Wednesday, December 21, 2022

J. G. Philpott: Michigan’s “Hale Fellow Well Met”

If you chanced to meet Jay George Philpott at one of his Michigan enterprises, he almost certainly would become an instant friend and confidant — and have something to sell.  It might be liquor, oysters, insurance, used cars, or even Russian bonds.  In one ad Philpott boasted: “Dealer in Everything Under the Sun except Salt.”  His home town newspaper termed him a “hale fellow well met” perhaps ignorant that the term often refers to a disingenuous, insincere friendliness.  Or maybe not.

The eldest of three sons, Philpott was born in Broome County, New York in November 1866, to Alice (Mosher) and Thomas Philpott, a Civil War veteran and iron worker.  Indicating that the family was not wealthy, the 1870 census recorded the boy Jay working as a clerk at the age of 14, apparently in a Utica, New York, drug store.  In 1885, at age 19,  Philpott passed the state exam to become a licensed pharmacist.

The youth eventually was drawn to other locales and occupations, moving to Detroit, Michigan, to work for the Koppitz-Melcher Brewing Company in sales.  The brewery was the brain child of Konrad F. Koppitz, an immigrant from Austria who was a highly respected brewmaster when he organized and became company president.  From Koppitz Philpott may have learned the value of assertive advertising, e.g. the brewery’s claim to make “Detroit’s Perfect Beer.”

After five years in Detroit, Philpott stuck out on his own.  In a highly unusual move he established himself almost simultaneously in two smaller Michigan cities, Port Huron, the northeastern most point of the state on Lake Huron,  and Adrian, 130 miles southwest of Port Huron, not far from the Ohio border.  In Adrian, left he opened a wine and liquor store on Main Street, shown here.  There Philpott also sold a wide range of non-alcoholic goods, including oysters, engendering this ad in the 1909 Adrian city directory:

In Port Huron, left, his J.G. Philpott liquor house began by operating in a small space in the downtown McMorran-Davidson Office Building, shown below.  By 1910 the organization had expanded to include a mail order business with operations on three floors. 

In a “puff” piece in the Port Huron Times-Herald in June, 1910, a reporter described the storefront on the ground floor as being the most elaborately furnished business in the city, likened to a bank with its “heavy counters” and “fancy brass lattice or wicket work.”  The writer went on to extoll the main stock room as resembling a drug store with liquor kept in “fancy mahogany and cherry finished cases.”  The story continued: “A large number of people are employed in the bottling department, where all kinds of high grade liquors are prepared for shipment. In the labeling department a number of girls find employment.”

Philpott himself was quoted extensively: “No matter how deeply we cut prlce we never cut quality.  All the goods we sell are the highest grade in their respective classes. We give the promptest, most careful and most efficient service that an up-to-date, finely equipped and thoroughly trained organization is capable of.”

The reporter felt constrained to point out that the J.G. Philpott Co. had never been accused of breaking the law.  Perhaps not, but stretching the truth, Philpott claimed his establishment was the “Largest Wholesale Liquor Store and Mail Order House in Michigan.”

As was customary with liquor enterprises like Philpott’s, it featured two house brands, likely mixed up on premises.  They were “Killarney Straight Whiskey” and “King Edward XII Straight Whiskey.”  The owner did not bother to register a trademark for either label.  As was customary for liquor wholesalers, Philpott issued shot glasses for both brands.  They would have been given to customers in saloons, restaurants and hotels for use over the bar.

According to his biography in the 1909 “History of Lewanee County,”  Philpott also was a gentleman farmer .  On the outskirts of Adrian he bought a 20 acre spread on which he raised poultry.  The biographer noted:  “He is a great fancier of finely bred chickens, and his pens of Houdans, Brahmas, and Leghorns [shown below in that order] have won many prizes at different fairs and poultry shows where they have been exhibited.

While his businesses and poultry hobby apparently were going well, Philpott’s marital situation was not.  In June of 1890 he had married 22-year old Gertrude Durham, the daughter of Joseph Durham of Romeo, Michigan.  They wed in Sarnia, Canada, the birth country of Gertrude’s mother’s.  There would be no children.  The stress on their marriage from the outset seems inevitable.  Philpott frequently was absent from their Adrian home for extended periods as he traveled to Port Huron to run his business there.  His wife may have been left behind to feed the chickens.  After nine years, she called it quits.  Charging Philpott with “extreme cruelty” Gertrude obtained a divorce.

Philpott, now 45, married again two years later.  This time his bride was  Ernestine Bowsky, 26, originally from a New York State family.  The couple would have one son.  They named him Jay George Philpott II.   This time Philpott made Port Huron his home base, housing his family at 517 Rawlins Street in a three story residence boasting a white pillared porch.

Philpott’s economic fortunes were about to change abruptly.  With prohibitionist Henry Ford leading the charge, Michigan in 1917 became the first Midwest State to outlaw the making and sales of alcohol.   This development apparently led him to shut down his Adrian company and in Port Huron shift to selling groceries.  When that enterprise proved unsatisfactory, Philpott moved, as many former whiskey men did, into the newly burgeoning automotive field.  He opened a business he called “Auto Sales Co” at 531 Water Street.  References to this company in Port Huron directories indicate that Philpott was selling auto insurance.  Not identified as a dealer for a specific make, Philpott apparently  was selling used cars, a perfect venue for a pitchman.

From the Water Street location, the “hale fellow well met” also was dealing in foreign securities, more specifically, Russian Imperial bonds.  These were highly speculative investments.  After coming to power the Soviet Government of Russia repudiated honoring any securities issued by the Czarist regime.  Given the extraordinary amounts of money involved, European bankers and others desperately kept alive the idea that someday the bonds would be paid off.  From time to time they floated rumors from of progress in negotiating with Russia’s Communist government.  The stories spiked brief inflation of values.  Banks and bond agents cashed in; small investors lost when the rumors proved to be just rumors.

Philpott, always open to opportunity, energetically was peddling Russian bonds to his fellow citizens, promising big returns once things got straighten out in Moscow.  By 1929, the Michigan Securities Commission in Lansing had had enough.  According to press accounts:  “Philpott is said to have disposed of virtually worthless Russian bonds to Michigan investors at a considerable loss to the latter…The Commission is seeking to revoke Philpott’s brokerage license and has ordered him to show cause why this action should not be taken.”  Although I cannot find the outcome of this official action, Russian bonds eventually proved to be all but worthless.

In the interim Philpott, the “hale fellow” died, age 58.  He succumbed at home on May 27, 1930, after a brief illness.  His funeral services were held at the residence, officiated by the Rev. Austin DuPlan, pastor of Grace Episcopal Church.  His remains, accompanied by his widow, Ernestine, and their son, were taken by train to Utica, New York.  Jay George was buried in the Philpott family plot in nearby Oriskany Cemetery.   Ernestine is not buried with him.

Note:  This post was constructed from a wide range of sources.  The most important was Philpott’s biography in “The History of Lenawee County Michigan,” Vol. I; Editor, Richard I. Bonner;  Western Historical Assn., Madison WI, 1909.

Saturday, December 17, 2022

The Club Saloon of Choteau, Montana


Foreword:  When a cache of letterheads from Choteau, Montana’s, Club Saloon recently came up  for auction, I was struck by the numerous ownerships of that drinking establishment during just fifteen years.  The rapid turnover is intriguing, a story told in the stationery the proprietors left behind.

The oldest letterhead is dated Oct. 20, 1899.  The saloonkeeper was William E. Jeffrey,  whose stationery featured a fancy backdrop, full of curves and splotches.  He advertised that “The Club”  could provide “wines, whiskeys and cigars.”  Jeffery featured  the whiskey of Bond & Lillard, a Kentucky bourbon.  By 1899 that brand was controlled by Stoll & Co. of Lexington, Kentucky, an arm of the Whiskey Trust. [See post on Stoll, April 23, 2017].

By 1900, ownership had devolved briefly to C. G. Allen who ordered up stationery that proclaimed the the Club Saloon the “Finest Resort in Teton County.”  Allen’s tenure at that “watering hole,” must have been short.  By October 1901, M. Morrison & Co. was declaring itself the proprietor of the Club.

Morrison was followed only seven months later, by W. D. Hagen.  In a note under his letterhead Hagen asked a wholesale dealer for the exclusive rights to sell Perfecto Cigars in Choteau, promising substantial continuing orders in return. In his advertising Hagen claimed exclusivity for Lemp Beer sales.  Later, he added his name to his letterheads and the admonition:  “A prompt settlement desired.” 

William Hagen was a well known figure in Choteau, having served as the Teton County sheriff from 1897 until 1900.  In that role he was instrumental in the first known hanging in the county.  When the decomposing body of Julius Plath aka Robert Davis, a hand on a local sheep ranch, was found in 1898, circumstantial evidence pointed to a drifter named William Pepo, who promptly disappeared.  Sheriff Hagen relentlessly tracked Pepo down to a small town in Washington State and brought him back to Choteau.  On slim proof a local jury found him guilty and sentenced him to death.  Hagen supervised construction of the gallows and Pepo was hanged, protesting his innocence to the end.

The retired sheriff apparently found that running a saloon was not what he had envisioned.  By 1903 new ownership had emerged.  Now Taylor & Butler were a partnership operating The Club.  Their proprietorship was similarly short-lived, replaced by C. H. Davis.  I have seen no letterhead for Davis but in a Choteau newspaper ad of July 1904 he resurrected the slogan about having the “Finest…in Teton County.”  He added his own slogan:  Call and See for Yourself: We"ll Show You.


Fast forward 10 years, during which time no new letterheads emerged.  On December 31,1913, a local newspaper reported:  “The Club Saloon property and licenses were sold to J. H. Peters of Great Falls for $5,800 last Saturday.”

Period.  No indication of who the seller might be.  Peters was already running a saloon in Great Falls but may have moved to Choteau with this purchase.  He wasted no time in having his own letterhead printed, shown above.  He subsequently added H.C. Peters, likely his brother, to Club management.

H.C. Peters was a veteran of the Spanish-American War, probably a member of the 1st Montana Volunteer Infantry.  The unit was mustered in at Helena on May 5-10, 1898, leaving the U.S. for service in the Philippines on July 18, 1898.  They arrived in Manila, Philippines, on August 24, 1898. While the unit was enroute, the city of Manila surrendered to American forces. An armistice was agreed to between the U.S. and Spain effectively ending the fighting.  Nonetheless, the Montana regiment stayed an entire year in the Philippines fighting a Filipino revolt against American rule.  The 1st Montana suffered one officer and 20 men killed in action;  9 officers and 111 men were wounded.  A medal was awarded to veterans like Peters by the State of Montana.

Despite the frequent changes in ownership, The Club Saloon continued to stay in business.  Even National Prohibition and the country-wide ban on selling alcohol apparently could not shut it down.  In September 1932 the Choteau Acantha newspaper reported that George Burrell, the crippled proprietor of The Club, had been murdered in the establishment, apparently in the course of a robbery.  Burrell had been found strangled to death, a telephone wire wrapped twice around his neck.  

Note:  My interest  in the Club Saloon led me to the books of Nancy C. Thornton, a former Choteau Acantha reporter, who has done historical summaries of the events that through the years made local news in Choteau and Teton County.  Her “Tales from Montana’s Rocky Mountain Front” provided the story of Sheriff Hagen and the Pepo hanging. 

Tuesday, December 13, 2022

Whiskey Men and Mystery Deaths


 Foreword:  Presented here are brief accounts of three whiskey men who died under mysterious circumstances.  Two of their deaths were ruled accidental, although upon reexamination one might well have been suicide and the other a murder.  The third was declared  a suicide, and likely was so, but the rationale behind the act of self-destruction remains murky.  

A Scottish immigrant, David Porter began his San Francisco career as a drayman,  driving a team of horses hauling barrels for a liquor dealer.  Before long Porter owned the liquor house and had expanded his business interests and wealth to become part of the city’s financial elite and owner of one of the city’s finest mansions.   The Porter home at 1414 Folsom Street had a commanding view of San Francisco from atop Nob Hill.  Now the site of the posh Fairmont Hotel, the liquor baron’s Victorian home was two and a half stories high with a wrap-around yard and garden.  

The net worth Porter gave the 1870 census taker was equivalent to over $1,000,000 today.  In ensuing years he operated David Porter Company as an apparently successful liquor house and managed a portfolio of other investments.  One press account called him “one of the most widely known of San Francisco merchants.”  Late on the afternoon of January 17,1893, Porter arrived at the Mills Building, a major financial center, and took the elevator to the seventh floor.  After visiting an office there, the liquor dealer returned to an elevator that stood next to a spiral staircase open to the ground floor lobby.  

Suddenly Porter pitched over the side. He crashed on the second floor, fracturing his skull, and died instantly as his body rolled down the stairs to the lobby.  A coroner’s jury ruled it an accidental death.  A San Francisco Examiner story speculated that when an elevator car was not at hand, Porter walked over to the bannister, looked down the seven stories, had a sudden attack of vertigo, tipped over the railing and plunged fifty feet. The newspaper termed it:  “A fearful descent.”  

Not long after Porter’s death, however, strong speculation arose that his fall might not have been accidental.  Although his obituaries spoke of his wealth, Porter soon was revealed no longer a rich man. He apparently owed large amounts of money and was on the brink of bankruptcy.  Despite appearances, Porter was no millionaire.  In fact, he had died worse than penniless. Was his fall really an accident?  There is reason for doubt.


On a Sunday afternoon in June 1913, Solomon H. “Sol” Dreyfuss was found dead of gunshot wounds lying in his office at the Paducah, Kentucky, liquor house of Dreyfuss & Weil.  His hand was near a pistol he kept in his desk.  The family claimed an accident; onlookers suspected suicide.  No formal investigation ensued.  Dreyfuss’s death certificate simply gave the cause as “gunshot wounds…manner unknown.”  Questions remained.  Suicide takes one shot, Dreyfuss had been shot twice — each potentially causing instant death.  One shot entered the liquor dealer’s right temple.  The other bullet pierced his skull back of the right ear.  Looking at available evidence years later, Paducah police concluded Dreyfus was victim of a homicide.  But who shot him and why?   

This whiskey man earlier had stirred considerable national controversy.  A popular muckraking American journalist Will Irwin, writing in Collier’s Weekly in May 1908, blamed Dreyfuss  and his partner for suggesting that their “Devil’s Island Endurance Gin” was an aphrodisiac. “The gin was cheap, its labels bore lascivious suggestions and were decorated with highly indecent portraiture of white women.”  Such liquor, Irwin implied, could drive men to rape and murder.  Could someone have decided to avenge this outrage?  Or had Dreyfuss been the victim of a burglary gone violent.  Was a family member involved?

No such speculation seems immediately to have followed Sol’s death. Fingerprints were not lifted from the gun, the liquor dealer’s office was not searched for clues, no interrogations were conducted and no official police report was filed.  The family’s insistence that Sol’s death was an accident was accepted by authorities and the case closed.  That two shots had been fired seemed to concern no one. Years later Paducah police concluded Dreyfus had been murdered.

Solomon Dreyfuss was given a quick funeral and buried in Temple Israel Cemetery in nearby Lone Oak, Kentucky.  His liquor house continued to function under the management of his son until 1919 when National Prohibition shut its doors.  “Devils Island Endurance Gin” went out of existence never to be revived.  With 1934 Repeal came laws that banned suggestive liquor advertising.  What remains today is the unanswered question:  Who shot Sol Dreyfuss?


After immigrating from Germany in 1868, Max Ullman spent most of the next dozen years traveling over Georgia, changing jobs and cities frequently, looking for a place big enough to achieve his ambitions. Shown here, he eventually found opportunity in the Brunswick, Georgia, liquor trade.   He marketed his own brand of whiskey brought to him in barrels by land and sea, decanted the liquor into ceramic jugs and sold them to area saloons, hotels and restaurants.  

Ullman rapidly  became rich.  He parlayed that success into a handful of enterprises, including owning a bank, shown here.  Having made a fortune, he met his undoing in the national financial panic of 1893, suffering heavy losses and faced bankruptcy.

 On May 18, 1893, Ullman walked to his office with a banker friend named Burbage, “chatting pleasantly,”  He owed the man $15,000 but actually had no ability to pay the debt.   When Burbage asked him for the money, Ullman replied “All right, wait a moment,” and stepped into an adjoining bathroom.  The Atlanta Constitution told the rest of the story:   “Burbage, waiting, heard a report which he thought was a chair falling.  Finally when Ulllman did not return he went for him, and found his body sitting upright on a bench with a bullet hole in the center of his forehead and blood flowing in a rapid stream to a pool that had already formed below.”

The news of the apparent suicide spread rapidly and streets around the site were crowded with anxious citizens.  Ullman’s financial institution was bankrupt, its liabilities hopelessly outweighing assets. Many with accounts, including the City of Brunswick, lost significant amounts of money.  Ullman’s other business enterprises, including his liquor house, closed as the effects rippled through the community.  Yet the mystery remained:  Why had Ullman taken so drastic a step when his indebtedness to a friend seems relatively minor?

Note:  More complete stories on each of these whiskey men can be found elsewhere on this website:   David Porter, October 9, 2019;  Sol Dreyfuss, June 6, 2021, and Max Ullman, November 17, 2020.

Friday, December 9, 2022

Rogers Distillery: 40 Years in Maysville, Part 2

Foreword:  For the first time in the dozen years of this website, the amount of photographic and written material available about a Kentucky distillery, forty years in operation, and about its owners is of sufficient magnitude to suggest that the article be presented in two parts.  The first segment was devoted to the distillery founder James Hampton Rogers.  This vignette features his wife, Lida Clarke Rogers, and their son, the subsequent distillery owners.

With the death of James H. Rogers in 1890, the distillery he had founded about 1879 was now the willed property of his widow, Lida Clarke Rogers, age 38.  Shown here as a girl of 16, Lida had a distinguished ancestry dating from the Revolutionary War.  She was a direct descendant through her mother, of two well recognized war heroes, both with Kentucky roots, Jesse Hord and Francis Triplett.  

Hord was an officer in the Virginia militia during the
 Revolution.  After the end of hostilities he emigrated to Kentucky in 1786 and settled on Mill Creek in Mason County where he gained a reputation as a famous hunter and Indian fighter.  Hord died in 1814.  Triplett commanded the Virginia militia at the 1781 Battle of Cowpens, South Carolina, and for his valor received a sword from the Continental Congress.  After the war Captain Triplett became a wealthy landowner and at his death in 1794 reputedly left 37,000 acres of prime land in Kentucky to his children.  Although eligible for DAR membership, Lida did not join, but her daughter later did.

For Lida’s father, however, military service proved not so salutary.  Young John R. Clarke trained for the law and was received into the bar at the age of 24.  He seemingly was highly successful in the legal profession and in the 1860 census claimed assets approaching $180,000 in today’s dollar.  Despite this wealth, a growing family, and Confederate influence in Kentucky, at 34 years old Clarke chose to join the Union Army.  After serving through most of the conflict, whether the result of wounds or sickness, he died in a military hospital at Camp Nelson, Kentucky, and was buried on the grounds — now a national cemetery.  His wife, Mary, was left to raise Lida and her brother, Frank.

From all indications, Lida’s girlhood without a father found the family relatively well off.  The photo above, taken when she was only 16 years old, shows her wearing a hat with two birds mounted on the top, the fashion rage at the time.  When she was 21, she married James Rogers and settled down to the life of a wife, mother, and homemaker.  In the photo shown here she sits dutifully beside her husband.  No evidence exists that Lida was given any responsibilities for operating the Rogers distillery at Devil’s Backbone, shown below.  Now it was hers.  After what may have been several difficult years she persuaded her brother, Frank H. Clarke, to return to manage the facility.  Frank had left Maysville for Chicago as a young man and was an employee of the Board of Trade in that city.

In agreeing to return as general manager and bookkeeper for the distillery, Frank required that while being willing to take directions from Lida he annually be given one-fourth of the net profits from all whiskey the company sold.  He also was paid a salary, from which his expenses were to be deducted..   The agreement was not a partnership:  Her brother was to act under Lida’s “supervision and control and as she might order and direct in the management of the business.”   Although the duration of this contract was left uncertain, it prevailed for 19 productive years.

During that time, Lida Rogers made a major decision affecting the future of the J.H. Rogers Distillery, shown above:  She put the facility under the aegis of the Bottled in Bond Act of 1897.  As a reaction to widespread adulteration in American whiskey, the Act made the federal government the guarantor of a spirit's authenticity, gave producers a tax incentive for participating, and helped ensure proper accounting and the eventual collection of the taxes due.  Two Kentuckians had played a prominent role in its passage, John C. Carlisle, Secretary of the Treasury in the Cleveland Administration, and Col. Edmund Taylor, a prominent distiller who lobbied the bill in Congress. 

By enthusiastically endorsing the Act Lida was casting her lot with the quality whiskey makers not only of Kentucky, but of the country.  Company participation was prominently displayed on advertisements and every whiskey label.  Shown above are examples.

During ensuing years Lida became recognized in Kentucky as highly competent business executive — and an increasingly rich one.  Her wealth allowed her to purchase what arguably is the most famous mansion in Maysville, known as “Phillips’ Folly,” shown below.  Begun in 1825 for merchant and community leader, Wiliam B. Phillips, the house was not completed until years later.  As a result, some suggest, it represents no single architectural mode, combining Federal, Greek Revival and Georgian styles.  Phillips lived in the house less than a year before selling to what became a series of short term owners until Lida Rogers bought it in 1904.

She made it a home for herself and for her daughter, also Lida, now Mrs. Darlington Fee.  The household included Lida’s husband, two grandchildren, both girls, and a Filipino nurse.  This must have been a particularly happy time for the matriarch, surrounded by family.  In 1910 Lida turned over ownership of “Phillips Folly” to the Fees.  At the time she was experiencing heart problems that would end her life in April 1911. She died at age 58.

Her death occasioned obituaries in both Maysville newspapers. Said the Daily Public Register:  “She was one of Maysville’s prominent residents, a cultured woman with a strong and bright mind….She was generous and kind, but did not parade her benefactions, and many will miss her generous and kindly help in hours of distress and misfortune.”  The Daily Bulletin termed Lida “a most excellent Christian lady.” Its story noted:  A singular coincidence in the death of Mrs. Rogers was that she died at 4 o’clock, April 24, and her husband died at 4 o’clock on the morning of June 24, twenty-one years ago.”  Neither paper mentioned her success at running a distillery.

Lida Rogers’ funeral service was held in her home, with an Episcopalian priest conducting the service, despite her being identified as “a devout believer in the Christian Science faith.”  She was buried in the Maysville Cemetery next to James Rogers.  Her gravestone is shown here.

Lida’s death resulted in a notable rift in the distilling family.  The agreement she had made with Frank Clarke gave him no right to distillery ownership.  The property was inherited by her son, John Clarke Rogers, known as “Clarke.”  He appears to have worked at the distillery under his uncle and the relationship may have been an uneasy one.  Once he controlled the distillery, nephew Clarke wasted no time in firing Frank Clarke.  The uncle filed suit against the company claiming the was owed a portion of the profits on whiskey distilled under his supervision and aging in the company warehouse but yet unsold. He took his nephew to court.  A Mason County Circuit Court judge, citing the original employment agreement, disagreed.  Not deterred, Frank appealed to a higher Kentucky court and again was turned away.

Now charged with managing the Devil’s Backbone faciity, often called the Limestone Distillery after its flagship brand, John Clarke Rogers proved as able in the ownership role as his father and mother had been.   By that time he was married to Mary Huston January, daughter of Maysville residents Horace and Louisa January.  The couple would have three children in rapid succession, Louise, 1903, James, 1904, and Horace, 1905, who died in infancy.  Clarke Rogers provided his family and a live-in servant with the comfortable home at 400 West Second Street in Maysville shown here.

The young man faced two principal challenges during his tenure.  First, Whiskey Trust executives were pressuring Kentucky distillers to sell out and become part of the monopoly or agree to sell whiskey to them exclusively.  Many smaller distillers had succumbed.  Clarke, however, stood firmly independent, continuing to make and distribute the Limestone Old Fashioned Sour Mash brand created by his father.  A second challenge came from the rising tide of anti-alcohol sentiment, drastically reducing potential markets for whiskey.  Undaunted, Clarke is recorded doing business right into 1920 when National Prohibition was imposed.  He had guided the family distillery through its fourth decade.

Only 46 years old when the distillery closed, Clarke subsequently became storage manager for the Kentucky Burley Tobacco Growers Coop.  As he aged, heart disease, cited for causing the deaths of both his father and mother, began to plague him.  After suffering from chronic myocarditis for a dozen years, John Clarke Rogers died in July 1934.  He lies buried not far from his parents in the Rogers family plot.

Note:  Once again, thanks go to Cay Camness, Marla Toncray, and the Kentucky Gateway Museum Center for their assistance in providing the photos and other materials important to completing this second post on the Rogers distilling family of Maysville, Kentucky.