugh Sprinkle, died in 1914.   B.F. Sprinkle died in 1936,  living long enough to see Prohibition repealed.  Shown here is a Sprinkle family burial plot with its identifying marker.  B.F. ‘s grave is in the foreground.  Around him are buried other family members including Hence and James.  Thus ended a whiskey dynasty that fought the good fight against Prohibition forces and although losing in the end, prospered for a time and left us many artifacts through which we can remember the Sprinkles of whiskey.

Note:  My great gratitude goes to two individuals who have kinship with the Sprinkle family.  One descendant, Margaret Sopp, keeps a website devoted to the Sprinkles.  The other, Wanda Sprinkle, is related through her husband.  Both have provided crucial information and photos for this profile.  The photos include the family pictures, the color illustration of the distillery and the ad for Dixie Delight beer.   Any errors of fact or interpretation, however, are my own.   My thanks also to Erik Lunsford  who found the Sprinkle pocket mirror with the Girard and Jacksonville addresses and got in touch with me about it.  The find is an extraordinary one and I am delighted to show it here.



Thursday, April 17, 2014

“Old Grand-Dad” Descended from the Hayden Family

One of America’s most familiar liquor labels is that of “Old Grand-Dad,”  a brand of whiskey has been around for almost 122 years.   Look closely at the portrait below taken from a current bottle of Old Grand-Dad.  It is the likeness of Basil Hayden who is accounted there “Head of the Bourbon Family”  and, it may be added, head of the Kentucky distilling Hayden family whose roots lie deep in antiquity.

According to Wikipedia, the Haydens can be traced back to England during the period shortly after the Norman conquest:  “One ancestor, Simon de Heydon, was knighted by Richard the Lionheart in the Holy Land during the Third Crusade in the 1190s. His son, Thomas de Heydon, was made Justice Itinerant of Norfolk by Henry III. Around 1400, another ancestor, John Heydon, appears to have been associated with "The Grove"– a large estate in Watford (Hertfordshire), located about twenty miles northwest of London. Some researchers have speculated that John Heydon was given the estate for his father Sir Richard de Heydon's services in the French Wars, where Sir Richard perished.”

Things changed radically for the family during the 16th Century.  After Henry the Eighth broke with the Pope of Rome,  much of England became increasingly inhospitable to Catholics.  As a result the Heydons (soon changed to “Hayden”) emigrated to the Virginia Colony during the 1660s.  After a few years they moved to Maryland, a colony more welcoming to Catholics.  They settled in St. Mary’s County on St. Clement’s Bay.  There in the mid-1700s, Basil Hayden was born and raised.  Apparently employed in the mercantile trades,  Basil is said to have supplied provisions to the Colonial Army.

Basil Hayden
Not long after American independence in 1785 Basil led a group of twenty-five Catholic families from Maryland into what is now Nelson County, Kentucky, near present day Bardstown.  They called the area “Greenbrier Station.” Their move likely was motivated by the opening of land for agriculture west of the Appalachian mountains.  There Basil cleared his plot and established a farm.  It appears that he also began distilling on small basis.  Some accounts say that he was notable for using a larger amount of rye in his whiskey than other distillers in the area.   Basil also was noted for having donated the land for the first Catholic church west of the Alleghenies and the first in the Commonwealth of Kentucky.

After Basil’s death, the distilling tradition was carried on by a son, Lewis, sometime about 1820. He was married to a woman named Polly who was a member of the Dant whiskey-making family.  Lewis is recorded in the 1830 census living in Nelson County with his wife, eight sons, two daughters, and an elderly relative, likely his mother.   Sometime during the 1840s Lewis died and was succeeded by one of his sons. Raymond Bishop (R.B.) Hayden.  R.B. had been born in 1821, the second son.  The 1850 U.S. Census found him living at home, age 29, with his 70-year-old mother and other family members.  R.B. never married.

The distilling operation R.B. Hayden had inherited was a small one. He continued to pursue the liquor trade while engaged in major farming activities.  In the 1870 Census the value of his property was counted at $30,000,  the equivalent of $1.2 million in today’s dollar.  Seeing the growth of the whiskey industry in Kentucky and particularly Nelson County,  when he was in his late 50’s R.B. became the Hayden who took the family business into full-scale commercial production.  In 1882 he built the R.B. Hayden & Company Distillery at Hobbs Station in Nelson County, shown here.  He took as his partner in this enterprise F.L. Ferriell, himself the offspring of a line of Kentucky distillers and a former Federal revenue agent.  Their distillery had a daily mashing capacity of 100 bushels and could store 7,000 barrels for aging.

It was whiskey from the distillery of these partners that was first branded as “Old Grand-Dad”  It historically has been believed that R.B. Hayden named the whiskey in honor of his grandfather, Basil, and that tradition has been honored up to the present day.  As will be seen here, however, the image of the elderly gentleman has been altered from time to time.  

Only three years after creating his distillery,  R. B. Hayden died, leaving no heirs.  His share of the facility was sold to a wealthy furrier and stock breeder and for a time the company was known as the Barber, Ferriell Distilling Company.  It continue to feature Old Grand-Dad as its flagship brand.  In 1899 the distillery was sold to the Wathen family.  The Wathens, like the Haydens, were heirs of a distinguished distilling tradition.   At the time of their purchase the Wathens also had become a major force on the Kentucky bourbon scene.  They changed the name of Hobbs facility to “The Old Grand-Dad Distillery Company.”  They also opened a sales office for the brand at 110 West Main Street in Louisville.

Nace Wathen became the distiller and manager of the Hobbs distillery only to see it destroyed by fire in 1900.  It was quickly rebuilt to accommodate a 400 bushel mashing capacity and operated up until 1919 and the advent of National Prohibition.  Then all the whiskey was removed to the Wathen’s federally regulated “concentration” warehouses and bottled for medicinal use.  The distillery R.B. Hayden had built was allowed to fall into disrepair and today, it is said, no ruins remain to be seen.

Shown here are images of artifacts bearing the name Old Grand-Dad.  It is doubtful that any of them date from the Hayden era.  The Wathens were known for their vigorous merchandising and  the pre-Prohibition artifacts here would have been issued during their ownership.   After Repeal the Old Grand-Dad brand name went through a series of owners. Today the label is produced by the Jim Beam Company.

Although the Hayden distilling line disappeared more than a century ago, its major figures have not been forgotten.  In addition to Basil’s face gracing the Old Grand-Dad label,  Jim Beam since 1992 has produced a small-batch bourbon called Basil Hayden Bourbon.  It comes in a fancy bottle with a paper “bib” that bears a short narrative about him.  Aged eight years at 80 proof,  it has been called “a nice sipping whiskey.”  Nor did the distilling industry forget about Basil’s grandson.  For a time before Prohibition, a brand of  Kentucky whiskey was sold under the label, R. B. Hayden.  A pocket mirror advertised it as an “Old Style Sour Mash” from Nelson County.  Raymond Hayden, a detail of his graveyard monument shown here, likely would have been pleased with the recognition.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

North to the Klondike with George Smithhisler

Only six inches high, the milk glass bottle shown here is shaped like a mountain range or glacier with brown and gold paint on both side that emphasize the rugged nature of the terrain being depicted.  Known widely as the “Klondike Flask,” it has been called “one of bottle collecting’s classical figural bottles.”  Less well recognized is George Smithhisler, the Ohio liquor dealer who designed it, provided the several swallows of liquor the bottle contained, and issued the flasks in substantial numbers, apparently as a memorial to the Yukon Gold Rush.

Smithhisler was a descendant of French settlers. His grandparents,  Philip and Mary Smithhisler, had immigrated to the United States in 1828, bringing his father, John Michael, and other children with them.  The family first took up residence in Baltimore, Maryland, where they remained until they moved to Holmes County, Ohio, where Philip took up farming.   Like his father, John Michael Smithhisler was a farmer and in 1835  married a woman who also had emigrated from Alsace, France, with her parents.  She was Mary Milless, the daughter of Jacob and Catharine Milless.  The couple had a family of eleven children, eight sons and three daughters.  Among them was George Smithhisler.

In 1847 the Smithhislers moved from Holmes County to Knox County, located in the central part of the Buckeye State,  approximately 30 miles north and east of Columbus. The county seat is Mount Vernon, named after the home of George Washington.  Shown here as it looked circa 1870,  Mount Vernon was a railroad town, a stop on the Pennsylvania Railroad between Cleveland and Columbus and on the Baltimore and Ohio between Sandusky and Newark

By the time the Smithhisler’s arrived, the town had about 2,500 inhabitants, a court house, a market house, churches and a number of taverns.  I surmise that John Michael Smithhisler may have been making some liquor on his farm for local consumption and that his son George grew up in a tradition of distilling. George too became a farmer and in 1871, at the age of 21, married.  His wife was Sarah Frances Bradfield, a girl of 18.  The couple, reputedly shown here, were wed at St. Vincent’s Catholic Church in Mount Vernon by Father J. Brent.

During their eleven year marriage,  the Smithhislers would have four children, two boys and two girls.  Then, at age 30, possibly in child birth,  Sarah died.  Left bereft and with small children to raise,  George five years later remarried.  She was Sarah Gertrude Murray and their wedding  also was held at St. Vincent’s.

Meanwhile,  Smithhisler was establishing himself as a wholesale and retail liquor dealer, located at 15-17 West Vine Street in Mount Vernon.  A trade card indicated  that he was dealing in both foreign and domestic wines and liquor.   Moreover, he had become the area representative for the Pabst Brewing Company of Milwaukee.
It was around the turn of the century that Smithhisler issued his famous flask.  At that time the Klondike held great fascination.   A region of the Yukon in Northwest Canada, east of the Alaska border, it lies around the Klondike River, a stream that enters the Yukon from the frontier town of Dawson at the east.    Gold had been discovered in 1897 and precipitated the Klondike Gold Rush that saw thousands heading there with dreams of riches.

It also inspired Smithhisler to issue his small milk glass flask of whiskey to memorialized the event.  It bore a round red label, announcing the contents as “Nuggets of Pure Gold from Klondyke” -- an alternative spelling -- and included his name and location. The flask also featured a metal screw cap that sealed the threaded neck and covered the ground-off top of the bottle.  Through the years this artifact has attracted considerable attention from bottle and glass collectors.  It was blown in a mold that took a considerable amount of time and attention to create the mountain effect.  It also required painting by hand to overlay the glass with gold and brown pigments.   Over the years, as shown here,  some examples have lost their labels and significant amounts of paint.  In one case an owner stripped the bottle down to its milk glass base, revealing the full extent of the ridges and valleys.

An expert on American glass and bottles, Dr. Cecil Munsey, has been fascinated with Smithhisler’s creation and has written about it, calling it a “classic.”  He has noted that it is believed by many that the bottle was inspired and made just before the beginning of the 20th Century to commemorate the Klondike gold strike.  Munsey commented:  “Supposedly, besides the strike itself, the bottle honored the pioneering prospectors who, like Yukon Jack McQuesten, made the gold strike possible.”  Known as the “Father of the Yukon,”  McQuesten (1836-1909) was a native of New Hampshire who became a pioneer in Alaska and Yukon as an explorer and prospector.

Dr. Munsey may be right about what Smithhisler’s flask is meant to commemorate.  My additional suspicion is that George, having lived all his life in Central Ohio, digging furrows in the soil for crops, might himself have wanted desperately to go “North to the Yukon” to seek his fortune digging in the tundra for gold.  With a wife, four children, a farm and a liquor business, that was a dream Smithhisler would never to be able to achieve.  His flask may well have been “Plan B.”

Little else about Smithhisler has entered the historical record. He seems never again to have designed and  issued a figural flask or a notable bottle of any kind. His liquor business  closed by 1916 when Ohio voted to go “Dry.”  In his later years it appears he relocated to Cleveland, perhaps to live with one of his children.  In November 1930, Smithhisler died at City Hospital in Cleveland at the age of 80. His body was returned to Mount Vernon where he had spent most of his life and was buried in Calvary Cemetery there.  Meanwhile, the flask that bore his name lives on in collections throughout America.

Postscript:  Two years after posting this vignette on George Smithhisler and his Klondyke flask, I came across an images of one that bears inclusion here.  It has a label that wishes "Merry Christmas and Happy New Year," without indicating what year it might have been issued.  Moreover,  the top of the cap was included that shows it bore the name of the whiskey.