Tuesday, August 29, 2023

A Tempest of Whiskey Teapots

Shown here is a cartoon of an inebriated gentleman attempting to pour himself a drink and missing the glass, much to the dismay of the bartender.  Note the sponsor of this trade card. The Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Co. is scolding the saloon for this unfortunate result because it is not using A&P’s “celebrated teas and coffees.” This is not a prohibitionist message against liquor, but rather a plug for keeping a teapot on the bar.

Once upon a time in  America a familiar sight on a saloon or hotel bar was a metal vessel, often silver plated, that advertised a brand of whiskey and contained “cold tea,” offered to patrons gratis by proprietors as a mixer for the liquor being poured.  The tea could make the drink go farther, pack less of an alcoholic punch, and, I assume, taste better in an era of dubious quality whiskey.  Since only one teapot was needed per bar, the ability to secure that spot was fierce among distillers and wholesale liquor dealers.  Presented here  are eight teapots, illustrating several styes that were in use by the imbibing public during pre-Prohibition days.

The silver-plated teapot above, was the product of Klein Brothers, a Cincinnati distillery that Samuel Klein founded about 1875. Klein proved to be an excellent merchandiser and the source of such brands as “Keystone Rye,” “Harvard Rye” and “Spring Lake Bourbon.” His whiskey became nationally and even internationally known. He also was famous for his innovative give-away items, among which his teapot must be accounted as particularly attractive.

Sam Klein had formidable competition from a “whiskey man” named Ferdinand Westheimer. In 1879 Westheimer founded a wholesale liquor store in St. Joseph, Missouri, gradually bringing his sons into the business. Very successful, particularly with his house brand, “Red Top Rye,” Westheimer eventually bought the Old Times Distillery in Louisville, Kentucky, and opened a outlet in Cincinnati. Westheimer’s teapot was made in Cincinnati by the Queen City Silver Company, operating from 1888 to the early 1900s.

Joining in this storm of teapots was Charles M. Pfeifer who founded a Cincinnati whiskey distributorship in 1882. His flagship brand was “Billy Baxter’s Best,” the name he had engraved on a silver plated teapot by the Cincinnati-based Homan Silver Plate Company. This item can be dated with some accuracy because Homan used this brand name only from 1896 to 1904.

Rounding out the Cincinnati quartet was Shields, May & Company, whiskey distributors and rectifiers who featured a dozen different brands of whiskey. Because a San Francisco firm had registered the name “Old Judge” with the Federal government in 1902, it appears that the company was seeking to avoid a lawsuit by labeling this product as “Shield’s Old Judge Whiskey.” According to its base mark, the teapot was made by the Columbian Silver Company.

Further north in Ohio, another competitor with a regional market for its whiskey also was offering customers a teapot. Founded in 1879 by George Lang and brothers William and Charles Schenck, their whiskey rectifying and sales flourished. Occupying a three-story building immediately adjacent to the Columbus, Ohio, courthouse, Lang, Schenck Co. featured “Olentangy Club Rye” as its flagship brand.

Herman Abraham, a whiskey dealer whose city of origin I have not been able to identify, used a teapot to advertise two brands he offered. The first, “Home Comfort Whiskey,” was distributed by the Joseph Herrscher Company of San Francisco (1907-1916). The opposite side advertised Guckenheimer Rye, from a Pittsburgh distiller that began business in 1857.  

A teapot advertising “Tom Benton Whiskey” hails from a Wisconsin dealer. His name -- A. (for Albert) F. Watke -- appears on the other side of the metal vessel. Watke appears to have begun business in Milwaukee in 1897 and moved north to Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, about 1902.

Finally, this silver plated teapot is marked Sherwood OPS (Old Pot Still) Whiskey. It was the product of Sherwood Distilling of Cockeysville, Maryland, with offices in Baltimore. The distillery was founded in 1883 and within a decade “Sherwood Rye” became a nationally known brand. This teapot was the product of the Connecticut-based Meridien Silver Plate Company (1869-1898).

With one exception, these whiskey firms and brands disappeared early in the 20th Century, most because of the onset of National Prohibition. As a result each of these metal teapots can be dated before 1920. At more than 100 years old they officially are antiques.  The only brand to survive the 14 year ‘dry” era was Sherwood, but the whiskey was produced at another site under different ownership.

Note: Some of the distillers and liquor dealers featured here receive more complete treatment elsewhere on this website:  Samuel Klein, October 22, 2011; Ferd Westheimer, May 30, 2014;  Lang, Schenk, August 21, 2012; and Sherwood Co., July 17, 2011.

Friday, August 25, 2023

Hugh Callahan’s Thrift and a $20,000 Bottle


 Pittsburgh liquor merchant and saloonkeeper Hugh Callahan had a reputation as a thrifty man, never willing to spend money needlessly.   That is why when he needed a glass container for his “Callahan’s Old Cabin Whiskey” he appropriated the design of a Nebraska liquor house and had only a limited number made.  The result of Callahan’s parsimony is a bottle whose rarity has made it extraordinarily valuable, one that sold not long ago for more than $20,000.

Callahan was born in Ireland in 1823 and would have been a young adult when the great Potato Famine struck the Emerald Isle, possibly triggering his emigration to America.  The origin of the Callahan name derives from the Gaelic word for “strife” and Hugh may have known much of it before his coming.  He originally settled in Philadelphia, where he likely had early experience working in a saloon.

By the time Callahan arrived in the Pittsburgh area in 1859, he was a mature 36, was married to Mary Galvin, a woman 10 years his junior, and had sired two boys, James 4 and Hugh 2.  He and Mary would go on to have four more children, two daughters, Catherine and Stella, and two sons, Martin Daniel, and Andrew.   Sadly, Andrew died, only five years old.

Callahan’s arrival in Pittsburgh indicated that he frugally had saved up sufficient funds to open a saloon and liquor store at 65 Craig Street, corner of Ann, in Pittsburgh’s First Ward.  He located there for six years, variously listed in directories as a liquor dealer, merchant, saloon keeper and tavern owner.  Callahan appears to have met with success and by 1865 had moved to a better address at 6 Smithfield Street, across from the prestigious Monongahela House hotel, shown below.

Ever the canny businessman, Callahan decided that it was a lot more lucrative to mix up and sell his own proprietary brands of whiskey by the barrel, keg or case bottles than by pouring alcohol drink by drink over the bar — and considerably less trouble.  In 1865 he secured a trademark on the brand name “Callahan’s Old Cabin Whiskey” and looked for a distinctive bottle in which to market it.  He did not have to look far.

The American liquor trade was rife with log cabins.  It began in 1840 with the Presidential campaign of 1840 when Gen. William Henry Harrison advertised his successful candidacy (but short-lived presidency) by the use of a log cabin as his symbol.  Actually born in a Virginia plantation mansion, Harrison later lived in a log cabin in Indiana during an unsuccessful attempt at farming. 

The log cabin shape was derived from a supposed quote by Harrison he would “rather sit on his front porch sipping whiskey than run for President.”  His opponents used the comment to slur him. As the story goes, Harrison turned the tables and offered free bottles of whiskey in shapes of a log cabin to the electorate.  Shown above, the bottles, now extremely rare, were made in two styles by the Mount Vernon Glass Works of New York. 

Later, Edmund Booz, a Philadelphia distiller, issued his own log cabin shaped bottles, as shown above.  Often mistaken for the originals, Booz filled them with the product of his distillery and called it “E. Booze Old Log Cabin Whiskey.” The bottle and the contents proved very popular with the drinking public and proved lucrative for the distillery.

Having come to Pittsburgh from Philadelphia, Callahan seemingly was very familiar with Booz and his bottles.  Always thrifty, he cast his attention to Omaha, Nebraska, five states and more than 900 miles distant, where a highly successful distiller named Peter Iler had marketed an alcoholic tonic he called “American Life Bitters” in tall quart-sized figural log cabin bottles, shown above.   Why not, Callahan reasoned, use the same glass mold, substituting his label for Iler’s.


“Callahan’s Old Log Cabin” bottle was born.  Shown above, it is rectangular with 212 stacked horizontal logs meeting at yellowish knobs at the corners of the bottle.The shoulders are arched and the neck and collar slightly tapered. The label is in a half-circle on the two larger sides of the bottle together with an inset door and a window showing panes. The thin sides have an arched door and a window bearing the words, “Patented Pittsburgh Pa 1865.”  Because the bottle was blown in a mold, the base is smooth.

Having arrived at this fancy bottle by using a pre-existing mold, Callahan had demonstrated his saving nature.  If he had ordered a bottle to his own specifications, the cost would have been considerably higher.  He was also frugal in the number of bottles he initially purchased, probably figuring he could always order more later.  In announcing his newly minted whiskey in 1865, Callahan spent money on advertising what he termed “Callahan’s Celebrated Old Cabin Whiskey.”  He touted it in extravagant terms calling it “The Most Superior Tonic in the World. 

As a “rectifier,” mixing up his product from liquor stocks bought elsewhere, Callahan apparently did not use quality whiskeys.  His blend failed to draw a customer base in Pennsylvania or, in truth, anywhere.  Just a year later a New Orleans dealer was advertising bottles of Callahan’s Old Cabin “for low prices.”  It is doubtful that the Irishman ordered bottles a second time.

If Callahan were alive today he likely would not believe the stir caused by his bottles, made at a cost of a few pennies each.  Bottle guru Don Denzin has called them:  “The most sought after of all antique whiskey bottles.”  Ferd Meyer, former head of the historical bottle collectors federation, who owned but sold a Callahan bottle some years ago, ruefully terms it:  “The big one that got away.  A major stir was caused not long ago when a Callahan’s Old Cabin Whiskey was dug from a Pittsburgh privy about two blocks from his old saloon.  In 1993, 68 years after its introduction, the bottle sold at auction for a hefty $8,000.  Flash forward to a more recent auction and the price has jumped to over $20,000.

Two factors may have contributed to this increase.  First, the utter scarcity of the bottle.  A minimum number apparently were made; many in ensuing years were discarded or broken.  Second, a Callahan’s Old Cabin appeared on a 33-cent American Glass postage stamp, designed by Richard Sheaf from a bottle on display at the Corning Museum of Glass in Corning, New York.  It is the only whiskey container ever to be so commemorated on U.S. postage.

Callahan, of course, was blissfully unaware that the whiskey brand he created, likely believed to have flopped, had created a history of its own.  He continued to engage in the Pittsburgh liquor trade for approximately the next 15 years to apparent success.  During that period, according to local directories, he employed his three sons.  Hugh Jr, was listed as a traveling salesman, James and Martin as clerks.  Curiously, none of his boys worked for Callahan very long, perhaps a glimpse into family disfunction.

Over time Callahan became a major figure in Pittsburg’s First Ward, prospering in real estate and accounted one of its largest property owners.  By newspaper accounts he was one of the best known and wealthiest residents of Pittsburgh’s North Side.  The whiskey dealer’s health began to fail as he entered his middle years and he died in August 1890 about age 66.  After a requiem funeral Mass, he was buried in St. Mary’s Catholic Cemetery, Section H, Lot 245 Space 8.

St. Mary's Cemetery

Callahan’s will signaled his apparent disaffection from his sons.  He left his entire estate of $125,000 to his wife Mary, equivalent to over $4 million today.  A her death, most was to go to his two daughters, Kate and Stella.  Callahan directed that when three years had elapsed after Mary’s death, only $1,000 apiece of his fortune was to go to James, Hugh, and Martin D., a clear sign of his estrangement.  What had earned Callahan’s ire?  His boys abandoning his liquor business for other pursuits?  That none had married, thus failing to carry the Callahan name forward? Disavowal of the sons’ life styles?

Because Mary lived another 27 years, by which time all three sons were long dead, they never saw a penny of their father’s money.  Hugh Jr. age 35 in 1893 died from a stroke;  James, 46 in 1907, of tuberculosis; and Martin D, 41 in 1908,                 “starvation from closure of the stomach.”  Thus the memory of the Irish whiskey man does not reside in descendants bearing the Callahan name, but in a pricey bottle.

Notes:  The Internet carries several accounts of Callahan’s bottles.  Ferd Meyer’s extensive treatment of his “ex-Callahan’s” on his Peachridge Glass site (August 8, 2012) contributed information and illustrations for this post, for which I thank him. My vignette on Peter Iler may be found on this website at May 10, 2012.

Addendum:  Two days ago this website reached a milestone, recording 1,500,000 views since its inception in 2011.  I am gratified by the success of this blog, begun out of a perception that the American whiskey trade before National Prohibition historically had been badly neglected and had many good stories to tell.  The country's renewed interest in indigenous spirits has helped achieve an robust audience, for which I am very grateful.  Onward to two million! -- Jack Sullivan


Monday, August 21, 2023

Three Centuries of Bardstown’s Distilling Willetts

Many books on Kentucky whiskey history while extolling the Beams, Bernheims and Browns say nary a word about the Willetts, despite the family having been involved in distilling in the Blue Grass State from the mid-1800s, surviving National Prohibition and functioning even today.  Their story is one of a family’s love for the distiller’s craft and a united determination to succeed.

The Early Willetts

One of the first known Willetts in America was Thomas Willett who landed from England at Plymouth, Massachusetts, in 1632.  The family was Catholic, under heavy pressure from the Church of England founded by King Henry the Eighth.  Except for the Maryland Colony, founded by Catholics, the New World welcome was mixed.  Like other of their faith the Willetts migrated there, for the next 100 years settling in Prince George’s County, just outside of what would become the District of Columbia.  

William Willett Sr. was the first of the Willett family to get into the distilling business after he married his wife Mary in 1738 in Maryland.  In Mount Calvert, Maryland, near the Patuxent River, William Senior owned a tavern and began distilling a liquor he called "Maryland Rye Whiskey.”  Principally farmers, those Maryland residents eventually found the soil increasingly depleted and many headed west to claim land in Kentucky.   Among them was William Willett Jr, who had had learned the distillers trade as a mere boy and eventually was entrusted by his father with the business.  He took that knowledge with him when he migrated to Nelson County in 1792, the year Kentucky became a state.  The county and its seat, Bardstown, thereafter would be intertwined with the Willett name.   Because of the many Catholics and religious orders that settled in and around the town, it became known as “The Little Vatican.”

The Formative Willetts

John David Willett, William’s son, born in Bardstown in 1841, having learned the distilling trade from his father, from an early age was heavily involved in whiskey making activities.  By this time the Willetts were one of the oldest families in the Kentucky whiskey business and seen as wealthy.  John David was one of eight children, five sons and three daughters.  He received a good education for the times and alone among his siblings inherited the family distilling properties. 

Meanwhile John David had caught the eye of Mary Alice Moore, the daughter of Charles A. and Catherine (Kate) Ann Moore. Like the Willetts, the Moores were among the Catholic families who had left Maryland for the greener pastures of Kentucky.  The two, of a similar age, likely knew each other from childhood.  They married about 1874, both 24 years old.  Over the next 14 years Mary Alice Moore Willett, shown above, would bear seven children, under pioneer circumstances.  All of them lived to maturity, several to advanced ages.

In the late 1860s John David formed a new distilling company in Bardstown with his wife’s brother, Thomas S. Moore, and third partner from Louisville. He became the master distiller for the Louisville based plant, known as Moore, Willett & Frenke. John Davd also is reputed to have owned a second distillery  Little is known about this facility, other than its location at Morton’s Spring just south of Bardstown.  Under later ownership that distillery is reported to have had a capacity of mashing 250 bushels per day and warehousing 7,500 barrels.

In 1876, Willett, said to be in failing health and eyesight, and sold his interest in the company to Moore and Ben Mattingly who had married one of his daughters.  The resulting company became the Mattingly Moore Distillery.  Their flagship brand was “Belle of Nelson,” named for John David Willett's winning racehorse. [See post of September 3, 2017.]    

Willett unexpectedly lived for another 38 years after this transaction. During that period he reputedly was the master distiller at four other Kentucky distilleries.  He died in 1914.  According to his death certificate the cause was a heart attack. Following a funeral Mass thronged with family members and friends, John David was buried in Bardstown’s St.Joseph Cemetery, Section A, Row 27, Grave 15, the  marker shown below. He would be joined 17 years later by his widow, Mary Alice.

Aloysius Lambert Willett,  who went by “Lambert,” was born in September 1883 in Bardstown, the fifth in the line of John David and Mary Alice’s children and the second son.  Like other Willetts before him Lambert had his initiation into the wonders of distilling as an adolescent.  At age 15 Lambert went to work for the distillery his father had founded as an apprentice, now owned by Mattingly and Moore.  He then moved to Louisville to work for the Max Selliger & Co. Distillery for the next 20 years, eventually becoming a one-third owner and superintendent of the plant. [See my post on Selliger, May 18, 2017.]

In April 1908, Lambert married Mary Catherine Thompson in Bardstown.  Over the next 25 years they would have seven children, six sons and one daughter.  Lambert’s eldest boy, known as Thomson Willett, at a very early age was introduced into distilling at the Selliger facility.  Like other whiskey producers the coming of National Prohibition caused the Louisville plant to be “idled” for the  following years.  Returning to Bardstown bought land near and began working as a farmer.

After Repeal of Prohibition, his sons demonstrated an interest in restoring the Willett name as a force in Kentucky whiskey-making.  Lambert offered the farm as the site and helped finance the construction of a new distillery.  They named it the Willett Distilling Company.  Once the facility was up and running, Lambert became involved in the family enterprise full-time.  He remained actively interested in distilling for much of the rest of his 87 years, dying in 1970.  He lies buried in St. Joseph Cemetery, not far from his parents and other members of the Willett clan. 

Aloysius L. Thompson Willett, known as “Thompson” all his life, was born Bardstown in 1909, the first child of Lambert and Mary Catherine.  Three years after the repeal of Prohibition in 1936, at the age of 27, Thompson, shown here, assisted by brother Johnny “Drum” Willett, spearheaded the construction of a new distillery on their father’s farm. Nine months later the facility, shown in an artist’s rendering below, produced its first 30 barrels of whiskey.  Fittingly it was on St. Patrick’s Day when they stored the first barrels for aging in the new warehouse. This liquor is recorded to have been distilled following a recipe developed by Thompson’s grandfather John David Willett. 

The Willett Distillery from the outset appears to have been successful, even though it opened in the depths of the Great Depression.  In 1942, Thompson, despite wartime restrictions, issued the distillery flagship brand, “Old Bardstown Bourbon,” a label that later would win a gold medal at a Kentucky bourbon competition.  After World War II, two other brothers, Paul and Bill, both of whom had served in the Army Air Force, joined the company, Paul in charge of bottling and Bill in distilling operations.

Meanwhile Thompson, shown here on the day of his wedding, was having a personal life. After an extended bachelorhood, in 1942 at the age of 33 he married Mary Virginia Sheehan, 26. They would have at least three children.  The first, a girl, died after her premature birth.  The second, James, a son bearing both the Lambert and Thompson names, died at only 26, grieving both father and mother.  A second daughter, Harriet, lived to maturity.

From the beginning, Thompson devoted himself wholeheartedly to the success of Willett Distilling, serving as president until 1984 when he was 75.  His stature in the distilling community rose steadily and he served for a time as president of the Kentucky Distillers Association.  Shown here outside one of his warehouses, Thompson was an active member of the Nelson County Historical Society, where his interests included the history of whiskey-making in Kentucky.  Thompson lived to be 92, dying in March 2001.  Aftr a funeral Mass he was buried in St. Joseph’s Cemetery, not far from his ancestral Willetts.  Shown below, his gravestone is engraved “Master Distiller, Willett Distillery.

The Willett Inheritors

Under Thompson’s watchful eye, Willett Distilling continued to make whiskey into the 1970s.  During the 1970s energy crisis, the company switched from making whiskey to producing ethanol for gasohol fuel.  When energy prices slumped, the strategy failed.  The facility was entirely shut down in the early 1980s.  Thompson Willett's daughter, Martha, was among those who had worked for the distillery and regretted its demise.

In 1972 Martha married Even (pronounced Evan) G. Kulsveen, a Norwegian immigrant.  In 1844, the couple bought the distillery property and renamed the company as the Kentucky Bourbon Distillers (KBG).  At first the KBD produced whiskey from barrels that the Willett distillery had produced earlier.  Then the Kulsveens increasingly began to purchase its whiskey by the barrel from other distilleries and bottle it under the Willet name, as on the bourbon bottle shown here. They were succeeded by their son, E.A. “Drew” Kulsveen, and his wife Janelle, to be joined  by their daughter Britt Kulsveen and her husband Hunter Chavanne.  All four today play a role in company operations.  Thus, although the names have changed, the Willett blood and heritage is still present after almost 200 years over three centuries in the Kentucky whiskey trade. 

The Distillery Today

Notes:  This post was assembled from two major sources, the current Willett distillery website, www.kentuckybourbonwhiskey.com, and a post on the www.whiskeyuniv.com site, supplemented by additional information provided through ancestry.com.  The combination of these resources made it possible to trace this significant distilling family’s long history and provide photographs.

Thursday, August 17, 2023

Will Lea’s Was a Tale of Four Tennessee Towns

It is ironic that Tennessee, a state that has its name attached to a variety of whiskeys and has given America national brands like Jack Daniels and George Dickel, also would be the state that enacted the America’s first anti-alcohol law in 1838 and, in effect, went completely “dry” in 1909 eleven years before National Prohibition.  In between, through “local option,” Tennessee cities and counties banned liquor that kept liquor dealers like Will Lea moving from place to place.

Will Lea, Prohibition in Tennessee,  Bristol Virginia, Bristol TennesseeWilliam Willis “Will” Lea was born in August 1855, on a farm near Nashville, the son of John and Rachel Lea.  In the 1870 Census his father was listed as “farm laborer,” that, working on but not owning the land.  The same census notes 18-year-old Will at the same occupation.  The farm apparently was owned by a relative.

By the time of the 1880 census, Will Lea’s life had changed completely.  He was married to a Nashville girl, Ida Mae Petro, had an eight-month-old daughter, and was employed as a bookkeeper in a Nashville bank.  After several years passed working there, Lea evidently felt the need for a life change.  Abandoning the world of finance he moved his family from Nashville 250 miles due east to Greeneville, Tennessee, the small town seat of Greene County, shown below. There in the late 1890s Lea bought and ran a saloon.

By the early 20th Century, Lea had left Greeneville and opened a liquor business 55 miles east in Bristol, Tennessee.  My guess is he had been displaced by the town “going dry.”  Tennessee had a local option law whereby a county or self-governing municipality by a vote of the populace could bar the making and sale of alcoholic products.  Bristol, a town in two states, Tennessee and Virginia, by contrast was still “wet.”

As a result the split city was booming with saloons and liquor houses. Lea located his store first at 742 State Street and later at 644 State. There he issued a series of whiskey jugs of one and and two gallon size, each with a very simple brand:  “Will Lea, Bristol, Tenn.”  The situation there, however, was not free of prohibitionary activity.  From June 1886 to June 1888, it was illegal to sell whiskey in Bristol, Virginia, but perfectly fine across the state line in Bristol, Tennessee.


The Temperance crowd under local option had carried the day on the Virginia side of town by a vote of 364 to 216 while the Tennessee portion remained “wet.”  A tacit understanding among the prohibitionists in both states was that Bristol would ban saloons totally through a referendum the following year. When the election occurred, whiskey was voted out of Bristol, Virginia, for a second time by a substantial majority, but the proposed statewide ban was defeated in Tennessee. Liquor was still legal west of the state line.  In 1888 another election was held in Bristol, Virginia, on the liquor question and by a vote of 184 to 115 the electorate decided to return again to being “wet.”  

Faced with license applications from the whiskey trade, a friendly judge ruled that under the existing statutes he was compelled to grant saloons and liquor dealers the right to do business once again on the Virginia portion of Bristol.  Thus for a time, liquor was sold on both sides of State Street.  This was the situation Will Lea encountered when he arrived in Bristol.  The town was wide open.  A photo shows a line of saloons along Main Street.  

The cost of business, however, had risen steeply. Will Lea was forced to renew his licenses annually with both the city and the state.  Each year the City of Bristol extracted $2,000 for retail sales, $500 for wholesale, and $3,000 for “manufacturing,” including rectifying (blending) whiskey.  The state added additional charges. Lea likely was paying in fees more than $8,000 annually (equivalent to more than $200,000 in current dollars).  Through these exorbitant license charges to liquor dealers like Lea, the City of Bristol raked as much as $340,000 annually (equiv. $8.5 million). 

Burdened by these costs, in 1907 Lea decided that he had tired of local machinations in bifurcated Bristol and moved his liquor operation 225 miles southwest to Chattanooga, above.  That city was attracting displaced “whiskey men” from all over Tennessee, a location some believed would never willingly “go dry.”  In the late 19th and early 20th century, Chattanooga had more than 30 whiskey distilleries.  To those could be added dozens of liquor dealers and saloons.

So far I have been unable to find any of Lea’s jugs from this sojourn.  Only one artifact, a shot glass, has come to light.  Shown here, it has none of the appeal of his jugs.  Lea’s time in Chattanooga was doomed to be short.  Within two years, the Tennessee legislature, fully in thrall to the prohibitionists, passed a law that, in effect, put virtually all of the state’s liquor trade — saloons, dealers, and distillers — out of business.  It mandated that none could operate within four miles of a school.  That struck at every city in Tennessee that had not already banned alcohol through local option, Chattanooga among them.

With that blow, Lea gave up trying to operate a liquor house and with family in tow, returned to Nashville.  He found employment with W. T. Hardison & Company, a real estate firm, working once again as a bookkeeper.  After no more than 15 years in three Tennessee locations selling whiskey, Lea had come full circle.  Lea died in April 1919 at age 64 and was interred in Nashville’s Mount Olivet Cemetery.  His widow Ida followed in January 1935.  They are buried side by side.

Today whiskey jugs bearing the simple label:  Will Lea, Bristol, Tenn., fetch in the range of $300-500.   More important, they serve to remind us of the personal dislocations the anti-alcohol movement occasioned in the run up to National Prohibition, an experiment that failed and was repealed 14 years later.

Note:  It was the elegant simplicity of Will Lea’s jugs that drew me to his story of moving repeatedly.  The information here was gleaned largely from genealogical sites and city directories.