Tuesday, September 19, 2017

The Gunters Gave A Helping Hand to Jack Daniels

When Jack Daniels in Lynchburg, Tennessee, needed assistance in developing a market for his whiskey,  brothers in Nashville, William Thomas and Charles David Gunter, recognized the quality and appeal of Daniels’ product and helped make the distiller’s “No. 7” a widely recognized brand.  Relatively isolated in Lynchburg, a small town with one traffic light about seventy miles south of Nashville, Daniels needed the “big city” resources the Gunters could provide from their wholesale liquor house.

The Gunters bottled whiskey for Daniels. They had the staff and equipment to decant the barrels from his distillery into ceramic jugs that they ordered from area potteries and glass bottles bought from local glass houses.  Shown here are examples of the jugs that the brothers used for Daniel’s “No. 7.”  Early jugs have a primitive look to them with the labels in cobalt and black.  In time the presentation improved with more legible and professional-looking stenciled labels.  These jugs varied from quart size to one and two gallons. 

The Gunters advertised for Daniels.  In Nashville the brothers had access to a number of publications to run ads for “Jack Daniel No. 7” and his Old Time Distillery.  In the ad shown below that they proclaim themselves “sole agents” for the Lynchburg whiskey.  The Gunters also had access to modern printing techniques and specialists to design attractive labels for the glass bottles and flasks they merchandised under Daniels’ name.

The Gunters assisted distribution for Daniels. Nashville was a hub for roads and, more important, rail lines.  Nashville had good access to the North through the Louisville and Nashville (L&N) railroad, incorporated in Kentucky in 1850.  Several other Middle Tennessee railroads also provided Nashville connections. The Nashville and Decatur (N&D) ran from Nashville through Columbia to Tennessee's southern border, where it connected with the M&C and an Alabama railroad to Decatur.  The Edgefield and Kentucky (E&K), completed in 1860, ran from the Nashville suburb of Edgefield to Guthrie on the Kentucky boundary where it connected with other lines.  Shipment of Jack Daniels whiskey was possible to all points of the U.S.

Assistance from the Nashville brothers became particularly important after 1904 when Daniels’ No. 7 received a surge in popularity after receiving a gold medal for the finest whiskey at the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair.  The resulting demand required marketing capacities considerably beyond the capacity of the Lynchburg distillery — and over the next five years the Gunter brothers did their best to provide it.

The Gunters could not, however, hold off the “dry” forces that were sweeping the state.  In 1909 Tennessee passed a statewide prohibition law, banning the production and sale of alcohol, effectively ending the legal distillation of Jack Daniels whiskey.  The distillery, now under Lem Motlow, challenged the law in a test case ultimately appealed to the state supreme court where it was upheld as constitutional.   

The ban also shut down the W.T. & C.D. Gunter’s Nashville liquor business. That blow must have seemed particularly stinging since the Gunter family had deep ties to Tennessee.  Shown here, the progenitor was W. T. Gunter, born there in 1830, who served in the Tennessee militia during the Civil War.  He married Mary Elizabeth Ramsey and the couple had six children.  Among them were William, born in May 1855,  and Charles, born in December 1857.

When Tennessee went “dry,”, both men were married with families.  William, wed to Mary Reese of Moore County, Tennessee, had six children;  Charles, married to Delia Belle Newton, had three.   They were firmly rooted in Tennessee soil — and now their livelihood had been taken from them.  The brothers quickly decided to move their liquor house and chose Evansville, Indiana, as their new home, 150 miles north of Nashville.  That state seemed determined to remain “wet” despite prohibitionary forces.  By 1910 W.T. & C.D. Gunter Wholesale Liquors was recorded in local directories at 108 Main Street in Evansville, a major commercial avenue shown here on a postcard.

Although William appeared in Evansville business directories as co-owner of the firm, he continued to make Shelbyville, Tennessee, his home.  Charles, in contrast, had moved Delia Belle and his family to Evansville where they lived at 414 Chandler Avenue.   Two of William’s sons, Clyde and Herbert, also relocated to Evansville, working for the Gunter firm and listed as living at the business address.  Clyde was a salesman and Herbert a clerk.

Without Jack Daniels whiskey to sell, in Indiana the brothers turned to blending and bottling their own brands. using the names “Gunter’s IXL,” “Gunter’s IXL No. 7,” and “Gunter’s Landing.”  As shown here, they issued a series of shot glasses for their brands.  Those giveaway items would have been provided to restaurants, saloons and bars featuring the Gunter brands. 

The Gunter family appears to have prospered in their transplanted liquor house, in 1911 moving to new quarters at 23 Main Street.   Clyde married about the same time, his wife listed as Nana R.  In August 1913, Charles Gunter died in Evansville at  the age of 56 and his body was returned to Shelbyville, where he was buried in the Willow Mount Cemetery, not far from where his father and mother lay.  Delia Belle would follow him to the grave seven months later.

Although William continued to be linked to the liquor house in Evansville after his brother’s death, his son Clyde actually was managing the day to day operations of W.T. & C.D. Gunter Co., assisted by Herbert.   They continued in that mode until forced to shut down with the coming of National Prohibition.   William lived long enough to see “The Great Experiment” widely disparaged and on the brink of Repeal.  He died in November 1932 at the age of 80, twenty years after his wife, Mary, had passed.  They too are buried in Willow Mount Cemetery.

Today the Gunters are best remember in Tennessee — not Indiana — because of the many artifacts that remind collectors and others of the contribution that the brothers made to the ultimate success of Jack Daniels’ Tennessee whiskey.   At a time when No. 7 was just getting a start, William and Charles had provided crucial assistance that Daniels’ distillery needed to achieve an expanded customer base and national attention.


Friday, September 15, 2017

Ben Franklin Spoke for Chicago’s Delaney & Murphy

Two Irishmen named Daniel and Michael found each other in Chicago and brought forth in Benjamin Franklin’s name a flagship rye whiskey that became a “good drinking” favorite throughout the Upper Midwest.    In the process the firm of Delaney & Murphy, according to an observer, “prospered exceedingly.”

Given Franklin’s frequent statements on behalf of spirits it is a mystery why his image does not appear more often on alcoholic products.  Among citations:  “In wine there is wisdom, in beer there is freedom, in water there is bacteria.” and “Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.”   We remember Franklin as one of the Founding Fathers, involved in the creation of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, author of “Poor Richard’s Almanac,” and inventor of the lightning rod.  We also can remember him because of his love for imbibing.  Certainly Delaney & Murphy did, each traveling a long road before achieving their partnership and the emergence of “Ben Franklin Old Rye.”

Daniel Delaney was the elder, born in 1833 in the parish of Upperwoods, Queen’s (now Loais) County, Ireland, the son of a farmer.  His schooling was cut short at fourteen when his father became ill and his labor was needed in the fields.  When a uncle booked passage for America in 1851,  Daniel decided to accompany him.  Delaney’s first stop was Cincinnati where he found work with a wholesale liquor firm until March, 1864, when he relocated to Chicago, again finding employment in a liquor house.  Following a short-lived business partnership in 1866, for the next 13 years Delaney worked for other Chicago Irish whiskey dealers.

In 1879 at the age of 46 at last he struck out on his own, establishing a store on Chicago’s Market Street, near Randolph, later moving to Kinzie Street.  Although meeting with moderate success, it was not until 1888 when he hooked up with Michael W. Murphy that the business took off.  Murphy was 11 years younger and American-born in Hartland, McHenry County, Illinois, about 68 miles northwest of Chicago.

Michael Murphy’s father was a prominent grocer and, unlike Delaney, able to give his son advanced education.  Michael obtained a bachelor’s degree from St. Mary’s of the Lake, Chicago, and then attended the Union College of Law.  Admitted to the bar in 1868, he apparently found two years toiling in a local law office tedious and went to work as a bookkeeper and cashier for M. W. Kerwin, a Chicago liquor dealer.  

Murphy may have intended return to the law later but never did.  Eventually he invested in the business and when Kerwin retired in 1888 took over its management, but soon linked his fortunes with Delaney.  The partners called their enterprise “Delaney & Murphy” and located it at 10-12 Wabash Avenue in Chicago.  Delaney was president; Murphy, treasurer.  In a local directory they identified their company:  “We are distillers and wholesale dealers in liquors of all kind and distribute our goods in Illinois, Minnesota and Wisconsin.”

That was when Ben Franklin Rye was born.  The whiskey was a “rectified” product, blended in the partner’s facilities to achieve a particular taste, smoothness and color that proved over time to have a great appeal in the Upper Midwest.  The company work force grew to twenty-five, with nine traveling salesmen covering the three states noted above, plus Indiana.

The partners went “all in” for Ben Franklin as their flagship brand, issuing trade cards, saloon signs, back of the bar bottles and shot glasses to advertise that label.   Examples of those giveaways are seen throughout this post.  

A unusual gifted item was a bronze colored watch fob, meant to be worn on the outside of a vest on a chain as a means to accessing a pocket watch.  Wearers were walking advertisements for Ben Franklin whiskey.

Meanwhile both men were having personal lives.  Delaney married Catherine  “Kate” Quinn, a native of New York State, in July 1858.  He was 25 at the time of their marriage; she was twenty.  They would have a family of eight children, four girls and four boys, one of whom, William, would eventually go to work for the liquor house as a salesman.  Daniel was known as a strong Democrat and a devout Catholic, noted in his elder years as oldest member of the Jesuit Sodality in America.

In December 1871, Murphy married Mary J. Synon, who at the time was the principal of a Chicago elementary school.   Described as “…a woman of most charming personal appearance and lovable character,”  she died in 1879, leaving Michael to raise their four young children, a boy and three girls.  He never remarried.  Like Delaney, Murphy was a Democrat and a Catholic, involved in social clubs and Catholic charitable organizations. He was an inveterate traveler, taking his motherless family with him on trips throughout the United States and spending a year with them touring Europe in 1895 and 1896, leaving business matters to Delaney.

The company continued to prosper through the 1890s and into the new century, credited with transacting its business “with attention to every detail and with due consideration to the comforts and requirements of its clients.  The company became the agents for Power’s Irish Whiskey, featuring the liquor in its Chicago ads.

While on vacation in San Antonio, Texas, in February 1906 Daniel Delaney suffered from a serious attack of gall stones.   An operation failed to relieve the problem and he died the age of 73.  His body was brought back by railroad to Chicago where his funeral services were held at Our Lady of Sorrows Church.  He was buried in Calvary Cemetery next to Kate who had passed a year earlier.

Murphy subsequently took over total management of the liquor house, assuming the post of president while remaining treasurer.  From examples of letters he wrote to suppliers, he was a stickler for quality in the whiskey and wine products he bought for bottling.  Also described as a “…man who gains and retains the affection and esteem of all who know him,” Murphy was tapped for leadership positions within the whiskey trade.  He served as both first vice president of the National Wholesale Liquor Dealers Association and president of the Distillers & Jobbers Assn. of Illinois.

Nothing in his leadership abilities was sufficient to fend off the effects of National Prohibition, however, and in 1919 he was forced to close the doors on Delaney & Murphy Company.  At that point 75 years old, Murphy retired.  He lived through much of the “dry” era, dying at his Chicago home in January 1931 at the age of 87.  Murphy’s funeral was held at Holy Name Cathedral with burial at Calvary Cemetery.   A 1933 biography of prominent Illinois citizens termed him “one of the true builders of the community.”

With the demise of the liquor business, the Ben Franklin Rye label disappeared and was not revived with Repeal in 1934.   Despite his celebration of spirits, Franklin has not, to my knowledge, been featured since as the inspiration for a brand of liquor.  With the many craft distilleries spring up all over America, surely one of them can celebrate the Founding Father who wrote:  “There is not good living where there is not good drinking.”

Note:  Much of the information for this vignette on Delaney & Murphy is from the 1897 volume, “Biographical History of the American Irish in Chicago,” edited by Charles Ffrench. 

Monday, September 11, 2017

Whiskey Men with Slaves

Foreword:  The recent revelation that Jack Daniels was taught how to make good bourbon by a slave has resulted in efforts by historians to research more thoroughly the role that enslaved blacks played in the development of the American whiskey industry.  According to one author, many distilleries in the Mountain South employed at least three slaves.  Presented here as part of the series grouping whiskey men into categories are four examples of distillers, both large and small, who manufactured whiskey with slave labor.

We begin with the Father of Our Country, George Washington.  Washington was a farmer at heart.  Upon returning to Mount Vernon after his presidency, he threw himself wholeheartedly into the agricultural activities of the plantation, including growing corn and rye wheat.  At the urging of his farm manager, James Anderson,  a Scotsman with experience making whiskey both in his homeland and in Virginia, Washington began commercial distilling.  Anderson had advised George that Mount Vernon’s crops, combined with his large gristmill and abundant water supply, would be a profitable venture.  Always looking for ways to make the estate pay off, Washington agreed.

As a result in 1897 the cooperage at Washington’s grist mill, 2.7 miles from the plantation house, was converted to distilling and two stills bought and put into operation.  Success came quickly and Anderson was able to convince Washington to increase production.  That fall construction began on a building large enough to hold five stills.  The foundation was laid from large rocks brought from the Falls of the Potomac where Washington was trying to build a canal.  The walls were of sandstone quarried right on the plantation itself.  George also invested heavily in the interior.  He bought five large copper kettles, 50 mash tubs, five work tubes and a boiler.  Shown below is an artist’s concept of the original complex.
The extensive, back-breaking labor involved in this project was provided almost entirely by slaves.  They constructed the distillery and then, under the guidance of Anderson’s son, were responsible for operating the machinery of the distilling process, as well as making the barrels for holding the finished product.  We know the names of those African slaves:   Hanson, Peter, Nat, Daniel, James and Timothy.  They made it possible for Washington between 1798 and 1799 to produce 11,000 gallons of whiskey, valued in that day at more than $7,000 (equivalent today to several hundred thousand dollars).  The distillery also made brandy using locally grown apples peaches and persimmons.

The success of Washingtons’s distillery was short-lived.  After his sudden death in 1799, the facility was closed and the buildings allowed to fall into disrepair, ultimately to be dismantled and the site obliterated.  Early in this century a multi-million dollar grant from the Distilled Spirits Council of America (DICUS) allowed the distillery as conceived and operated by Washington to be recreated on the original site and opened to the public in 2005.  True to the history, African-Americans are cast in the role of the distillery workers.

About the same time that Washington was distilling, Elijah Pepper, a native of Virginia, moved more than 500 miles west to Kentucky, settling near the town of Versailles, Woodford County, and about 1797 built a distillery, almost certainly with slave labor.  Census records for 1810 indicate that the Elijah owned nine enslaved blacks, some of whom worked in making whiskey as well doing as field labor.  

With the success of his enterprise, Pepper over the next ten years was able 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. Over the next ten years he was able to buy even more slaves.  The 1830 census recorded him now with twenty-five, thirteen males and twelve females.  With the help of those blacks he steadily was increasing the production of his distillery.

With his death in 1831 the distillery, its equipment, stored whiskey and the slaves devolved upon his widow, Sarah O’Bannon Pepper, who later sold her interest to her son, Oscar N. Pepper.  After buying out his siblings, Oscar, once again using slave labor, replaced the log structure of his father’s distillery to build a new facility, a one-and-a half story rectangular facility that allowed him to expanded whiskey production significantly.  Shown below is is an artist’s concept of the rebuilt Pepper distillery.

Oscar’s wealth included twelve male and eleven female slaves, some of them inherited from Elijah.  An 1859 Woodford County document recorded that two of his slave women had given birth in August, a girl christened Maria and a boy Willie.  Oscar Pepper is listed in the column for the father’s name.  My guess is that because slaves were considered property, not persons, Oscar’s name appears there as owner.  Three years later, with the outbreak of the Civil War and the Emancipation Proclamation, the slave era ended in Kentucky.  Nevertheless, the Peppers continued to operate the distillery until 1878 when the effects of a bankruptcy passed it to non-family ownership.

Today archeologists are attempting to reconstruct the Pepper distilling site.  The family home has been returned to its original state and outbuildings have been identified.  To date, however, efforts to find the location of the slave quarters have been unavailing.

To reach Arkansas, William Looney and his family were forced to endure a trek through much of Tennessee, bringing with them their young children and a few slaves.  Perhaps exhausted from the journey, they stopped in the far northeast of the state on the Eleven Point River where Looney settled on the west bank.  In contrast to the large landowners elsewhere in Arkansas, he was a yeoman farmer who also used several slaves to help him built and run a small distillery, likely similar to the scene shown below.
When compared to Washington and the Peppers, Looney was a small operator, prospering economically and socially by making and selling whiskey primarily to his neighbors.  Looney’s liquor warehouse and tavern, originally built with slave labor and shown here under restoration, is accounted the oldest commercial building in the state of Arkansas.

When Looney died in 1846 at about the age of 61, he was one of the richest men in Randolph County with extensive land holdings, owning thirteen slaves and considerable livestock.  Moreover, he had been sought out for public office.  During a period from about 1816 to 1825, he served as justice of the peace and magistrate in two local townships. 

Similar good fortune acceded to Looney’s tavern.  After his death his widow converted the building to a dwelling. Later it was donated to a local college. In recent years the structure has been restored as a tavern by a grant from the Arkansas Natural and Cultural Resources Council.  On the National Register of Historical Places,  Looney Tavern has become an important tourist destination in Northeast Arkansas.  The role of slaves in its original construction, however, does not appear to have been highlighted.

Like Looney, Levi Price, shown here, was a farmer/distiller whose output of whiskey was modest, meant largely for local consumption.  He launched himself in business in Frederick County, Maryland, when he was only 23 and reputedly had only 93 cents to his name.  His early financial success apparently resulted in innovations he made in the distilling process.  He recognized that any form of adulteration led to objectionable tastes in the newly made “raw” whiskey of his day.  Using care in the cleanliness of his process and a reputed “secret method” or two, he was able to manufacture a product that had the taste and smoothness of an aged whiskey while being newly distilled.  By eliminating most of the aging process, he saved money and was able to sell his whiskey for less than the competition.

In all these efforts, Price had the help of slaves and later freed blacks.  They assisted with the distilling process, made barrels, and rolled them out to the wagons of customers.  Shown here is the Price house in the process of its second restoration as an historical residence. Behind the house can be seen a field stone building that has been identified as slave quarters. 

Maryland dragged its feet on antislavery measures.  The state failed to act until 1864 when it conducted a emancipation referendum that only narrowly passed.  The vote tipped only after the absentee ballots of local soldiers in the Union army were counted.  Freedom day for enslaved blacks in Maryland came on November 1, 1864. The change seems not to have bothered Price who continued to prosper.  After his death the quality of his whiskey was recognized in a brand of rye issued under his name.

These four examples of whiskey men with slaves could be multiplied dozens of times.  Likely most distillery operations in the Mountain or Deep South employed African and Native American slaves in the pre-Civil War era.  Renewed interest in the role they played in the development of the U.S. liquor industry should, I believe, lead to a greater understanding and appreciation of their contributions.

Note:  More complete posts on each of these whiskey men can be found on this blog:   George Washington, March 2017;  The Peppers, January 21, 2017;  William Looney, July 16, 2013; and Levi Price, September 26, 2015.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

PJ Murray and the 30 John St. Ghost

Foreword:  When I find an article on a whiskey man that is more complete and compelling than something I might do, my practice is to ask the author to use it in this blog.  In this case the author is Ferdinand Meyer V, the president of the Federation of Historical Bottle Collectors, a friend and frequent editor.  Although I have raided his “Peachridge Glass” blog for information and images in the past, I have never posted one of his articles on this blog.  In a recent piece for Bottles & Extras he featured  Patrick J. Murphy, a pre-Prohibition whiskey man and bitters producer from Holyoke, Massachusetts. The piece deserves reprinting and I am pleased that he has permitted me to use it here

Holyoke was settled in the mid-1700s along the Connecticut River and was originally a farming community with few inhabitants until the construction of a dam and the Holyoke Canal System in 1849. With the subsequent construction of water-powered mills, particularly paper mills, the city grew. At one point, over 25 paper mills were in operation and the population rose from just under 5,000 in 1860 to over 60,000 in 1920. In 1888, Holyoke’s paper industry spurred the foundation of the American Pad & Paper Company, which as of 2007, is one of the largest suppliers of office products in the world.

Irishman Patrick J. Murray was born in Pennsylvania in either 1861 or 1862. He and his clan came to Holyoke, Massachusetts and started their liquor business at 30 John Street, across from City Hall, sometime in the 1890’s. They may have been around earlier in the 1860s after arrival from Ireland though information is hard to come by. There were ten or so Patrick Murrays running around in the vicinity during this era. Kind of a common Irish name. The building structure that Murray added on to was one of the original stage coach stops between Boston and Albany. The remainder of the building was constructed in the late 1890’s and was known as the PJ Murray distillery.

Around the turn of the century, Murray no longer made a profit at distilling whiskey and he became an importer, wholesaler and distributor. Some of the brands he sold or represented were “Pee-Jay Pure Rye Whiskey No. 6,”  “Hermitage Sour Mash Rye”and “Murryego Slivowica,” made for the Polish market.

It looks like Patrick Murray first went into the saloon business around 1899 partnering with a fellow named Kelley. The establishment was called the Murray Saloon and it was located at 407 High Street. In 1913, the whole ground floor of Murray’s, John Street building, was opened as a saloon. Later some called it the “Bud”, possibly in honor of the fact that in 1903, Murray had become the first area distributor of Budweiser Beer for Anheuser-Busch east of the Mississippi. He was also the president of Bud Wine Liquor Company.

The PJ Murray distillery also housed a workingman's bar in this blue collar town. Women were not really accepted in bars then. His Pale Orange Bitters trade card says, “An American Product”, “Made by Americans in the U.S.A” and “America’s Best Liquors” to counter the European versions of Orange Bitters flooding the market.

Prohibition closed the first floor saloon, but a speakeasy, stocked with PJ’s own liquor, remained open. It was rigged with flashing lights to warn patrons of impending raids. There were escape routes through passageways behinds fireplaces on each floor and apparently a tunnel leading from the basement of City Hall to the basement of Murray’s saloon. It is said that the mayor and police chief used to visit the speakeasy after hours using this tunnel. Also, the hostess station in the main dining room was hollow. Inside the station was a ladder leading to the basement and then to two double doors exiting to John Street. Yet another convenient escape route used during raids.

The brass trough that ran along the base of the main bar was equipped with running water. Its original purpose was to be used as spittoon. In those days however, if a man left a bar on a Friday night to find a bathroom he would normally lose his seat. Therefore, the trough was on more than one occasion used as a urinal. In fact, the main bar displayed a brass splatter shield.

It is told that Joseph Wilbur Murray (PJ’s nephew) kept a masonry worker and cabinet maker busy throughout the entire Great Depression. Each week he would have a new project for them. This is the prime reason for the unique nature of the building. It is said that the woodwork, hand chiseled fireplaces and unique masonry work were the result of thousands of hours of work. 

In later years, the “Bud” held other colorful establishments such as the Smokin’ Gun Lounge, the Carnival Night Club and the Caribbean Restaurant. The structure is now vacant on 30 John Street and is on the Holyoke Historic Inventory and a possible candidate for restoration or adaptive reuse. The Bud certainly has a twisted and colorful history.

There is still a faded, lead-painted sign on the rear of the building, which states, “This is a bar, not a bank.” It seems that Mr. Murray, being somewhat eccentric, had a never ending battle with the local banks. The mill workers were paid on Friday by check and the banks were closed by the time their work day ended. Mr. Murray obviously wanted the workers to have cash so that they might spend it at his bar. In an effort to force the banks to stay open, PJ Murray began cashing the workers checks and paying them in silver dollars. In a short period of time he created a shortage of silver dollars and longer banking hours. Workers used to throw these silver dollars up on top of the back bar. A few years ago, the back was taken down for renovation and hundreds of old silver dollars were found behind the bar.

Legend also says that the ghost of PJ Murray haunts the Bud. Ex-bartenders and regulars at the establishment still talk of strange happenings over the years. The most recent incident was an encounter by one of the patrons with the ghost in the men’s restroom. This sighting was written up in the Holyoke Transcript. No one is sure whether this is the ghost of PJ Murray or his nephew, Joseph Murray,  who inherited the establishment.

I hope you like what I wrote, PJ, if that is you.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Tom Moore Put Bardstown on the Whiskey Map

When Thomas Selvin Moore, shown left, in 1889 purchased acreage near Bardstown, Kentucky, he was far from the only distiller in the area.  Through the quality of his whiskey, however, he was responsible for making the town synonymous with good bourbon.  Today Bardstown is considered the central stop on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail.  Tom Moore is the reason.

Moore was born on March 18, 1853, to Charles A. and Catherine Ann (known as ‘Kate”) Moore, both natives of Nelson County.   They were descended from among the many Irish families who had come west to Kentucky looking for fertile, inexpensive land and resulted in Bardstown being the first Catholic diocese west of the Appalachian Mountains.

Charles Moore died when Tom was only eleven years old, likely shortening the boy’s time in school and thrusting him early into the workforce.  The 1870 census found him living with his widowed mother, a brother and two sisters, one of them married to Charles Willett, part of a well-known local distilling family.  Despite the death of the principal breadwinner, the household seems fairly affluent with a cook and two domestic servants in residence.

In 1874, two years after his mother’s death, Moore at the age of 22 married Mary Virginia (“Jennie”) Collings, 18, the daughter of John W. and Mary Sutherland Collings of Nelson County.  About the same time he went to work for the Willett family in its distilling interests.  Joining him there was Ben Mattingly, who had married into the Willett clan.  The “pater familias,”  John D. Willett, among other properties, owned a Louisville company called Willett & Frenke that operated a distillery at Morton’s Spring in Nelson County, just south of Bardstown.  In 1876, Willett reputedly transferred his interest in that distillery to Tom and Ben and they began operating the facility under the name “Mattingly and Moore.”

The partners made a bourbon of that name, along with “Belle of Nelson” named for a race horse owned by John Willett, and “Morton’s Spring Rye,”  after the limestone water they used that flowed from a spring on the property.  Just about the time that their whiskey was coming of age, Mattingly sold out to a group of investors.   Moore continue to work with the new management for eight more years until 1899 when he withdrew to finance his own distillery.

Tom did not go far, however, purchasing 116 acres adjoining the original distillery, just a half mile from Bardstown on Jackson Highway, U.S. 31 East.  With financial help from T. E. O’Keefe, an Irish liquor wholesaler from Oswego, New York, who needed an assured supply of whiskey, Moore built a new distillery.  Initially this plant had a mashing capacity of 100 bushels daily, yielding ten barrels of whiskey a day.  According to insurance records, the distillery itself was of frame construction with a fire-resistant roof, surrounded by five warehouses, variously made of brick, stone or iron-clad, all with fire-resistant roofs.  Shown above in an artist’s drawing, four warehouses were adjacent to the still; a fifth stood on a hilltop 280 feet west.

Moore’s may have been motivated to strike out on his own as a distiller by the growing needs of his family.  By this time he and Jennie had six children:  Mary, Alice, Cornelius known as “Con,” Thomas, Margaret, and Lawson.  As they matured the boys would be deployed to assist the distillery workforce, shown here in a photo from about 1900.

The Tom Moore Distillery seems to have been a success from the beginning.  It was producing “Tom Moore,” “Dan’l Boone,” and “Silas Jones” whiskeys, the last brand bought from Stoner & McGee at Hunters Depot when that firm disbanded.   Moreover, just a year after opening, Moore and O’Keefe moved to buy the Eagle Distillery (RD #8) in Daviess County, following the death of its owner, Richard Monarch.  They operated this facility under the name “Imperial.”

Despite precautions against fire, a conflagration in 1892 destroyed two of Moore’s Bardstown warehouses with the loss of some 14,000 barrels of whiskey.  Other warehouses were saved, as well as the distillery and the bottling house.  The loss to Moore and O’Keefe was estimated at $450,000 with $750,000 in tax revenues lost by the federal government. 

The facility quickly was rebuilt and over the years continuously expanded.  By 1899 warehouse capacity had been increased to 15,500 barrels.  By 1905 Moore was mashing 300 bushels a day and the warehouses held 20,000 barrels.  A photo above shows the layout.

That same year, Moore knew personal tragedy as Jennie, his wife of thirty-one years, died at the age of 49, their youngest son still not in his teens.  She was buried in St. Joseph’s Cemetery, Bardstown.  Within several years, Moore appears to have married again.   According to census records she was Millie, a local woman who was twelve years Tom’s junior.  

Throughout these years, the Moore distillery flourished as his bourbon and other whiskeys gained a national following.  Shown here is a photo from the Bowery in New York City.  The sign in the window advertises a bottle of 10-year-old Tom Moore Rye for 75 cents.  

As shown here on a label, Moore was working with the Pfeiffer Brothers, wholesaler liquor dealers of Louisville,  to distribute his products.  Moore also did private-label bottling for wholesalers Hilmar Ehrmann and Hermann Bros. of Louisville, as well as for Applegate & Sons Distillery (RD #15) of Marion County.   Moore’s wealth allowed him to buy and operate The Old Talbott Tavern in Bardstown, built in 1779 and believed to be the oldest standing western stagecoach stop in America, an historic site even in Moore’s day. 

As he aged, Moore, shown left, could be pleased with the success of his whiskey. He is said to have provided day-to-day management for his distillery and liquor interests up until National Prohibition in 1920.  Sixty-seven years old at that time, he appears subsequently to have retired. 

Moore lived to see Prohibition repealed in 1934.  At that time his son, Con, with partners, rebuilt and expanded Tom’s original distillery, giving it a mashing capacity of 2,400 bushels.  Three warehouses had the capacity to age 50,000 barrels.  In the late 1930’s Con Moore left Kentucky to build a new distillery in Denver and non-family members took ownership and continued to expand the plant, shown here
in about 1940, operating under the Moore name until 1944.  After several subsequent ownership changes in 2008 the name was changed back to the Tom Moore Distillery.

Tom Moore died in 1937 in Bardstown at the age of 84.  Cause of death was given as bronchial pneumonia aggravated by senility (dementia).  He was buried in St. Joseph Cemetery beside his first wife, Jennie.  He has been hailed for his contributions to the development of the Kentucky whiskey industry and in 2007 was voted into the Kentucky Bourbon Hall of Fame. 

The Heaven Hill Company of Bardstown, a stop on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, bears a plaque dedicating the site to “our founding father,” Thomas S. Moore.   After imparting other information, the plaque concludes:  “Here’s to you, Tom Moore.  Cheers!” — a fitting ending to this pioneer distiller’s story.

Note:   This blog contains posts on several of the other whiskey men referenced here.  They include T. E. O’Keefe (May 2013), Richard Monarch (January 2017),  Pfeiffer Bros. (October 2011),  Hilmar Ehrmann (April 2016) and Applegate & Sons (June 2012).