Saturday, February 28, 2015

John Kellenberger Made “Whoop-E-Tee-Whoop” in Durango

The saloon token  above, good for a princely $1.00 in trade, has no identification as to who issued it, on both sides simply stating “Whoop-E-Tee-Whoop” and Durango.  It had no need to.  Everyone in Durango knew this was the standard greeting and trademark of John Kellenberger, a Swiss immigrant who came to the Colorado town run a liquor business and saloon and became a local legend for his colorful personality.

Kellenberger, shown here about 1901, was born in 1861 and came to the United States in 1880.  After landing in New York City, the young Swiss made his way to Brechenridge, Colorado, perhaps drawn there by the similarities in the landscape of his homeland that promised Alpine style skiing opportunities.  With gold having been found in the vicinity, Breckenridge was thronged with prospectors, some with money, who were hungry for fresh bread and pastry.  Probably with some early experience in the trade, Kellenberger started a bakery.  Either because this enterprise was not successful or because he sought more lucrative opportunities, after two years he closed up shop and headed to Southern California.

Upon arrival on the West Coast he served an apprenticeship in wine making, an industry in which many Swiss immigrants were engaged.  Kellenberger clearly had a talent for wine.  It is reported that during his ten years in California he established wineries at three sites south of Los Angeles.  He also ran a saloon in Santa Ana.  Ignoring a local ordinance against Sunday sales, he was caught by the local police for selling liquor out the back door.  Hauled into court he was fined $40 for his indiscretion.  The Los Angeles Herald commented:  “Kellenberger didn’t like to pay the fine, but he did so and now he is a sadder but  much wiser man.”

As he “wised up,” Kellenberger decided to return to Colorado.  During his California sojourn he had met an Austrian immigrant woman named Marie who was nine years his junior.  She is said to have been a woman of considerable culture, speaking five languages including German, French and Italian.  They married and a daughter, Lydia, was born in 1892, just in time to join the family move to Durango, Colorado.  This settlement, nestled in the Animas River Valley and surrounded by the San Juan Mountains, had been founded by the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad to serve nearby mines.  Durango too might have reminded John of his Alpine roots.  Perhaps the same held true for Marie.   A second child, Erma, was born not long after they arrived.

Durango, named after a town in Mexico (in turn, after a town in Spain), literally means “water town.”  As a place where mine workers dwelled, however, something strong than water was their preference, and Kellenburger was eager to supply it to them.  With the money he had saved in California he opened a liquor and cigar store and saloon at  951 Main, the major commercial street, shown above as it looked in the late 1800s.  

Kellenberger’s drinking establishment was like nothing Durango had ever seen before.  The front windows, shown above, were crammed full of whiskey bottles together with the owner’s eccentric collection.  As can be seen, it included a stuffed dog, owl and pistol packing bear.   Other items included violins, ore samples, a snakeskin and a scalp.  Seen below, the bar was dark mahogany with a brass rail and an array of saloon signs behind the bartenders.  Note the spit bucket on the floor.  Sales were conducted in a rear room where whiskey could be bought by the barrel or the bottle.

Kellenberger was not just buying finished and bottled products, but “rectifying” whiskey;  that is, buying raw liquor in large quantities from distillers, probably in California, then blending and compounding it to taste in a back room of his store.  Much of his whiskey he sold in large ceramic jugs, gallon and half-gallon sizes.  Ever canny, he recognized that the Kellenberger brand could get recognition just by exhibiting at various international expositions.  That reputedly gained him medals at New Orleans in 1885, Chicago in 1893 and Paris in 1900.  He also was bottling beer and created a delivery system for his products throughout Colorado and Northern New Mexico.

The personality of a Western saloon owner was crucial to its success and Kellenberger had personality to burn.  Not only was his “Whoop-E-Tee-Whoop” greeting to his customers a source of conversation for Durango locals but, according to Historian Kathy Myrick, stories abounded about him and his cronies taking train trips while playing cards and lunching on fine cheeses, bread and smoked tongue he supplied.  The February 1903 Mining Reporter listed Kellenberger recording a claim for a mineral lode near Durango at a mine he whimsically called “Canary Bird.”
Like many saloonkeepers Kellenberger was lavish with giveaway items including bar tokens.  In additional to the $1 token that opens this vignette, he handed out 12 and 1/2 cent ducats that had his name on one side and a pictorial of the Durango smelter and grazing deer stamped on the other.  The tokens have been dated about 1897.  Still another attractive gifted item was a clear glass back-of-the-bar bottle with gold lettering advertising “John Kellenberger…Wholesale Liquor…Durango, Col.”

Kellenberger’s time in Durango encompassed the worst disaster in the town’s history.  An historic rainfall in October 1911 turned the Animas River into a torrent that destroyed crops, washed away more than 100 bridges and damaged some  300 miles of railroad tracks.  Lives were lost as fifteen feet of water rushed through Durango streets.  Kellenberger was in Telluride 120 miles away when the torrent hit.  Anxious to return home, he tried many several routes, finding each of them washed out and impassable.  He finally was able to telephone the Durango Evening Herald for a report on conditions.  “John Kellenberger phones in from Telluride that he is now doing a ring-around-the-rosy act,”  the paper quipped.

Meanwhile, another torrent was rising.  The forces of prohibition were closing in on Colorado and the liquor trade.  Kellenberger saw them coming and in 1915, just before the state went dry, he bought the Durango Bottling Works.  Subsequently he was forced to close his saloon and the liquor store, shown above.  Then he and his employees simply moved down the street, exchanging hard drinks for soft.  Shown here about 1916 is a train car apparently full of Kellenberger’s “Raspberry Julep” bound for Leadville, Colorado. Once laced with alcohol, his julep recipe had reappeared as “soda pop.”

Although Kellenberger had left California apparently wiser about breaking the law, the advent of prohibition in Colorado caused him to hatch another scheme.  He went to still “wet” New Mexico, near the small town of Chama, and is believed to have buried a supply of his whiskey.  According to Historian Myrick, in 1916 he attempted to smuggle liquor back into Colorado in a train car with a bill of lading that gave the contents as “hay.”  Once again, the authorities caught him, penalty unknown.  Legend has it that some of Kellenberger’s stash may still lie underground somewhere in New Mexico near the Colorado border.

After this incident, Kellenberger seemingly reconciled himself to producing and selling only non-alcoholic beverages.  He bought the Adolph Coors building in Durango, built originally as an adjunct to the brewing family’s Golden headquarters.  Obtaining the first Coca-Cola franchise in the region, he converted the building to a successful Coke bottling plant. In the 1920 U.S. census, his occupation was recorded as “merchant, wholesale cigars and beverages.”  He and Marie still were living in their spacious Durango home at 827 Third Avenue at the Boulevard.

Although I have been unable to find information on Kellenberger’s death and burial site, a fitting memorial to this whiskey man was provided in a 1901 article that described the Swiss immigrant as: “…A public spirited man, one who stands very high in business circles in Durango and throughout the State.  He is liberal and progressive…benefits his community by his enterprise and pluck.”  And, it must be added, he greatly entertained his fellow citizens by his “Whoop-E-Tee-Whoop.”

Note:  I was in the process of researching a post on Kellenberger when I came across a current article on him by Kathy Myrick in the Winter/Spring 2014-2015 issue of Durango Magazine, published in that city.  I have included here some information and three photos of Kellenberger’s saloon from her article as “fair use,” because I strongly advise anyone interested in Kellenberger or Durango to buy the magazine, which has a number of excellent articles, including hers. It also has interesting ads and is well worth the price.  Check the magazine website.  An aside:  Although I have never been in Durango, the nickname “Jocko-from-Durango” was given to me in 1958 by a newspaper editor for reasons too complicated to go into here. I have used it as a “nom de plume” on numerous occasions and have always wanted to visit the city itself.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

E. H . Roche Came Out of the Boonies into the Big Time

After years of toiling in the hinterlands of the upper Midwest, saving his money and making a reputation  in small towns like Rochester, Minnesota, and Aberdeen, North Dakota, Edmund Henry (E. H.) Roche at the age of 45 moved to Chicago, a city rapidly making a name on the world scene.  Embracing the “Big Time,”  Roche never looked back.

Edmund was, after all, a big city boy, born in New York City in 1854 to Irish immigrant parents, James and Susan Gould Roche.  After being given an elementary education in local schools, at the age of 13 he left the Big Apple for  Minnesota where he worked on a farm until he reached 21.  Obviously a thrifty and enterprising youth, Roche moved to Rochester, Minnesota, in 1876 and opened a general store.  This town had been founded as the seat of Olmstead County and with the arrival of railroads in the 1860s, the village was growing rapidly.   Today Rochester is third largest city in Minnesota and the site of the famed Mayo Clinic. 

In Rochester he met his future wife, Anna Dwyer.   Born in Ripon, Wisconsin, she was the daughter of Mary and William Dwyer,  both Irish immigrants.  Edmund and Anna married in 1878 and produced five children, four girls — Susanne, Mary, Clara Frances, Katherine —  and the last one a boy, John Pierre.  Roche’s store was selling whiskey, often the biggest money maker for such enterprises.  He also opened a Rochester drinking establishment.  The 1880 census gave his occupation as “saloon keeper.”

In 1883 after five years in Rochester, Roche, apparently seeking better prospects, uprooted his family and moved 360 miles overland west to Aberdeen, North Dakota, a town officially plotted only two years earlier when the Milwaukee Road railhead arrived.  The new community was granted a charter by the state legislature the year Roche got to town.  As a result of the railroad Aberdeen was attracting new residents and apparently seemed to Roche a more fruitful location for his kind of business.  There he became known throughout the Upper Midwest as a spokesman for liquor interests and an ardent anti-Prohibition spokesman.  In 1886 he became a founder/director of the National Protective Association, an organization fighting prohibition efforts at both state and national levels.

Roche’s was an embattled stance in North Dakota where so-called “temperance”  forces had lobbied hard and effectively to declare the state “dry.”   The legislature obliged them in 1889 after Roche had been in business for only five years.  He then shut his doors in Aberdeen, uprooted his by now larger family, and moved 700 miles east from a Northern Tier backwater to America’s second largest city — Chicago.  He clearly had been saving his money because on his arrival he announced that he was purchasing the established liquor business of Enright & Kelly, founded in 1877 and operated successfully for two decades at 226-28 Kinzie St.  

In 1888, however, those Irish partners had been hauled into court for having “engaged in business within said city of Chicago, selling and offering for sale spirituous and vinous liquors in quantities of one gallon or more at a time without having or having had any license therefor from said city of Chicago.”   Found guilty, Enright & Kelly had to fork over the equivalent today of $11,200 and soon after sold out to Roche. He renamed the business the “E.H. Roche Company.” and told industry publications that he also intended to start a brewery in the city on Lake Michigan.

Roche was made for Chicago — and Chicago for Roche.  The era was one of exuberance in the “hog butcher for the world,” as Carl Sandburg termed the city.  The 1891 pamphlet cover that opens this post captured the tenor of the self-proclaimed “Metropolis of the West” with its global aspirations in the arts, science and industry. That drive that would culminate in the Columbian Exposition of 1893, a World’s Fair of a proportion and impact seldom if ever ever to be equaled. Roche was quick to catch the flavor of Chicago, symbolically naming one of his flagship whiskeys “World’s Fair Rye” and issuing a colorful paperweight that advertised the liquor and the fair.  Other brands were “Aberdeen Club Rye,”  “W.W. Brownfield Sour Mash Whiskey,” and “Edro Rye.”  Shown throughout this post are containers and giveaway items Roche provided to advertise those brands.  
Moreover, like Chicago, Roche rapidly was expanding the scope of his business.  Only two years after settling there, he opened an outlet in Des Moines, Iowa, at 213 Fourth St.  He advertised “Roche’s Royal Rye” brand in his ads there.  Two years after that he opened stores in Detroit, Michigan.  They occupied several locations:  365 Grand River Avenue (1898), 47 Cadillac Sq. (1894-1898), and 119 Woodward Avenue (1896-1905).  In 1901 he obtained an interest in the bankrupt Brewer & Hofmann Brewing Company of Chicago.

By the early 1900s Roche also had become the president of the Hendryx Distilling Co., shown below.  Despite the name of the firm, he was not a distiller, but a rectifier, that is, blending and compounding whiskeys on one of the floors of his building at 170 East Ohio Street.  In order to insure a steady flow of raw whiskeys for rectifying, he had investments in or contracts with outside distilleries.  Among them was a stake in the Atherton Distillery (RD #87, 5th District) located in La Rue County, Kentucky.  (See my post on Atherton, February 2015.)

In addition, Roche had made friends for himself in Illinois politics.  He became a confidant of Judge Edmund F. Dunne who in 1904 was elected to a two-year term as mayor of Chicago.  Upon assuming office, Dunne appointed Roche as  purchasing agent for the city.   The job paid $4,000 a year, a hefty pay check equivalent to $100,000 today.  A newspaper rundown of the mayor’s “cabinet” had this to say:  “This office requires a businessman who is thoroughly posted on business methods, as all purchases of the city, except those made by contract, are made through it, amounting to nearly $800,000 per year [$20 million today]. Mr. Roche conducts his office on strictest business principles and fills his position most credibly.”
Strong praise for a man who likely never finished high school and whose principal business experience was juggling a large liquor enterprise spread over three cities.  Roche, however, did not hold the position long.  The Republicans swept Illinois in the 1906 elections, beating Mayor Dunne by 13,000 votes.  At least temporarily Roche was sidelined but was hired back later when Democrats controlled Chicago. In interim periods he worked as an insurance broker.  By 1916, at age 62 he was being referred to as “Hon. Edmund H. Roche” and was serving as the State of Illinois’ Department and Institution Auditor.

With his emergence as a public servant, Roche shut down his liquor empire.  His Detroit stores disappeared from local business directories in 1905 and his Chicago headquarters was delisted in 1906.  He also terminated the Des Moines outlet. His career as a leading whiskey man came to an end.  During subsequent years Roche’s wife, Anna, died in May 1916.  Meanwhile his son, John Pierre, was making a name for himself in as a successful Chicago advertising executive.  Roche himself died in Chicago in November 1929, age 75, and was buried in Calvary Cemetery in a plot beside his wife and and adjacent to two grandchildren who died young.  A seven-foot monument, inscribed “E. H. Roche,” stands 40 yards from his grave near a plot where four of his children are buried.

Edmund H. Roche, the child of Irish immigrants who received only a limited education, had emerged by dint of his energy and intelligence from the hinterlands of America at a relatively advanced age to “make it” in the booming metropolis of Chicago, not only as the head of an expansive whiskey business and as a prominent national spokesman for the liquor industry, but also as a effective and respected public servant.  Exchanging the “boonies” for Chicago’s “big time” had been productive.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

The Goodkind Brothers Fetched Up at Last Chance Gulch

Why would a pair of brothers, born and bred in Chicago, locate to a place in the American West with the doleful name of  “Last Chance Gulch” and expect to prosper?   Edward I. and Abraham L. (Lincoln) Goodkind had the answer and made their liquor enterprise into a celebrated part of Helena, Montana, history.

The brothers’ path to Montana had begun years earlier in the Midwest.  Their father, Edward F. Goodkind, an immigrant from Germany, apparently had accumulated some wealth during his years in the United States.   When the 1880 Census found the family living in Chicago at 135 West Washington Street, the father’s occupation was recorded as “none - capitalist.”  With his wife, Hannah, he had three children still at home.  Abraham, at 15 apparently having left school, was clerking in a store.

The older brother, Edward, already was out of the house and had headed West, likely  to the frontier town of Bismarck, North Dakota.  In 1882, age 17, Abraham joined him there and, possibly fueled by their father’s capital, they established a wholesale liquor business to supply whiskey to the burgeoning number of saloons in town.   They evidently met with considerable success until 1889 when the state of North Dakota voted to go “dry.”

The Goodkind Brothers rapidly determined that they were obliged to move their operation.   Looking around they found a town with a main street called Last Chance Gulch, shown above, and it apparently looked good to them as “a second chance.”   The town was Helena, Montana, almost 700 rugged miles west of Bismarck.  In 1864 four prospectors, almost run out of luck, discovered gold in a gulch off the Prickly Pear Valley.   They termed the strike and their camp “Last Chance.”  As the town grew, citizens reject that name in favor of “Helena.”  When the town was laid out in 1865, the main street, shown above, was placed close to the winding path of the original gulch and so named. 

Forming a partnership in 1880 with two locals, the Wise brothers, the Goodkinds settled into a prime location at Sixth and the Gulch.  Their building above, had been constructed about six years earlier for $25,000 ($625,000 today), designed by noted St. Louis architect F. D. Lee.  At three stories and a brick facade, it featured decorative windows and press-medal cornices.  The partners quickly began to advertise their new establishment, sometimes featuring brands with national reputations,  like “Old Maturity,” a label from the Hasterlik Bros. of Chicago and “Metropole” from the Gier California distillery (See my posts on the Hasterliks, February 2013, and Theodore Gier, November 2011).

In 1896, the Wise brothers left the business and began their own liquor store.  Their departure did nothing to deter the Goodkinds who maintained the business at the same address.  A photograph from about 1900 below shows they changed the sign atop their building.  I surmise that the two suited gents lounging in front of the establishments were Edward (likely left) and Abraham.  By now the brothers were blending and compounding their own whiskey for the wholesale trade, selling it in large ceramic jugs with a classy underglaze label advertising “From Goodkind Bros. Wholesale Wines, Liquors and Cigars.” 

For the retail trade, their company featured several proprietary brands, probably mixed up and bottled in one of the upper floors of what became known as the Goodkind Building.  They trademarked their “Montana Club Whiskey” in 1905 and “Royal Club Rye,” in 1906.  Shown here are two illustrations of their bottles against the backdrop of company billheads (see “Note”).   These pictures indicate the colorful and imaginative way in which the Goodkinds merchandised their products.   One label shows a convivial evening at the Royal Club in “Jolly Old England”;  the “Last Chance Whiskey” label references the Montana mining past showing men panning for gold.  By this time the gold largely had petered out, but Helena was rife with residents who had made millions in mining the yellow metal. "Cedar Leaf Whiskey," shown below, was advertised as aged in steam heated warehouses and bottled under the firm's "personal supervision."

Throughout their early years the Goodkind brothers were having personal lives.  In North Dakota Edward had found a Canadian-born bride named Margaret,  He was 25, she was 23 when they married in 1885.  The 1910 census found the couple living in Helena at 801 Broadway with one adult son, Leon, and the bachelor brother-in-law, Abraham.  Only about a year later Abraham at age 45 took to the altar, marrying Hattie, a woman who was 12 years his junior.   They would have at least three children over the next few years.  

The year 1910 found the Goodkinds locked in a struggle with the Chicago, Indianapolis & Louisville Railroad, alleging that unreasonable charges had been collected for the transportation of four car lots of whiskey in barrels shipped during 1908 and 1909 from Louisville, Kentucky, to Helena, as well as for the cost of a 1908 carload of empty bottles.  Taking on a deep pockets railroad with seasoned lawyers could be risky.  But the Goodkinds won and were awarded reparations (with interest) of $17.33 — perhaps a hollow victory, but indicative of their grit.

The brother pressed on with their liquor business without change until 1916 when Edward died at age 56.  Abraham then continued in partnership with his brother’s widow, Margaret.  He had achieved a reputation as a business and community leader.  One obituary said this of Abraham:  “He look a leading part in all civic enterprises and was always one of the first to give support to any movement designed to improve and build up Helena.”   Prohibition, however, was continuing to plague the Goodkind interests.  On December 31, 1818 — two years before National Prohibition — Montana went dry. 

Goodkind Bros. Wholesale Liquors was shut down.  In the 1920 census, Abraham, 55 years old with three youngsters ages 4 to 9, gave his occupation as “retired.”  That seems to have been an temporary state.   With sister-in-law Margaret, the Goodkinds created a loan and securities business.   After Margaret relocated to Los Angeles, Abraham took another partner for several years until 1924 when he and his family moved back to Chicago.   Retaining his legal residence in Helena, however, Abraham continued to own extensive real estate in at least four Montana towns and large irrigated ranch properties in three Montana counties.  Annually he traveled back to the state to look after his holdings.

At the age of 72 Abraham died at his home during March of 1937 after an illness of less than a week, reported to be a victim of pneumonia.  He was buried in Chicago.  When Margaret Goodkind died in Los Angeles, her body was returned to Helena and she was interred next to Edward at Forestvale Cemetery there.  The gravestones of both brothers 
are shown here.

Although the Goodkind Brothers are gone, their memory lingers on. The building that continues to bear their name survived a fire in 1928 that destroyed much of the rest of the city block.  Other businesses have come and gone in the structure that today, at least for the time being, stands empty.  Considered an integral part of Helena past, the Goodkind Building is a featured stop on Helena’s historical walking tour.  The city’s website and the narrative that accompanies the tour relate in some detail the story of the Goodkind Brothers who operated their liquor business successfully in Helena for 38 years after finding a permanent home at Last Chance Gulch.

Note:  A gentleman who calls himself Mr. Cachet, made the two attractive and unique drawings above.  In a self-description, he says:  I’m a sixty-five year old artist with a taste for history and the printed word. I’ve been putting my art on envelopes for well over fifty years, and still continue to do that either on a whim or of necessity.  His blog is “Old Paper Art” and well worth a look.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

William Tarr: The Rise and Fall of a “Money King of the Blue Grass"

William Tarr was well known in his home state of Kentucky as a astute businessman, someone who had parlayed profits from a watermelon patch, mule trading, and farming into making whiskey before the Civil War, and subsequently made highly successful distillery and real estate investments.  In 1882 a biographer termed him “one of the money kings of the Blue Grass region.”  All that changed, however, when Tarr fell in love with railroads. 
Tarr’s roots were deep in Kentucky.  His grandfather, Charles Tarr, was born on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, and migrated about 1790 as a newlywed with his wife to Nicholas County, Kentucky.  A farmer, Charles is said to have become one of the prominent men of the region.  Although he later decamped for Illinois, one son, John B. Tarr, remained, married Milly Turner, and raised a family of five sons and two daughters.  Among the sons was William, born in June 1825.  The Tarr family was not wealthy and a biographer noted of William: “He began life as a poor boy….”

The youthful Tarr’s first enterprise was raising and selling watermelons.  From there he graduated to mule trading, an activity that gave him sufficient money to farming on rented land with his brother.  After a few years working the soil with evident success, the two parted ways.  Tarr went into business for himself, making whiskey on a small scale.  With the profits from that enterprise in the early 1860s he invested in what became known as the Chicken Cock Distillery in East Paris, Kentucky.  He became a partner in 1863 and operated the distillery until 1868 when he sold his share in favor of new opportunities, primarily in land speculation.

During the 1860s, Tarr also was having a personal life.  He married a Kentucky- born woman named Sarah Fisher, the daughter of W.W. and Sarah (Garth) Fisher.  She was known by her middle name “Findlay,” the only one on her gravestone.  The couple would have two sons, Thompson, born in 1866 and Fisher, born in 1870. 

The whiskey-making opportunity that presented itself to Tarr was the Ashland Distillery in Lexington, Kentucky.  It had been established in 1865 by Turner, Clay & Co., a business that included Horace Turner, Samuel Clay and Thomas Mitchell.   The facility was located on Manchester Street (Frankfort Pike) between Cox and Perry and was the first to obtain a Federal Register distillery license (RD #1, 7th District) in Lexington.  Its products were marketed as “Ashland Whiskey.”  Identified by the logo shown above, the firm produced about 30 barrels of whiskey a day, slightly less than its 37 barrel capacity.  The partners also completed a bonded warehouse, one said to be “fireproof.”

The distillery seemed to have struggled financially from the outset and after Turner’s death in 1871, the partnership dissolved.  Tarr with Thomas Megibben, a Lexington dry goods merchant, acquired it and restarted production.  They continued to produce the Ashland label and introduced a new brand, initially called “Wm. Tarr Whiskey” and later “Old Tarr.”   Both brands were produced in bourbon and rye versions. Another Tarr whiskey label was "Belle of Marion,
" shown below.

The decade of the 70s brought two setbacks to Tarr.  In 1873, his wife, Sarah, died, still a very young woman, leaving William with two small boys to raise.   Perhaps to give his children a mother, three years later he married a second time.  His new bride was Mary Fisher, a sister to his first wife and a woman 34 years his junior.  They would have three children of their own:  James born in 1877;  William Orr, 1878; and Mary Best, 1880. 

For this growing family he built what was described as “one of the most beautiful homes in Bourbon County, having provided it with all the modern conveniences and tasteful designs, and a large and commodious park well stocked with deer.”  Shown here in a contemporary illustration, the Tarr home had originated as a smaller Federal style building but William greatly enlarged it to accommodate extensive Italianate features.  The main entry way was made of  Flemish-bond brickwork, an expensive and labor intensive addition.

Tarr’s second setback of the 70s was a raging fire in 1879 that destroyed his distillery.  Not only was it largely of wooden construction but Lexington did not have a waterworks to provide a supply of water to fight the conflagration.  The structures burned quickly and out of control.  The disaster apparently triggered a company reorganization.  Tarr remained the president, with three partners.  He owned 40%, Megibben another 40%, and the remaining 20% split between Sam Clay, a company salesman, and a plant manager who was Megibben’s son-in-law.   Under this arrangement the distillery and warehouses were rebuilt at the cost of $75,000 ($1.8 million today), this time in brick with fire proof slate or metal roofs.

Tarr’s distillery, shown above rebuilt, was a “state of the art” facility on eleven acres.  The floor space covered 25,000 square feet and included 14 fermentation tubs, each with a capacity of 9,500 gallons.  The primary mash tub held 10,000 gallons, with 400 smaller mash tubs of 101 gallons each.   In lieu of refrigeration, the small tubs allowed a faster cooling process.  By 1882 thirty-five workers were employed to produced about 45 barrels of whiskey daily, mashing 300 bushels of corn and 120 bushels of rye and barley malt.  Corn was purchased from local farmers but rye and barley malt came by train from the West on a siding running into the facility.  Barrels of whiskey were transported out by rail.  Water for the distillery was supplied from a nearby spring, at first under a lease and later purchased outright by Tarr.  Pumps supplied 200,000 gallons of fresh limestone water daily through a system of pipes.  Annual whiskey production grew to six thousand barrels, valued at $150,000 ($3.1 million today).  Some 18,000 barrels were kept in bonded storage.  Old Tarr was advertised as "always true."

As the head of this distilling giant, Tarr was lionized for his entrepreneurial genius.  One biographer extolled him as “…A man of great business tact and ability, his large and increasing business interests extending throughout the country.”   In 1882 another observer opined:  “…He has become one of the money kings of the Blue Grass.”   Yet even then the seeds of destruction for this “up from the bootstraps”  entrepreneur were being sown.  William Tarr, ever the speculator, fell in love with railroads.  The extent of his fascination can be seen in the illustration of his estate above.  The train depicted there was running on a right-of-way the “Money King” had donated in sight of his mansion windows.

Even before the Civil War a railroad from Lexington southeast through the coalfield of Kentucky and onto Virginia had been proposed.  After the war speculation in railroads was rampant and Tarr was not immune.  With his distillery partner Megibben he formed the Kentucky Union Railroad Company in 1872 with Kentucky and out of state investors. Shown below is a $1,000 bond certificate issued by the company.  

From the beginning the railroad was vexed by problems.  The construction relied on convicts for labor.  Maltreated, some died and were laid in unmarked graves.  Other escaped during winter months, reputedly to seek warmth and proper clothing.  The project also required the erection of a 500-foot trestle over a river.  Financial problems and a shortage of steel caused delays into 1884.  When completed, the railroad cost almost $1 million ($25 million today) and had been funded largely by undercapitalized distillers, with Tarr the lead investor.  Unable to gain additional financing, he and his partners in 1886 were forced to sell the railroad at a ruinous 50% loss.

The decline of Tarr’s fortunes seem to have triggered another reorganization of the Ashland Distillery.  By 1888 Sam Clay had departed and his share was obtained by Thompson Tarr, William’s eldest son.  By 1890 Megibben had died and Tarr purchased his interest and installed Thompson as company vice president.  Now the Tarrs owned the Ashland distillery almost in its entirety.  Always aggressive, William in 1892 purchased the nearby Lexington Distillery to acquire 10,000 barrels of bourbon in storage.  He then demolished the plant and moved the whiskey to his own warehouses.   

Although this activity might indicate continued strength of Tarr’s enterprises, he had been weaken financially by the railroad debacle.  Furthermore, he had endorsed notes for family and friends who defaulted during the national “Panic of 1893,”, leaving him with judgments ranging from $200 to $8,000.  As as way out, Tarr invited into the management members of the Stoll family of Lexington who controlled a number of distilleries in central Kentucky.  In January 1897 Tarr issued $50,000 in bonds as a last ditch effort to save his distillery.  In May of that year, the end came.  He declared bankruptcy and all assets were assigned to the Stolls.  Those included 10,000 barrels of Tarr’s bourbon and his distillery.   The latter was sold at auction in 1899, purchased by a straw bidder for the Kentucky Distilling & Warehouse Co., widely known as “The Whiskey Trust.”

His reputation as a canny businessman in tatters, in 1898 Tarr retired to his farm with his wife, Mary.  He was 73 years old and still owned considerable tracts of land in Bourbon County and Eastern Kentucky.   The receivership played out for some 14 years, ending only in 1911 when Tarr’s debts were finally settled.  The lengthy process was a continuing reminder to everyone of how far he had fallen.  A year later Tarr was dead, 86 years old.  He was buried in a Paris, Kentucky, cemetery with a cement headstone, adorned with a rose.  It marks his name and dates of birth and death.  Both of his wives are buried near him.  The notice of his death in a Lexington newspaper identified him pointedly asformerly one of the most widely known distillers of the United States.”

The William Tarr Distillery and associated brand name were retained for a time by subsequent ownerships but the plant finally was closed down by National Prohibition.  One night in March 1920, a masked gang of thieves raided the warehouses at the distillery.  Overpowering two guards, they took 96 cases of bonded whiskey valued at $20,000 from the government-controlled facility.  To safeguard the remaining whiskey it was removed to one of the U.S. “concentration warehouses.”  Today the only vestige of Tarr’s distillery is one warehouse, now serving as a Lexington bar.  As shown below, the family mansion now stands abandoned and sadly has been allowed to fall into disrepair.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Freiberg & Workum Were “The Biggest Fish in a Very Large Pond”

In the six decades before National Prohibition,  Cincinnati, the self-styled “Queen City,” was the center of America’s whiskey trade.  The Ohio River town boasted hundreds of distilleries, whiskey “rectifiers,”  wholesale and retail liquor dealers, brokers and more than 2,000 saloons.  As many as 40,000 Cincinnatians were engaged in the alcoholic beverage industry.  The industry there paid in taxes one-sixth of the entire internal revenue of the United States.  At the pinnacle of this soaring commerce sat brothers-in-law, Julius Freiberg and Levi J. Workum.

The clear driving force of the pair was Freiberg, born in Neu Leiningen, Germany, in 1823.  At the age of 24, he immigrated to the United States in 1847, settling first in Williamstown, Kentucky, where he ran a general store for several years.  In those days liquor was a staple of such enterprises and Freiberg soon became acquainted with leading Kentucky distillers and their products.  After a few months, he decided that the future lay in selling whiskey not whisk brooms and 1852 he moved to Cincinnati.  There he initially was a whiskey broker, credited with bringing the first commercial quantities of bourbon out of Kentucky.  In 1855 he partnered with his future brother-in-law, Levi Workum, to establish a wholesale liquor business.  A year later he married “Duffie” Workum, reputed to be the first Jewish child born west of the Allegheny Mountains.  Two years later their first son, J. (Jacob) Walter Freiberg, was born.

The first location for Freiberg & Workum was a small store at 20 Sycamore Street,  where the company remained until 1858 when larger quarters were required and the partners moved across the street to 13-15 Sycamore.  Like many wholesalers, the partners were looking for an assured supply of whiskey for their liquor dealership and in 1857, after a brief time in business, they bought a newly completed distillery in Lynchburg, Highland County, Ohio.  Their first label was “J. A. Bowen Whiskey,” named for the builder.

At the outset the Lynchburg Distillery was small, capable of mashing only 100 bushels a day, but over ensuing decades, as shown above, it was expanded to a capacity of 3,000 bushels a day, with a storage capacity of more than 100,000 barrels.  Seen sitting on a few are some of their distillery employees.  As their distillery expanded, Freiberg & Workum introduced new brands, including “Lynchburg Rye,” “Lynchburg Extra Fine Whiskey,” “Highland Pure Rye,” and later, “Clinton Whiskey.”  The company advertised all these labels vigorously, including full page ads in national publications.

Freiberg & Workum became so successful that in 1867 the company purchased the Boone County Distillery at Petersburg, Kentucky.  Located on the Ohio River not far from Cincinnati, this was a huge facility boasting a mashing capacity of 4,000 bushels per day and storage for 60,000 barrels.  As early as 1860 the distillery is reputed to have produced an amazing 1.125 million gallons of whiskey.  

Author Michael E. Becher, commenting on this purchase, has described its impact: “…Freiberg and Workum were the biggest fish in a very large pond.  By 1880, the Petersburg distillery was making more whiskey than any other distillery in the state of Kentucky.  That year, the distillery was worth $250,000 ($6.25 million today) and produced 975,820 gallons of whisky.  By comparison, the nine distilleries in famed Bourbon County produced only 433,263 gallons of whiskey.  By 1887 the Petersburg Distilleries annual capacity had ballooned to 4 million gallons.”  

In 1869, again needing more space for their burgeoning trade, the firm’s office and store was moved  to 28-30 Main Street where it remained for 27 years.   Meanwhile, important corporate changes were taking place.  After Levi Workum died in July 1883, Julius Freiberg reorganized the firm.  He took as directors his two sons, J. Walter and Maurice J. Freiberg, as well as Levi’s two sons, Jephtha L. and Ezekiel L. Workum.   

Julius Workum also was making a name for himself in political, and religious activities in Cincinnati.  In 1873, for example, he was selected as one of the city’s representatives to the Ohio Constitutional Convention.  He also was active in Jewish affairs, serving as president of the Bene Israel (Orthodox) congregation for 25 years.  He also was active with Reform movements, working with Rabbi Wise when he founded the Union of American Hebrew Congregations (UAHC) in 1873 and the Hebrew Union College two years later.  Julius served as an officer of the UAHC and its president from 1889 to 1903. He helped found and support a number of Jewish charitable organizations.

In 1895 Freiberg & Workum made its final office move to 216-218 East Front Street.  This was a large building with a 52-foot frontage, running 200 feet deep and five stories high.  As shown on the illustration here, it had a private siding for  loading and unloading freight cars.  The complex had a re-distilling and rectifying facility immediately in the rear and included departments for making barrels and bottling and storing whiskey.  The premises held up to 3,000 barrels of blended whiskey, kept at a steady temperature of 85 degrees Fahrenheit.  In 1897 the firm also opened a branch office in Chicago to serve the upper Midwest and coordinate sales to Western states.

These new quarters allowed Freiberg & Workum greatly to expand the number of brands they merchandised.  Among them were: “Admiration,””American Union Club,” "Bonanza Pass,” "Eagle Gin,” “Eureka,” "F. & W,” "Fitz Lee,” “Hyperion,” "J. N. Blakemore,” ”Juneau Club Rye,” "Livingston Club", "Lynchburg", "Melrose",,"O.K. Kentucky Cabinet”, ”Cabinet Rye,” ”Old Fort-Nine", "Old Kentucky Home,””R. N. Wickliffe,” "Roanoke Pure Virginia Rye,” "Saint Jacobs,” "W. T. Snyder,” “Waldorf,”and "Zenith."  Another well known brand they featured was “Cyrus Noble.”  Noble had been a distiller with Crown Distillers of San Francisco and originated the brand there.  According to one account, Noble later went to Cincinnati as a “taster and blender” for Freiberg & Workum and the name went with him.  In any case the Cincinnati firm began issuing Cyrus Noble whiskey in 1896 and trademarked it in 1906.

Freiberg & Workum’s success might also have resulted from their many giveaway items to select customers, including shot glass and letter openers.  Their wall signs given to saloons and restaurants featuring their brands were particular notable.   One shown here advertises Highland Rye, depicting the loser of a political bet being made to tow the winner down a busy street to the delight of onlookers.  A second,below right, was keyed to the railroad club car, showing two gents and a waiter with two bottles of Cabinet Rye.

In 1904, recognizing that it also needed to have supplies of “spirits,”  that is, pure grain alcohol, for its blending and other purposes, Freiberg and Workum joined several other distillers in building at Terre Haute, Indiana, a facility called the Commercial Distillery.  They advertised it as “…the most modern, best equipped and largest spirits distillery in the country.”   It would operate under this name until National Prohibition arrived in 1920. 
Julius Freiberg died in 1905 and was buried in a Jewish cemetery near Cincinnati.  His sons carried on the business for him with J. Walter Freiberg as the president.   In 1909 the son sold the Boone County, Petersburg Distillery to the Whiskey Trust.  The new owners reportedly operated it for some years, then sold off all the stored whiskey and eventually dismantled the buildings.  The Lynchburg Distillery in Ohio continued to operate under Freiberg & Workum Co. management.

As the 1900s progressed prohibition campaigns were fast shrinking Freiberg & Workum’s markets for liquor.  Localities and states one by one were voting to ban alcohol.  With Congressional passage of the Webb-Kenyon Act in 1913, the company’s express mail trade into “dry” areas eventually was ended.  When Ohio voted for statewide prohibition in 1918 the beginning of the end was evident for the 63-year-old firm.  Federal records show, however,  that J. Walter Freiberg was still making withdrawals from the company warehouses under government supervision as late as 1920.  He died a year later. 

Thus was concluded one of the swiftest rises in the history of the American liquor industry.  In just 12 years, from 1855 to 1867, and despite the intervening Civil War,  the brothers-in-law had gone from running from a small liquor store on a back street in Cincinnati to being the largest producers and merchandisers of whiskey in Ohio and Kentucky.   As long as the country stayed “wet,”  Freiberg & Workum was “the biggest fish.”  With the triumph of the “drys,” however, the company became “a fish out of water.”  Correction:  “...Out of whiskey.”