Friday, September 30, 2016

The Bells Tolled for Jacob Wolford, Chicago Whiskey Man

Never send to know for whom the bells tolls; it tolls for thee.”- John Donne

For years a carillon in Chicago’s Lincoln Park chimed the hours as a memorial to Jacob A. Wolford, a liquor dealer who was an important player in the Windy City’s effort to rebuild after the disastrous fire of 1871 and who, as a 40 year official of the Board of Trade, fostered Chicago’s rise to world recognition as a commercial power.  In addition to the ivy-covered clock tower, right, Wolford left behind an iconic whiskey bottle as his legacy.

The son of Joseph Wolford, Jacob was born in Baden, Germany, in 1845 and brought to the United States as an infant.  The family ultimately settled in Chicago where Wolford first appeared in the public record when he was 25 years old, living in Chicago’s First Ward, his occupation given as “saloon keeper.”  Indicative of either an inheritance or early business success, his net worth was set at the equivalent today of over $700,000.

The 1870 census form that contained that information also presents a puzzle.  Living with him was a Mary Wolford, her age given as 28, who had been born in New York, She presumably was Jacob’s wife.  Also resident was Joseph M. Wolford, 15, too old to be Jacob’s son and possibly a brother.  The household also included a Baden-born bartender named Krieg.  He likely worked in Wolford’s saloon, located at 123 Clark Street, a Chicago avenue known for its saloons and bars.

The following October saw the Great Chicago Fire, a conflagration that killed up to 300 persons, destroyed some 3.3 square miles of downtown Chicago, and left more than 100,000 residents homeless.  Wolford’s Clark Street saloon was among the businesses consumed.  Opening a liquor store temporarily on Washington Street, Wolford moved quickly to rebuild, as did many of his fellow citizens.  To quote one observer:  "To a spectator it would seem, from the energy and the multitude employed, that nothing less than the eternal salvation of mankind depended upon having the entire district covered with six-story brick, or stone, or iron buildings before the anniversary of the fire….”

Within a year Wolford was back in business.  His establishment was included on a map published in 1872 that identified those structures that already had been restored.  Shown here, it is #25, a large building bounded by Clark and Dearborn Streets, running the length of Madison.  It is here that Wolford issued his proprietary brand, “Z-Whiskey” and sold it in a bottle with a stopper that had been invented by Hyman Frank of Pittsburgh and patented in August 1872.
Described in his patent application, Frank’s stopper, shown here, had a threaded end, a cylindrical part, a gasket and an overhanging top.  This was an era before the crown cap and other modern closures when better ways to seal a glass bottle tightly were being conjured up by a multitude of American inventors.  

Frank not only invented a stopper, he had to have a bottle with a neck that was suitably threaded to accept it.  Thus, on the same day he patented the stopper he also patented a tool for forming the mouths of bottles.
Once inventors of closures had won their patents, they looked around for a glass house to put their ideas into commerce.  Most were disappointed as companies opted to stay with existing methods.  Frank was more successful when the A. & D. H. Chambers Co. of Pittsburgh, whose mark is shown here, decided to use his invention for Wolford’s Z-Whiskey.   Thus an iconic bottle was born.

Applying for a passport in March of 1882, at the age of 35, Wolford was described as five feet, seven inches, in height, with a fair complexion, dark brown eyes, brown hair and a broad face.   On the application in his own handwriting he describes his wife, Mary, as being 21.  This seems hardly possible since in 1870 the census gave her age as 28.  To add to the mystery, she either died or otherwise had departed  sometime before 1886.  In that year Wolford married again.

This time his wife was part of Chicago’s elite.  She was Anna Mead Dennehy, the daughter of Charles Dennehy, a well-known successful liquor dealer and a political figure in the Windy City, elected at one point as city assessor. [See my post on the Dennehys, June 2014.]  Anna, born in Illinois in 1860, was fifteen years younger than her husband.

Whether it was her influence or the perceived difficulty of competing in the liquor trade with his father-in-law and brothers-in-law, about this time Wolford gave up his business and went to work in as a commercial merchant.  Possibly through the influence of Charles Dennehy, he also won a position on the Chicago Board of Trade (CBOT).  Shown here in its 1885 quarters, the Board was among the world’s first futures and options exchanges.  Much of the city’s commerce depended on forward contracts to sell and buy commodities. CBOT provided a centralized location where buyers and sellers could meet to negotiate and formalize contracts.  It has been credited with fostering Chicago’s dramatic rise as a major commercial and financial center.  Wolford was a mainstay there for 40 years.

Wolford’s business success and growing wealth
eventually allowed the childless couple to move from more modest quarters to Chicago’s “Gold Coast,” where mansions lined Lake Shore Drive.  As Jacob aged, his eyesight began to fail, limiting the activities the couple could participate in together.  On their frequent vacations in New England, they found enjoyment in daily carillon concerts in Stockbridge, Massachusetts.  Wolford’s sight problems did not affect his pleasure in the music of the chimes.  Jacob died in Chicago in 1917, age 72, and Anna died nine years later.  In her will she left $50,000 to erect a bell tower like the one in Stockbridge as a memorial to her husband.

The gift — and perhaps Wolford’s standing in the community — spurred the Chicago Park Commission to add money and a seven-story tower was constructed in 1931 in Lincoln Park.  Built of brown and off-white brick, it featured working clocks on all four sides and a carillon.  For years 25 chimes pealed every fifteen minutes, attached to a keyboard that could be played manually or by a paper roll similar to those used in player pianos. 

Sadly, over the years malfunctions and thefts stopped the clocks and rendered the carillon silent.  In 1987, group of citizens working with city officials restored the tower to activity for a time.  It is now again “defunct,”  the bells still intact but without any workable playing mechanism.   Apparently still possible of another restoration, those bells may again toll in memory of Jacob Wolford, a whiskey man who played a significant role in Chicago’s commercial ascendancy.  

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

The Medleys Made Whiskey in “America’s Holy Lands”

“In your country, like the land of promise, flowing with milk and honey, a land of brooks of water, of fountains, spring out of valleys and hills, a land of wheat and barley, and all kinds of fruit, you shall eat bread without scarceness, and not lack anything in it.”  John Filson, in “The Discovery, Settlement, and Present State of Kentucke.”

This kind of hyper-Biblical rhetoric found a ready audience in late 18th Century Maryland where years of bad agricultural practices had virtually exhausted the soil.  Among listeners were Irish Catholic farmers in the only state that initially had welcomed them.  In the Spring of 1875 twenty-five Catholic families left St. Mary’s County for Kentucky, seen as “America’s Holy Lands.”  One of their leaders was John Medley, a farmer-distiller.
John with his wife, Elizabeth, their children, and neighbors traveled by land to Pittsburgh and then on a flatboat down the Ohio River to Maysville, Kentucky.  From there it was another overland trek to Cartwright’s Creek, a small settlement on a fork of the Salt River.  The site, shown above, is near the town of Springfield, Washington County.

John Medley saw that the land was particularly fertile and settled there with his family, along with other farmers who had made the journey from Maryland.  After establishing his farm, Medley added a distillery to the property, making small amounts of whiskey largely for local sale and consumption.  When he died about 1817,  John was buried at St. Rose Church in Springfield, built in 1806.  Today it is the oldest standing structure west of the Alleghenies and still used as a church.

In his will, John Medley left two stills and forty mashing tubs.  Here the record gets murky.  This Medley had two sons, one from his first marriage, Thomas, born in 1785, and another from his second wife, John Philip, born about 1802.  Which of these sons inherited the distilling equipment is unclear.  We skip a generation down to William Medley who in the 1840s is known to have made whiskey at Cartwright’s Creek near St. Rose’s.  By this time the Catholic population of the area had grown significantly.  Orders of nuns and priests had been encouraged to come to Washington and adjacent countries to establish priories and convents where they faced no fears of harassment.  Bardstown became the first Catholic diocese west of the Appalachians.  Rapidly the region became known as the “Kentucky Holy Lands.” Even today, as one author has noted: “It probably has more religious establishments per square inch than any rural place in the country.”

The nature of William Medley’s whiskey-making operation seems lost in the mists of time.  He died in 1853 leaving a young wife and minor children, including George E. Medley, who had been born in 1850.  William’s death left the family to be raised by their mother, Elizabeth, living with a farm family named Osbourne, likely close relatives.  Both the 1860 and 1870 censuses found the Medleys there.  The latter census when George was 17 recorded him “at home” without an occupation.

As he matured, George, left, sought employment in town, working in a Springfield grocery story.  He also found a bride there.  She was Anna Isabelle Simms, called “Belle,” the daughter of Thomas Simms and Margaret Ellen Montgomery.  The Simms family appears to have been involved in Kentucky distilling.  A John Simms was president for a time at the Mattingly & Moore Distillery at Bardstown.  George and Belle wed in November 1875 and would go on to have ten children.  Their firstborn was baptized Thomas Aquinas Medley.

By 1898 George had gone to work for Mattingly & Moore in Bardstown.  Possibly this reflected his marrying a Simms.  Meanwhile, about 120 miles west, near Owensboro in Daviess County, a distillery had been founded two decades earlier.  Over the years it had passed through the hands of several managers until it had come into the major ownership of Richard Monarch.  After Monarch died, Medley with two partners in 1901 bought the Davies Distilling Company.  One partner was Dick Meschendorf, a well-known and respected Kentucky bourbon maker.  [See my post on Meschendorf, February 2013.]  Two years later George bought out both partners.  After a hiatus, the Medleys were back in the distilling business.

Enter Thomas A. Medley.  As George had grown more affluent, he could afford to send his eldest son to advanced education, including law school. The investment paid off when Thomas moved to Owensboro to help his father manage his enterprise, becoming the secretary & treasurer of the Daviess Company Distilling.  The plant as it looked at that time was featured in a 1905 ad shown here.

As noted in the ad:  “This distillery makes only one brand, one grade, a strictly old fashioned sour mash whiskey.”  The Medleys called it “Kentucky Club.”  They sold it in glass containers with gold paper labels and apparently minimal embossing.  The company also issued etched shot glasses advertising “Kentucky Club” to favored customers, including saloons and bars featuring the brand.

As the years progressed, Medley whiskey gained a national reputation and burgeoning sales.  It allowed George to bring all six sons into the business.  Ben J. became a distiller and vice president; Parker J., a manager; and William, George E. II, and F. J. Medley all worked at the distillery in some capacity.  In 1910, the father’s health faltered and he died, age 60.  As his widow and large family gathered by his interment site, George Medley was buried in Mater Dolorosa Cemetery as a Catholic priest intoned the burial ritual.

Now the leadership passed to Thomas who meantime had been having a personal life.  In 1902, he married Florence Ellen Wathen, the daughter of Nick Wathen of the well-known distilling family.  The Wathens, like the Medleys, were descendants of Irish Catholics from Maryland who had migrated to the “Holy Lands.”  Thomas and Florence Ellen would go on to have a family of thirteen children.  

Within a year this Medley faced his first major crisis.  A fire roared through the Daviess County distillery, destroying the bottling house and one warehouse with its aging whiskey.  Within a few months, the facility was re-built and expanded.  Now the Medley plant had the capacity to mash from 500 to 750 bushels of grain daily.  Three warehouses held 32,000 barrels.

The company continued to flourish under Thomas’ leadership until the imposition of Prohibition.  For some years after 1920 the Medleys were able to warehouse and bottle whiskey for medicinal purposes. In 1927 the family sold their distillery and trade name to the American Medicinal Spirits Company  (AMS) and later the complex housed a meat packing company.  

Thomas continued to be active on behalf of family interests, dying in Louisville in August 1940.  He was buried near his father in the Mater Delarosa Cemetery.  His widow, Florence Ellen, would join him there three years later.
After Prohibition the sons of Thomas, operating as the Medley Brothers, bought a property near their original Daviess County location, one vacated by the Green River Distillery owned by J. W. McCulloch [see my post on McCulloch, April 2014] and established the Medley Distilling Company.  A chart below sets the genealogy for succeeding generations of Medleys.  As the family continued to be active in the whiskey trade they were  responsible for a number of brands, including  “Old Medley" and "Medley's Private Stock."

Ben and Thomas Medley Jr. later would leave the partnership to start their own distillery.  Edwin died in 1953.  Wathen and John stayed with the Medley Distillery until 1959 when it was sold.  Later Charles Medley repurchased the property and with his son, Sam W., ran the operation.  As late as last year Sam was involved in the liquor business as head of Charles Medley Distilling, a non-manufacturing bottler/distributor on the West Coast that contracts for whiskey in Kentucky.

When John Medley set up his still about 1875, he was harkening to claims about the glories of Kentucky that opened this vignette.  Medley found the state as advertised offered ample grain and pure waters — perfect for making quality whiskey.  In pursuing distilling he founded a whiskey dynasty down through the eighth generation.  For the Medleys,  the Kentucky Holy Lands had become the Promised Land.

Note:  The chart of the Medley family is from "The Evolution of the Bourbon Whiskey Industry in Kentucky," by Sam K. Cecil (1999).

Friday, September 23, 2016

No Secrets, Indianapolis: Your “Ideal Soldier” Sold Liquor

No author in America was more famous in the late 19th Century than Lew Wallace, best known as the author of “Ben Hur.”  Wallace forever enshrined James R. Ross as the “Ideal Indiana Soldier” by penning a biography that extolled his military record in the Civil War and after.  Ross’ career as a successful liquor dealer in Indianapolis, by contrast, has been kept almost totally secret.  It is time to balance the narrative.

James Ross was born in Bellefontaine, Ohio, in August 1841 of Scotch-Irish parentage.  His father, Thomas, was a cabinetmaker;  his mother, Hannah, kept house. When he was six years old his family moved to Indiana, settling in Crawfordsville, a modest sized town not far from the Ohio line.  There he grew up, was educated, and took a job clerking in a dry goods store.  With the outbreak of the Civil War when he was twenty, Ross traveled about 50 miles to Indianapolis and enlisted in the 11th Indiana Volunteer Infantry.

This was a unit organized and commanded by Lew Wallace, shown above.  As a youth Wallace, a lawyer, had lived in Crawfordsville for time and his wife was from there.  He and Ross probably had known each other there.  Having previously served in the Mexican War, Wallace was now a colonel and commander of the 11th.  Ross joined him as a private.  The 11th initially was sent to what was to become West Virginia, seeing minimal activity before its three-month enlistments ran out and the troops went home.

Undaunted, the flamboyant Wallace reorganized the 11th in Indianapolis as “Zouaves,” modeled after French light infantrymen, trained them in zouave tactics, and designed colorful uniforms consisting of a grey jacket with red trimming, soft gray cap with red braiding, dark blue vest, and sky blue pantaloons.  In our day when “camo” is required, those bright colored uniforms seem an invitation to getting shot.  

With Ross among them, the fancy-dressed 11th Indiana was sent to join Gen. Ulysses S. Grant’s expedition into Tennessee and saw hot combat at Fort Henry, Fort Donelson and Shiloh.  During this period Wallace was raised to brigadier general and Ross promoted to captain of Company C.  Ross subsequently transferred to Wallace’s staff which seems to have cemented the bond between the two men.  An 1862 magazine illustration of Wallace in battle shows him among aides.  One of them likely was Ross.

When Wallace in 1864 was named commander of VIII Corps, headquartered in Baltimore, he called for Ross, who by then was a commissioned aide on the general staff of the army.  Those troops saw significant action at Monocacy Junction, Maryland, when Confederate General Jubal Early crossed the Potomac River and made a feint toward Washington, D.C.  Wallace’s outmatched forces ultimately were defeated but delayed Rebel troops long enough to stymie any attack on the Nation’s Capitol.  When the war ended Ross was mustered out in Baltimore.

James wasted no time in getting married.  In 1866, he wed Thesta Alice, born in Indiana.  Both were about 24 years old.  With a wife to support, Ross found work as a clerk.  Without disclosing what Ross was doing in either city, a biographer stated he “engaged in business in Chicago and Cincinnati for a number of years…”   My surmise is that James was working in the liquor business.  Both cities were noted for a proliferation of saloons and dealers to provide such establishments with strong drink.  By 1873 Ross had moved to Indianapolis and was working for John B. Stumph & Co., a liquor wholesaler.

The Stumph firm appears to have gone out of business about 1877, replaced by a company formed by Ross and two partners called James R. Ross & Co., located at 184-188 South Meridian Street, the primary north-south street in the city.  This major thoroughfare was a prime central location for doing business and throughout the firm’s 39 year history, while moving from time to time, it maintained a Meridian Street address.

Ross’ liquor business not only was selling whiskey at wholesale but was marketing its own proprietary brands, likely “rectifying” —blending and mixing them for taste and color — in a back room.  Among labels were “Coonskin,” “Glendale,” "Marion Club,” "Race King,” “Signet,” and "Special Bottling.”  During his lifetime Ross failed to trademark any of these whiskeys, but several were registered after his death.

Like many of his competitors, Ross was providing attractive giveaway items to favored clients, chiefly saloons and restaurants featuring his whiskeys.  He gifted an attractive glass carafe advertising Marion Club, Marion being the name of the Indiana county in which Indianapolis is located.  He also provided shot glasses, some elaborately etched with his monogram with gold around the rim.

As the years wore on, apparently recognizing that his Victorian style letterhead was beginning to look antique, The company adopted the “art deco” style that was becoming the stylistic rage.  This new letterhead had a sleek, streamlined design, signaling a “modern” establishment.  Although one of his partners, Henry C. Knode, left to start his own liquor store, the other partner, Henry  Thomson, remained with the firm throughout.

Meanwhile, Ross was extending his military career in a fashion and achieving even higher ranks.  Upon returning to Indianapolis he had taken a hand in organizing the Indianapolis Light Infantry in 1877.  This was a part of the state militia, the Second Regiment of the Indiana National Guard.  Ross was elected second lieutenant, then first lieutenant, and by 1885 was its captain.  Eventually he would be promoted to colonel.   

At the same time he was active in the Knights of Pythias, the membership certificate shown here.  Formed after the Civil War, largely of veterans, this fraternal organization strove to promote male bonding around a martial code that harked back to the Roman era.  An element of the organization was known as the “Uniformed Ranks,” a quasi-military unit. There Ross rose to become commanding general of the Indiana U.R. Brigade.

Meanwhile Ross’s business success and considerable wealth was being noted.  That he was selling liquor was not mentioned, just that “for honesty and integrity there are none who stand higher in Indianapolis, or who more fully enjoy the confidence and respect of the people….Bro. Ross has reflected credit upon every position he has ever filled; as a soldier, he was brave, as a citizen exemplary.”

Ultimately known widely as Colonel Ross, James died at his home in Indianapolis  in October, 1900.  He was 59 years old.  As his widow, Thesta, and their only child, Frederick, together with other friends and kinfolk mourned by his grave, he was buried in Section 36, Lot 174, of the Indianapolis Crown Hill Cemetery.  His monument is shown below.  Thesta would join him there a year later.  In an obituary from far off  New Orleans the Times-Picayune hailed Ross:  “He had a fine record as a soldier and was widely known in military circles.”  Nothing about whiskey.

I surmise that among those attending Ross’s rites was Lew Wallace, whose book Ben-Hur had eclipsed Uncle Tom’s Cabin as the most popular novel of the 19th Century.  At the time he was living in Crawfordsville, where he had first come to know Ross.  Wallace’s tribute to his former aide, “An Ideal Indiana Soldier,” may well have been from a memorial address at Ross’ funeral that later was expanded. Published years later, the biography is not available on the Internet, making it impossible to quote exactly Wallace’s eulogy of James Ross — or to know if the popular author revealed in any way that his Indiana hero had gotten wealthy by selling booze.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Hugh McCrum, the West’s Peripatetic Whiskey “Capitalist”

Foreword: Trying to cram the multifaceted life of Hugh McCrum into the confines of a single post has been a daunting task.  Although well-known in his own time and deserving book-length treatment, the multi-millionaire McCrum largely has been forgotten as a pioneer entrepreneur in the Old West.  A kinsman in Northern Ireland has done prodigious research on him, however, that made writing this article possible.  

The McCrums were Presbyterians from Scotland who moved to Northern Ireland where they were numbered among the Orangemen.  They settled in the town of Carnmoney, County Antrim, an area on the outskirts of Belfast.  The Irish potato failure was no respecter of religion, however, and both parts of the Emerald Isle were victims of famine.  Hugh was born circa 1836 in County Antrim of parents, James and Agnes McCrum. When he was in his early teens, he, his mother and other siblings boarded the S.S. Aberdeen, known as a famine (or sometimes “coffin”) ship,” at Liverpool, England, early in 1850, arriving in the U.S. after several miserable weeks at sea.

James McCrum was not with his wife and children on the voyage.  My guess is that he was already in the United States getting established and had called for his family to follow.  Via the 1850 census, I have found a James McCrum, no wife listed and of the right age, living in Clark County, Kentucky, with his occupation given as “saloon.”  Kentucky was just opening up to settlers and many from Ireland found their way there.  If this was his father, it may help explain Hugh’s penchant for running saloons.

The first ten years of Hugh’s life in the U.S. are shrouded in history.  He later claimed because his father had been naturalized during that period, American citizenship automatically had been transferred to him as a minor child.  McCrum first showed up in a public record in the 1860 Federal census at the age of 22, living in Pine Grove, California, the mining camp shown left.  He was boarding with other miners in a hotel run by an Englishman named Thomas Hardy.  Like tens of thousands of other youths the California Gold Rush seemingly had brought McCrum West. 

Although he never got mining out of his blood, by 1863 Hugh was living in Virginia City, Nevada, and running the Delta Saloon there.  It is shown standing today restored as a tourist attraction.  His stay in Virginia City was marked by a strange occurrence.  According to a newspaper story in December 1868:“Mr. McCrum, proprietor of the Delta Saloon, became suddenly deranged, and seizing a pistol, drove everyone from the saloon, when he closed the doors, shutting himself in.  During the commotion, his pistol was accidentally fired off, but luckily neither himself nor anyone about was hurt.”  After being subdued by the sheriff, he was taken to the jail and shut up in a cell for his own safety.  McCrum was not known to be a heavy drinker and local opinion was that his delirium was caused by contracting smallpox from a partner who subsequently had died.  Whatever the cause, no further such incidents were reported.

During this period Hugh got married.  His wife was Emma J., a woman born in Maine and just a year younger than he.  The 1870 census found them at home in Virginia City with a baby named William, born in California.  Because McCrum was reputed to have no direct survivors, there is a possibility that he was Emma’s child by an earlier marriage or that the boy died in infancy.  Listed as a “liquor dealer” in the census, McCrum befriended and possibly supplied a firefighting company in Virginia City.  Shown here, a certificate dated November, 1870, gave him an “exempt” membership in the unit.

After moving to San Francisco post-1870, McCrum became enamored with the Arizona Territory and began to travel there, some 800 miles from his home.  Although some of the distance could be covered by rail, most required overland transport by stage coach or on horseback.   McCrum was quoted in the press saying that Arizona is “the richest country outdoors,”  an somewhat ambiguous statement that might have been alluding to the natural beauty of the territory or its potential mineral wealth.  Hugh seems rapidly to have gained friends during his travels, particularly among members of the press who helped spin him into legend.  One newspaper called him an “Old 49er,” ignoring the fact that McCrum was 11 years old and in Ireland that year.  Another cited him as an “old frontiersman, freighter and Indian fighter,” although there is no independent evidence of those occupations.

McCrum also was regaling attentive newsmen about his reputed scrapes with hostile  Indians.   Citing him as a man who “carries on his face the strong impression of truthfulness and reliability,”  the Arizona Daily Star published a extensive interview with him on the subject:  “Mr. McCrum  represents that traveling in the Territory, except with a strong and well armed escort, is extremely hazardous, and he was compelled to do most of his traveling under cover of night to prevent being waylaid by Apaches.”  The Prescott (AZ) Courier, however, was not as impressed:  “Mr. McCrum evidently likes to hear himself talk…As to Arizona being a unsafe country to travel in, and the ‘hairbreath escapes’ of Mr. McCrum — well, as we said before, he likes to hear himself talk.”

At this time McCrum’s frequent trips to Arizona were part of his work as a traveling salesman for the J. M. Goeway & Co.  This was a wholesale and retail liquor house that had been founded in 1869 at 409 Front Street in San Francisco, It featured a proprietary brand of whiskey called “Blue Grass Bourbon.”   Hugh’s success in the liquor trade was indicated in a 1872 notice by Goeway indicating that McCrum had been made a partner in the firm.

By 1876, Goeway had departed the scene and the Front Street business belonged to McCrum and a new partner, John Sroufe.  Born in Ohio, Sroufe was a decade older than Hugh, married with a family of three girls.  Listed in the 1870 census as a “produce dealer,” he brought to the liquor house San Francisco business savvy and a willingness to “watch the store” while the restless and peripatetic McCrum roamed the West.  A Nevada newspaper described the Scotch-Irish entrepreneur being “…as well known in Nevada as sagebrush and as popular as the product he sells.  Yesterday the firm of Manning & Berry, our townsmen, ordered from Hugh ten cases of the famous Blue Grass Bourbon.”

Despite the purported threat from Apaches, McCrum increasingly was being drawn to Arizona, particularly the area around Prescott.  There were two attractions, mining and saloons.  From early on McCrum was checking out area mines, telling newsmen that he believed the mineral resources of Arizona to be almost inexhaustible and would prove equal if not superior to the mines of California.   While selling whiskey to their owners, he also was calculating the profitability of the numerous saloons on Prescott’s infamous “Whiskey Row,”  shown here, eventually buying at least two and a barbershop.  Later they would be destroyed by fire.

About 1886 McCrum and Sroufe also became partners in a saloon in Tombstone, Arizona, called the “Bird Cage,” an establishment notorious for rowdy behavior and a bordello on the second floor.  Hugh, apparently ever on the move, probably instigated the purchase.  Two years later they sold the Bird Cage to Joe Bignon. [See my post on  the Bird Cage and Bignon, January 2014.]  McCrum also is recorded having bought a stock farm near Point of Rocks, a highly scenic area not far from Prescott, shown below.

With their liquor trade burgeoning, by 1881 the partners had moved to larger quarters at 208-210 Market Street.  They also were looking closer at home for opportunities.  The Cliff House Restaurant, perched on rock above the Pacific Ocean was a longstanding San Francisco icon, a eatery favored by the city’s wealthy residents and famous figures that included three American presidents.  When a new owner found himself unable to manage the property, he leased it in 1883 to McCrum and Sroufe.  They apparently brought a different kind of clientele to Cliff House, raising local eyebrows and offending the owner who terminated their lease within two years, instructing their successor to “clear out the riffraff.”

The early 1890s were an particularly eventful period in McCrum’s always active life.  In March 1881 he met with a serious accident while driving a horse and wagon in Golden Gate Park.  Described in press accounts as “driving at a top rate of speed,” he struck a projection on the side of the road and was thrown headfirst out of the wagon onto the road, sustaining a head cut and a bruised shoulder.  Assisted by the police, McCrum received medical treatment at his San Francisco home.  The horse, one he had purchased only a short time before, was severely injured and had to be shot. 

By now 53 years old, this incident may have dampened Hugh’s ardor for being on the road constantly for McCrum & Sroufe.  He left the firm in 1893, one that John Sroufe would carry on under his own name until about 1915.   Although out of wholesaling liquor, drinking establishments still had an attraction for McCrum and looking south to Los Angeles, he found an attractive property.  Called the Exchange Saloon it had been closed for several weeks because of a fire.  McCrum bought it, expanded the drinking space, upgraded the bar, re-painted and papered, and installed new lights.   According to the press, he also insured that there was a “fine new stock of liquids,”

Finally, after at least 35 years of marriage to Emma J. McCrum, years during which Hugh seldom was at home, their union came to an end.  On the grounds of “willful desertion” she sued for and was granted a divorce with a substantial financial award.  Within weeks, Hugh wed again.  This time his wife was Harriet M. Lakeman, a native of Massachusetts recorded as living in Mill Valley, a community north of San Francisco.  He was 58 and she was 42. The couple were married on May 13, 1885, in a Los Angeles Congregational Church with the pastor presiding.  Calling Ms. Lakeman “a most excellent lady” the Prescott Journal-Miner joined McCrum’s reputed “army of friends in Arizona,” in extending congratulations.

By this time McCrum had changed his official residence to Prescott, keeping an office in San Francisco where directories referred to him as a “capitalist.”  In those days the term was synonymous with “investor,” a wealthy individual whose occupation was putting money behind business developments.  For McCrum that meant saloons and, more important, mining endeavors.  Federal minings laws had greatly benefited him.  They allowed beneficiaries to buy land and the mineral rights below for no more than $5 an acre.  Between the years of 1893 and 1896, McCrum is recorded making three purchases in Arizona, amounting to 150 acres.  His was a particularly large holding.  

The Phoenix Gazette called him “…One of the oldest mining men on the coast and his judgement is taken above all.  He has traveled through the mining regions on the coast for thirty years and none are better known.”  McCrum had reported to the paper on his mining efforts twenty miles south of Prescott, claiming his works were “running night and day on good gold ore.”

McCrum  also became the majority owner of the Silver Cave mine, one he described as the biggest gold mine on the West Coast.  It was located in the Florida Mountains, a small range in southern Luna County, New Mexico, not far from the Mexican border.  He also was an investor the McCabe mine, at one time holding a half ownership. Shown below, it was located not far from Prescott and produced both gold and silver. 
A friend recalled a dialogue between Hugh and a prim New England lady during a stagecoach ride to Prescott.  While McCrum was in mid-sentence the woman interrupted him with a question:  “‘Mr., what constitutes capital in this country?’  Quick as a flash, he answered:  ‘Eight dollars and six bits, Madam,’ and finished his sentence.” 

Although McCrum listed his residence for voting purposes as Prescott, he continued to keep strong ties in San Francisco, and owned considerable property in California.  He was there when he died at the age of 66 in July 1902. In Hugh’s obituary The Sausalito (CA) News opined: “The life of the deceased was thrilling in the extreme, and the account of his experiences in Arizona would make reading as rich as the experiences found in the yellow colored novels.”  The Prescott newspaper highlighted the amount of overland travel Hugh had endured over 25 years through California, Nevada, Oregon, and Arizona, “…that would have worn out an ordinary man years ago.”

With his widow Helen and friends looking on, McCrum was interred in Cypress Lawn Cemetery outside San Francisco at Colma, where many of the city’s dead are buried.  In keeping with his wealth, Hugh lies in a freestanding mausoleum with his name carved in large letters over the door.  The figure sitting atop the structure even today provokes curiosity.  It is a seated angel with hand to chin as if puzzling over what kind of man lies below.

There are few written assessments to tell us more about McCrum’s personality.  One obituary described him as a “large-hearted, generous and genial man,” with a host of friends all over the Pacific region, but said little else to describe him.  It occurs to me that the many miles Hugh McCrum had traveled in the West were of  less importance than the distance he had covered from being an indigent boy arriving on a Irish famine ship to becoming a West Coast multi-millionaire.

Note:  This vignette would not have been possible without the help of Roy Lyle, a resident of Northern Ireland and a direct descendant of Hugh’s niece.  He had seen an earlier post of mine and wrote to tell me about his relative.  Roy found Hugh McCrum’s “rags to riches” story of considerable interest, as did I, and he had gathered a wealth of material on him.  Unfortunately, neither of us can find a photo of the man.  Instead, Roy’s photo is inserted here as a sign of my gratitude for his help.  Finally, two other of my recent posts, in March and August 2016, also deal with Prescott’s Whiskey Row.