Tuesday, January 31, 2017

When the Shoemaker’s Son Came to Kansas City

                                                    Arriving in Kansas City, Missouri, in 1868 at the age of 26, Edward Lowe Martin, son of a Kentucky shoemaker, found a wide canvas for his manifold talents.  Shown here in maturity, during his career Martin created a distillery, co-founded a railroad, established financial institutions, served as a Kansas City mayor and councilman, spent years on the city’s school board, and developed his own suburb, one that still bears his name.  Moreover, it is said that out of his own pocket he once saved Kansas City from bankruptcy by paying off municipal bonds in danger of default.

Martin was born in March 1842 in Maysville, Kentucky. He was the fourth in a line of six children from William and Margaret Martin, both immigrants from Ireland who had settled for a time in Pennsylvania before making their way to Kentucky.  The 1860 census found them living in Maysville where William and his eldest son, John, were engaged in the shoemaker’s trade.  Edward’s occupation was listed as “clerk.”  He married at only 20 years, his bride the 19-year-old Mary Elizabeth Ricketts, a native Kentuckian.  They would have two children, Lulu, born in 1865 and Edward R., 1867.

In 1863, with Mary Elizabeth, Martin left Maysville, and headed 650 miles west through Kentucky and Missouri to Kansas City.  He must have been strongly motivated because at that stage of the Civil War armed conflict was frequent in both states, with danger from “bushwackers” common in Missouri.  A year later the Battle of Westport was fought at Kansas City, a pivotal conflict that ended the last major Confederate offensive west of the Mississippi River.  Martin’s occupation during those early years has gone unrecorded but his subsequent activities suggest he was working in the whiskey trade, likely for one of the Kansas City’s several liquor houses.

In 1868, Martin struck out on his own, listed in local business directories as the proprietor of E. L. Martin & Co., Wholesale Liquor Dealers.  He had as a partner a friend from Maysville, J. A. Loughbridge.  His early address was at 404 Delaware Street, near West Fourth, the latter street shown here as it looked at that time.  The post-Civil War period brought population growth and general economic good times to Kansas City, including a proliferation of saloons needing supplies.  Early letterheads from the company emphasized that the partners were “late of Maysville, Ky.” thereby suggesting ties to Kentucky whiskey quality.  The 1870 federal census found  Edward living in Ward 2 of Kansas City with his family, his occupation given as “liquor merchant.”  Living with the Martins was a younger brother, George Martin, who was clerking in his store.

Even as he was building his business, Martin was becoming increasingly recognized in local commercial circles as a “comer.”  In 1871, at the age of 29 he was elected as secretary of the city’s Board of Trade, the building shown here.  That provided a political springboard and as a Democrat he was elected a councilman and in 1873 mayor of Kansas City.  His year in that office proved to be an active one that included enlarging the city limits, reorganizing the ward system, establishing free mail delivery, constructing the water works, and creating a horse-drawn trolley line.  The quality of his service was such that two years later Martin was elected to the Kansas City Board of Education where he served from 1875 to 1896 — twenty-one years.

Those activities do not appear to have affected his business growth.  Likely seeing a need for more management help, in 1872 Marin hired a local, C. G. Perrin, and two years later made him a partner, Loughbridge having left the firm earlier.  The company name became Martin, Perrin & Co.  Eventually Edward would bring in as a third partner T. E. Gaines, possibly from the Gaines distilling family, who had married his daughter, Lulu.  

As his business grew, Martin moved regularly to larger quarters, initially along Delaware Avenue but in the mid-1880s to 300-302 W. Sixth Street.  Shown right, it was a four-story building that allowed him to operate as a “rectifier.” blending, bottling and marketing his own brands of whiskey.  They included “Martin 4X,”  “Martin’s Old Standard.” “Martin’s Private Stock,” “Martin's Special Reserve.” ”Martin's XX,” "Martin's XXX,” "Martin's XXXX” and other labels.  As its founder and president Martin called this operation the Kansas City Distilling Co., as shown on a trade card here.

Martin also claimed ownership of Crystal Springs Distillery, even advertising it on the side of his building.  This facility was one of two independent distilleries that operated on the same site on the east side of First Street at Magnolia Avenue in Louisville, Kentucky.  Insurance records indicate that the distillery was of frame construction with a metal or slate roof, with at least three warehouses, one of brick constructions.  Records do not indicate Martin’s ownership but he may well have had a strong financial interest and a guaranteed supply of Crystal Springs whiskey.

By 1888 Martin, Perrin & Co. was being attested in a “History of Kansas City”  as its oldest liquor house and credited with pushing the city’s trade into new locales:  “It has a large corps of travelers covering the entire territory and makes consignments to Missouri, Nebraska, Arkansas, Texas, Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, Wyoming and Dakota.” 

With his growing wealth and others to run his liquor interests, Martin turned increasingly to the role of financier.  It was there that he met Arthur E. Stillwell, shown right, who was head of a trust company in Kansas City, the second only in Missouri.  A investor and director was Edward Martin, whom Stillwell hailed as “a man who saved the city’s credit by paying out of his pocket the interest on the city’s bonds when it had no funds to meet it.”   Although I have not been able to uncover dates or details of this transaction, records show city school bonds in payment arrears in the 1880s while Martin was serving on the school board.

In 1887 Martin told Stillwell that he had a franchise for building a belt railroad around Kansas City but could not raise the financing and the franchise would run out in less than a week.  Stillwell, from a railroad family, took the whiskey man in tow,  immediately setting out for Philadelphia and the money men there.  The two formed a syndicate, raised the money and began work on the line before the deadline.  The suburban line was the nucleus of what would become the Kansas City Southern Railway, extending into Mexico.  Today it is the smallest and third-oldest Class I railroad line in America.   An early engine of the line is illustrated below.

Perhaps heartened by this success, the same year, Martin plunged into land development.  He purchased acreage immediately along the Missouri and Kansas border adjacent to Kansas City, platted it with John Lipscomb, and sold off the lots.  Shown here, the community originally was named Tilden, for the Democratic presidential candidate narrowly defeated in the election of 1876.  Because another town in Missouri also was named Tilden, the name reverted to the founder — Edward L. Martin.  This unincorporated town was annexed to the Kansas City in 1963.  The neighborhood is still known as Martin City.

Although Martin’s liquor business appears to have survived until 1917, he increasingly was turning to other pursuits.  By 1900 he was being identified as a banker by the census and in city directories as president of the Guardian Trust Company.  In 1905 those directories indicate that he and son, Edward R., had their offices in Room 551 of the Gibraltar Building while operating the Eli Mining & Land Company.  

In 1912 Edward L. Martin died at age 70 and was buried in Elmwood Cemetery.   His monument is shown here.  His widow, Mary Elizabeth, would join him there in 1933.  In the community he created, each year a race is held in March that I assume is in honor of this remarkable shoemaker’s son, public-spirited citizen, and liquor dealer.  It is called the “Martin City Whiskey Run.”

Saturday, January 28, 2017

How Fists Won the West — Or At Least Pueblo, Colorado

 No, not a bare-knuckles fist fight.  The reference is to the Fists, German Jewish immigrants who found their way to Pueblo, Colorado, shown above as it looked in 1888.  While selling liquor in Pueblo the Fist family found a welcoming home and considerable prosperity.  

The family founder was Julius Fist, likely born “Feis,” in July 1852 in Sotern, Sankt Wendel, Saarland, Germany.  His parents were David and Babet “Yetta” Levy Feis/Fist.  Educated in German schools, Julius emigrated from his homeland to the United States about 1864.  He likely came with other family members, including older brothers Emanuel and Israel.  Their part of Germany frequently was inhospitable to Jews and the youthful Fists may have sought to escape discrimination for a land of greater opportunity.

According to the census, by 1870 Julius was working as a clerk in Atchison, Kansas, living there with a family named Kline.  His brothers were not mentioned.   By 1888 a directory located the three Fists together in Pueblo, Colorado, where they had established a liquor house.  They called it “Julius Fist & Company,” with both Julius and Emanuel listed as officers.  A letterhead identified the firm as selling wholesale liquor and cigars as well as imported wines and liquors.

As wholesalers, the Fists were bringing whiskey in barrels by railroad from distilleries in states like Pennsylvania, Kentucky and Missouri and selling it to the dozens of saloons that lined the streets of Pueblo and other Colorado towns.  Their containers of choice were ceramic jugs, likely procured from area potteries.  The first one shown here is particularly interesting since it appears to have been formed from a redware sewer pipe.  The glaze on the cylindrical body was typically used on tiles used to drain ditches.  The Fist name has been stenciled on.  Despite its primitive look, this jug recently sold at auction for $405. 

Later company jugs exhibit more sophistication.  A second example here is  stoneware, a ceramic harder than redware, with an overall whitish “Bristol glaze.” This jug shows a network of lines over the surface of the body generally called “crazing.”  Crazing occurs when a glaze cools more quickly or more slowly than the body of clay.  Either way surface tension is created causing the cracks.   Crazing may suggest a container was a product of a relatively primitive pottery.

With time the sophistication of the Fists’ jugs increased.  Two shown here, the one on the left a gallon container; the one on the right, two gallons.  They have attained a “two-toned” exterior, with a brown “Albany slip” top and a Bristol glaze body with a cobalt blue label.  Those would have been decanted into smaller containers at the saloons and served up as individual drinks to the faces across the bar.  The jugs would have been returned to the Fists for refilling.

Throughout their careers in Pueblo, the Fists sited their business on Santa Fe Avenue, illustrated below.  A 1889 directory found Julius and Emanuel living together several blocks away on that street, along with Israel.  Another brother, Herman, lived nearby.  All were working at the liquor house;  at that point all apparently were still bachelors.

That would change.  Julius Fist soon married a woman named Jennie, last name May, who had been born in Missouri in 1873 but had spent much of her life in Nebraska. She was some 21 years younger than her husband.  There were no indication of children. According to census data, Emanuel wed Regina, a woman who also was a German immigrant and 18 years younger than her husband.  They would have eight children, five of whom lived to maturity, including sons who furnished the second generation of Fists in the Pueblo liquor trade.

Julius Fist was the “face” of the company, traveling throughout Colorado and adjacent states selling liquor and wine.  For example, the Salida Mail in November, 1893, noted the arrival of Julius “supplying the wants of his trade.”  Several years later the Wet Mountain Tribune reported Fist had come to town on business, terming him “the popular wholesale liquor dealer.”  As Author Marni Davis has pointed out in her book “Jews and Booze,”  Jewish whiskey men in the West faced far less prejudice than in the East. The Fists were evidence of that more tolerant attitude.

Additional evidence was the willingness of the Wm. J. Lemp Brewing Company to make the Fists exclusive agents for its beer in and around Colorado.  Established in St. Louis in 1840 by a German immigrant, Johann Lemp, and carried on by his son, William, the brewery pursued a vigorous marketing strategy that included placing distribution depots strategically around the Western U.S.  That they chose Pueblo for one of these facilities and trusted the Fists with the merchandising was a tribute to the family’s reputation.

The prosperity that these immigrants had found in America 
translated into their being able to afford substantial housing for their families.  Julius’ home at 32 Carlile Place was and still is in full view of passersby.

By contrast, Emanuel’s home at 128 Jackson Street, above, also still standing, was a large residence away from the street and heavily surrounded by trees and bushes.  Living with him and wife Regina were many of their sons, three of them working for Julius Fist Wholesale Liquor.  City directories listed Milton J. as a “city salesman,”  A. Edward as “traveling salesman,” and Ferdinand simply as “salesman.”  This second generation of Fists would be brought into company management roles as the 20th Century wore on. 
In October 1913 Emanuel died at the age of 65.  Julius continued to guide the fortunes of the liquor house that bore his name, assisted by his deceased brother’s sons.  He passed away in November 1920, age 68.  Funeral services the brothers were held at Temple Emanuel, a synagogue they had helped to build. Shown here, it was the second Jewish house of worship in Colorado and is now on the National Register of Historic Places.

Both Fists were buried in Pueblo’s Roselawn Cemetery under a family monument.  They would be joined there later by their widows and, in the case of Emanuel, their children and children’s spouses.  Today a total of 16 Fists lie in that burying ground.

The liquor business the Fist brothers built was forced to close its doors after 1916 when Colorado voted statewide prohibition.  Lemp beer sales also were terminated — financial blows received four years before National Prohibition. Emanuel’s sons went on to other pursuits.  Nevertheless, over a 28 year period the family had built a thriving business and gained respect among their fellow Coloradans— proving repeatedly that Fists could win in the West. 

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Labrot & Graham Kept the Pepper Pot Boiling

Foreword:  In my last post the Pepper distilling family of Kentucky were featured, from the founder, Elijah, down to his grandson, James.  As recounted there, James experienced financial difficulties and was declared bankrupt in 1877.  That eventually led to the transfer of the Pepper distillery in 1878 to Leopold Labrot and James Graham of Frankfort, Kentucky.  They would own and operate the Old Oscar Pepper Distillery until the advent of National Prohibition and even after.  Not, however, without encountering a challenge from James Pepper.  

Leopold Labrot was born in France in 1847 or possibly earlier, depending on which U.S. census report one reads.  Labrot is said to have grown up in the wine-growing areas of his native land and have had experience in the wine trade when he came to the United States.  Census data records Labrot’s immigration year as 1865 when he was about 32.  According to his passport description, Leopold was five feet, seven inches tall, with a dark complexion, gray eyes and an aquiline nose.

If census data is accurate, Labrot must have settled almost immediately in Kentucky because he soon married a Frankfort woman.  She was Louisa Welch, the daughter of Arabella Scott Davis and Sylvester Welch.  Her father was the chief engineer for the State of Kentucky to plan and supervise the construction of the locks on the Kentucky River, allowing better water transport for local products, including shipments of whiskey.  The couple would have one daughter, Irma, born in 1876.

How Labrot met James Graham, an established Frankfort businessman, is unknown, but by 1878 when they bought the Old Oscar Pepper Distillery they had gained recognition as Kentucky whiskey men.  Graham became the plant manager and Labrot was responsible for wholesale and retail sales.  They produced Old Oscar Pepper as their only brand.  

Insurance underwriter documents placed the Labrot & James plant nine miles southeast of Frankfort. They recorded that the distillery was built of stone with a metal or slate roof. The property included a granary with two corn cribs, plus four bonded warehouses, all stone with metal or slate roofs.  Warehouse No. 1 was 100 feet north of the still. Part of this warehouse was “free,” that is, not part of the whiskey in bonded storage.  Warehouse No. 2 B adjoined No. 1 A, located 100 feet NE of the still.  Warehouse No. 3 C was 104 ft south of the still and Warehouse No. 4 D was 285 feet south.

Meanwhile, James Pepper, who had suffered bankruptcy and lost the family distillery, got back on his feet.  In 1889, with a partner named Starkweather, he established a distillery near Lexington, in Fayette County, Kentucky.  Pepper designed the distillery and layout of equipment and was responsible for overseeing construction.  He called his operation the James E. Pepper Distilling Company. [See my post on him, September 2012.]  After his distillery was up and running, James apparently had second thoughts about ceding the Old Oscar Pepper name to Labrot and Graham.  He hauled them into federal court in Kentucky on the grounds that he was the “originator, inventor, and owner” of the name “Old Oscar Pepper” and its abbreviation “O.O.P.,” and that the owners of the Frankfort distillery were infringing on his trademark.  

Pepper cited evidence that he had branded his barrels with a distinct mark that proved his ownership.  His lawyers testified that the had used the same device on a smaller scale printed upon the letterheads, billheads, and other business items concerning his whiskey.  On Pepper’s behalf they contended that a similar mark being used by Labrot & Graham, shown below,  was a “wrongful and fraudulent design” to procure customers who were looking for the genuine article.  Old Oscar Pepper,  they contended, was only of James Pepper’s manufacture.  They sought an injunction and damages against Labrot & Graham.  

The Frankfort partners, in their answer to Pepper’s complaint, dismissed his claims to the brand, contending that their whiskey was the product of the Old Oscar Pepper Distillery founded by the Peppers in Woodford County.  Labrot & Graham could point out that the distillery had been sold to them “with all appurtenances and fixtures” and that their ownership gave them the right to make and market whiskey under the Old Oscar Pepper name. On the contrary, they contended, use of the brand for a whiskey “manufactured elsewhere, would be a fraud on the public….”

In their 1881 opinion on Pepper vs. Labrot the federal judges took seriously a statement made when James took over the distillery after wresting the facility from his mother. He had attributed the excellence of the whiskey to the water used (“a very superior spring”) and the quality of the grain grown on the property.  In extolling Old Oscar Pepper his distiller also had boasted:  “I use the same water, the same grain, and the same STILL.”  How then, the court asked, could Pepper now repudiate the importance of those attributes when he was distilling his whiskey twenty-five miles away from its origins?  

The court then asked whether Pepper should be permitted to use the Old Oscar Pepper mark to represent whiskey made by him elsewhere as the product of the distillery now owned by Labor & Graham.  The answer was “No.” Not only did the court dismiss Pepper’s complaint against the partners, it found that he had no right to use the brand name at all because “to do so would be to mislead the public by a false representation in respect to the place of the manufacture of his goods.”

As a result of this decision, Labrot & Graham was free to market vigorously the only brand they distilled:  “Old Oscar Pepper Hand Made Sour Mash Whiskey.”  To wholesale customers they sold it by the barrel, adopting a slightly different design for their barrel heads that included the silhouettes of three stills.  A photograph from that period shows government inspectors at the distillery testing sample barrels for their alcoholic content. 

After aging in the Labrot & Graham warehouses the barrels often were decanted into glass containers ranging in size from half pints and pints to quarts.  Bottles came in both clear and amber, as shown here.  Bearing minimal embossing, the Old Oscar Pepper and OOP label was sufficient identification that the consumer was getting the genuine article.

In 1900 James Graham died, leaving the full responsibility for management of the distillery to Leopold Labrot.  Despite loss of his valued partner, Labrot never broke stride.  Under the Frenchman’s leadership the distillery continued to make progress.  As shown in a news photo above the staff grew markedly.  Over the years as well, the distillery was upgraded and expanded.  The older structures were torn down to be replaced by buildings that were constructed largely of local stone, as shown below.

For more than a decade Labrot guided the fortunes of Old Oscar Pepper Distillery.  Striken with heart trouble as he entered his late sixties, he died in 1911.  The cause given on his death certificate was “pulmonary edema.”  With his widow, Louisa, and other family members mourning at his gravesite, Leopold was interred in Frankfort Cemetery.  His burial crypt is shown here.

Labrot’s death triggered a major reorganization of the company.  Among the new officers were two Chicago businessmen, D. K. Weiskopf of the Republic Distributing Company, and Richard A. Baker, a cousin of Col. E. H. Taylor Jr. and the husband of Labrot’s daughter, Irma.  Baker, a Kentuckian, apparently was in charge of the day-to-day operations of the distillery, retaining the Labrot & Graham name.

The distillery was forced to close in 1918 with the coming of National Prohibition.  Its warehouses were emptied of stored whiskey and the stocks moved to federal concentration warehouses to prevent hijacking and pilferage.  Later the liquor was sold for medicinal purposes.  With Repeal, Baker rebuilt the distillery in 1935, operating once again as Labrot & Graham.  The facility was sold to Brown-Forman in 1940 for $75,000 but then lay idle for almost five decades until that company decided to refurbish the plant to bring it back into operation, specifically to produce a small batch bourbon known as Woodford Reserve.  Introduced into the market in 1996, this Kentucky bourbon has proved highly popular.

Today the distillery is counted as the oldest of the nine bourbon distilleries currently in operation in Kentucky, even though the site lay idle for several periods during the past 237 years of its history.  Founded by Elijah Pepper in 1780 and run by the Pepper family for almost 100 years, the distillery found an able successor in Leopold Labrot, who with Graham brought the facility and the brand successfully into the 20th Century and eventually to Brown-Forman.


Saturday, January 21, 2017

Five Peppers Stirred the Copper Pot

Among the best known Kentucky bourbons is “Old Oscar Pepper,” a brand that endured for more than 80 years and a tradition honored even today.  The story behind this whiskey is so long that this post deals only with the Pepper family, the five members, including two women, who guided the fortunes of the distillery until 1878 when it was sold.  My next post will describe what happened over the following 40 years.  But first we get to know the Peppers:

Elijah Pepper:  He was the founding father of the Pepper distilling dynasty, born about 1775 in Fauquier County, Virginia, the son of Samuel Pepper and Elizabeth Holton, accounted “an English lady.”  In 1794, not long out of his teens,  Elijah married Sarah O’Bannon, who the records indicate may have been only 13 or 14 at the time.  In 1797, with Sarah and her brother, John O’Bannon, this Pepper moved more than 500 miles west into Kentucky, settling near the town of Versailles, Woodford County.  There he established his first distillery.

After moving for several years to Bourbon County, Elijah returned to Woodford County and by 1812 was paying taxes on 200 acres along Glenn’s Creek. He had selected this location because a branch stream coursed through the property and three pristine springs gushed near the banks of the creek.  There he established a farm, a gristmill and a distillery.  Although  other nearby Kentucky farmers had been forced to give up distilling because of the federal taxes imposed, Elijah seemingly had deeper pockets, bought their grain and legally made it into whiskey.

By that time Elijah and Sarah had a family of seven children, four boys and three girls.  For them he built a two-story log house with a massive exterior limestone chimney.  The only part of the original Pepper settlement that remains, the house was enlarged by subsequent residents.  It is shown here as part of a Kentucky archeological project that has sought to restore and preserve the site.

All of Elijah’s structures were built of timbers on foundations of stone.  Land division maps indicate the grist mill was constructed high on the stream where the force of the water could turn a wheel and that his distillery was nearby.  The location of his slave quarters has not been identified, for — truth be told — the Peppers were slave owners.  Census records for 1810 indicate that the family had nine enslaved blacks,  With the prosperity of his holdings, Elijah was able over the next ten years to increase his slave holdings to twelve, seven males and five females.  Owning more hands for field work allowed Elijah to increase his land holdings to 350 acres.

The prosperity that followed in the next decade allowed him to buy even more slaves and the 1830 census recorded him holding thirteen males and twelve females in bondage.  An inventory taken at Elijah’s death in March 1831 provided other indications of his wealth.  His distillery included six copper kettle stills, similar to the one shown here, 74 mash tubs, a number of kegs and 41 barrels of aging whiskey, equivalent to 1,560 gallons.  His livestock counted 22 horses, 113 hogs, 125 sheep and lambs, and more than 30 head of cattle.  He also owned numerous implements for use in agriculture and timbering. 

Sarah O’Bannon Pepper: Only days before his death, Elijah Pepper made a will that left the distillery and other property to his wife.  Now about 50 years old, Sarah seems to have been fully up to the task.  The daughter of William O’Bannon and Annie Neville, she was the niece of General John Neville of Virginia, a prominent officer in the Civil War and a personal friend of George Washington.  The Nevilles were wealthy gentry in Virginia and may have assisted the Peppers financially at the start.

Although Sarah’s education may have been truncated by her early marriage, her husband entrusted Sarah with aspects of managing their large farm and associated businesses.  The inventory of Elijah’s possessions indicate that she had overseen purchases of farm and distillery equipment including, “stills and tubs, etc., in still house.”  She also likely was responsible for buying the carpeting, silver and other expensive furnishings that are said to have graced the Pepper home.

The presumption of an historian who researched the property for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places is that after Elijah’s death Sarah was in charge of managing the family businesses, including the distillery and whiskey sales, for a period of about seven years, 1831 until 1838.  That year she sold her interest to her eldest son, Oscar Pepper, who had been assisting her. 

Oscar Neville Pepper:  Born in 1809, Oscar took the relatively small whiskey business his father had founded to a new level.  Thus 1838 is recognized as the founding year of the re-named Oscar Pepper Distillery and the origin of the “Old Oscar Pepper” brand.  After buying out the shares of his brothers and sisters,  Oscar began making major improvements on the property.  He replaced the log structures of his father’s milling and distilling businesses with stone buildings and put an addition on the house.  Indicative of the amount of construction going on was a record in the 1850 census that a stone mason from Ireland named Thomas Mayhall was living with the family.  

The move from timber to stone was not a difficult one since the hillsides that surrounded the Pepper property were a rich source of limestone, a mineral important to the farmer-distiller families.  The limestone bedrock was good for growing corn and the waters of limestone-filtered springs helped produce whiskey with a distinct flavor.  Working with limestone for construction, however, took the kind of expertise that Mayhall brought.  To form building blocks the bedrock had to be quarried and shaped.  To create mortar the limestone had to be fired, ground and slaked.  As indicated by land records, the resulting distillery building was a one-and-a half story rectangle structure with an asymmetrical gable roof about 60 by 75 feet in area.   Shown below is a picture of Pepper’s stone distillery.

Oscar’s most important decision was to hire as his master distiller the now-famous Dr. James Crow, a Scottish chemist.  Crow has been hailed as the  individual who single-handed enhanced the bourbon-making process by improving and codifying sour-mash fermentation, pot still distillation, and the process of aging in wooden barrels.  

Crow also insisted that no more than two and one-half gallons of whiskey should be produced from a bushel of grain.  Shown here is a device that may have been invented by Crow.  It is a single chamber where the alcoholic content of distilled bourbon could be tested.  This example included hydrometers for checking both the first and second distillations.

Crow worked for the Peppers from 1833 until 1855, with exceptions being 1837 and 1838, possibly because Oscar’s stone construction was proceeding.  Crow’s deal was that he would be compensated by being given one-tenth of the production.  In 1855 the distillery produced 80 barrels from which Crow presumably drew ten.  In his admiration for the Scotsman, Oscar named one whiskey “Old Crow” and gave the distiller a house of his own on the property.

Meanwhile, Oscar Pepper was having a personal life.  In June 1845 he married Nancy Ann (also given as Annette) “Nannie” Edwards, a woman born and raised in Woodford County who was 18 years old when they wed and about 17 years younger than her husband.  In subsequent years under Oscar’s leadership the farm and distillery flourished and his family increased to seven children.  The 1860 census indicated real estate valued at $31,000, the equivalent of some $770,000 today.  His personal property that included such extravagances as a piano, an icebox, and law books was valued at $36,000. 

Oscar’s wealth also included twelve male and eleven female slaves, some of them obviously inherited from Elijah.  They would have been tending the crops on his large farm as well as working in the Old Oscar Pepper Distillery along side Dr. Crow.  A record of births in Woodford County for 1859 lists Oscar and Nannie having a baby on April 10 to whom no name yet had been given, but data suggests later was christened Mary.  The same year two of the Peppers’ slave women had given birth in August, a girl named Maria and a boy named Willie.  Oscar Pepper is recorded in the column for the father’s name.  My guess is that because slaves were considered property not persons, he appears there as the owner not the progenitor.  

Oscar Pepper died in June 1865 at the age 56 and with his family and friends mourning by his graveside was interred in the Lexington Cemetery in Fayette County.  Shown here is his gravestone. 

Nannie Edwards Pepper:   The inventory of Oscar’s possessions taken after his death indicate how much he had expanded the Pepper estate.  It included 400 barrels of corn, 400 bushes of rye, 40 bushels of barley malt and 30 barrels of barley, a large copper still and a boiler, all part of the distilling operation.  The alcohol on hand included 120 gallons of whiskey.  This Pepper owned 829 acres of land and livestock that included 21 horses and mares, 7 mules, 25 milk cows, 30 yearlings and steers, 56 sheep and more than 100 hogs.

Unlike his father Oscar left no will.  A court settlement in 1869 divided his property in seven unequal lots for his seven children.  Presley O’Bannon Pepper, the youngest, only seven years old, received the largest share, including 160 acres of land, the distillery, the grist mill and the family home.  This was the court’s way carefully of providing for Nannie Pepper.   Since P. O’Bannon was a minor and would remain so for another 14 years, it put most of the financially productive property in her hands.

Still a relatively young woman at 36, Nannie, unlike her mother-in-law Sarah, seems to have had no interest in operating the distillery by herself.  Moreover, since the end of the Civil War all the Pepper slaves were gone.  As guardian of P. O’Bannon’s inheritance, she soon leased the property to Gaines, Berry & Company of Frankfort, Kentucky, a firm where the famous Col. E. H. Taylor Jr. was a partner.  The agreement gave the Frankfort group control over the distillery and all its equipment, the distiller’s house, and two stone warehouses.  The two-year agreement also included the grist mill and a pen near the distillery where the hogs were fed the spent mash.

Born in 1850, Nannie’s eldest son, James, 15 years old at the time of his father’s death, appears to have be given a role in the running of the distillery by Gaines, Berry & Co.  They appended the name “Old Crow Distillery” to the Pepper property and made “Old Crow” their flagship brand.

James Pepper:   Possibly egged on by the ambitious Col. Taylor [see my post of Jan. 2015], James Pepper apparently grew tired of playing second fiddle to his mother and in 1872 successfully sued to gain control of the distillery.  The result apparently did not cause a serious mother-son breach as Nannie is recorded giving a deposition for James later in a court case.

The next few years for the Pepper distillery are somewhat muddled.  After taking control, James apparently teamed with Col. Taylor, who had broken with Gaines, Berry and the two made improvements in the plant and increased operations.  Gaines, Berry, however, apparently retained sufficient financial interest that the “Old Crow” trademark was transferred to them, leaving James with the Old Oscar Pepper brand.

After five years of operating the distillery, James experienced severe financial difficulties and was declared bankrupt in 1877.  The Peppers’ loss was Col. Taylor’s temporary gain as he took sole ownership of the Old Oscar Pepper Distillery.  But Taylor — who had other distillery interests — shortly after met with his own financial downfall.  That led to the transfer of the Pepper distillery briefly to George T. Stagg, another well-known Kentucky whiskey man, and finally in 1878 to Leopold Labrot and James Graham of Frankfort.  Shown above is an illustration of the distillery at the time of their purchase.  Never again would a Pepper family member own the property founded by Elijah, nurtured by Sarah, expanded by Oscar, protected by Nannie, and lost by James.

Afterword:  Although the Old Oscar Pepper distillery was in other hands, the Pepper name continued for years in the trade when James later founded his own distillery in Lexington, [see my post of September 2012].  When James died in 1906, he was interred near his father and Nannie, who had passed in 1899.  A large monument, three Doric pillars on a three step base, marks the spot where the Pepper clan is buried in Lexington Cemetery. 

Now came the turn of Labrot & Graham to run the historic distillery.  Their names are combined with the Peppers in a mill wheel above. Their story and its outcome will be the subject of my next post. 

Note:  Much of the information for this post came from an undated National Park Service document associated with the listing of the Pepper properties on the National Register of Historic Places.