Tuesday, September 27, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By 1898 George had gone to work for Mattingly & Moore in Bardstown.  Possibly this reflected his marrying a Simms.  Meanwhile, about 120 miles west, near Owensboro in Daviess County, a distillery had been founded two decades earlier.  Over the years it had passed through the hands of several managers until it had come into the major ownership of Richard Monarch.  After Monarch died, Medley with two partners in 1901 bought the Davies Distilling Company.  One partner was Dick Meschendorf, a well-known and respected Kentucky bourbon maker.  [See my post on Meschendorf, February 2013.]  Two years later George bought out both partners.  After a hiatus, the Medleys were back in the distilling business.
Enter Thomas A. Medley.  As George had grown more affluent, he could afford to send his eldest son to advanced education, including law school. The investment paid off when Thomas moved to Owensboro to help his father manage his enterprise, becoming the secretary & treasurer of the Daviess Company Distilling.  The plant as it looked at that time was featured in a 1905 ad shown here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ben and Thomas Medley Jr. later would leave the partnership to start their own distillery.  Edwin died in 1953.  Wathen and John stayed with the Medley Distillery until 1959 when it was sold.  Later Charles Medley repurchased the property and with his son, Sam W., ran the operation.  As late as last year Sam was involved in the liquor business as head of Charles Medley Distilllng, a non-manufacturing bottler/distributor on the West Coast that contracts for whiskey in Kentucky.
When John Medley set up his still about 1875, he was harkening to claims about the glories of Kentucky that opened this vignette.  Medley found the state as advertised offered ample grain and pure waters — perfect for making quality whiskey.  In pursuing distilling he founded a whiskey dynasty down through the eighth generation.  For the Medleys,  the Kentucky Holy Lands had become the Promised Land.

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

Friday, September 23, 2016

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

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

James Ross was born in Bellefontaine, Ohio, in August 1841 of Scotch-Irish parentage.  His father, Thomas, was a cabinetmaker;  his mother, Hannah, kept house. When he was six years old his family moved to Indiana, settling in Crawfordsville, a modest sized town not far from the Ohio line.  There he grew up, was educated, and took a job clerking in a dry goods store.  With the outbreak of the Civil War when he was twenty, Ross traveled about 50 miles to Indianapolis and enlisted in the 11th Indiana Volunteer Infantry.
This was a unit organized and commanded by Lew Wallace, shown above.  As a youth Wallace, a lawyer, had lived in Crawfordsville for time and his wife was from there.  He and Ross probably had known each other there.  Having previously served in the Mexican War, Wallace was now a colonel and commander of the 11th.  Ross joined him as a private.  The 11th initially was sent to what was to become West Virginia, seeing minimal activity before its three-month enlistments ran out and the troops went home.

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

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

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

James wasted no time in getting married.  In 1866, he wed Thesta Alice, born in Indiana.  Both were about 24 years old.  With a wife to support, Ross found work as a clerk.  Without disclosing what Ross was doing in either city, a biographer stated he “engaged in business in Chicago and Cincinnati for a number of years…”   My surmise is that James was working in the liquor business.  Both cities were noted for a proliferation of saloons and dealers to provide such establishments with strong drink.  By 1873 Ross had moved to Indianapolis and was working for John B. Stumph & Co., a liquor wholesaler.
The Stumph firm appears to have gone out of business about 1877, replaced by a company formed by Ross and two partners called James R. Ross & Co., located at 184-188 South Meridian Street, the primary north-south street in the city.  This major thoroughfare was a prime central location for doing business and throughout the firm’s 39 year history, while moving from time to time, it maintained a Meridian Street address.

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

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

As the years wore on, apparently recognizing that his Victorian style letterhead was beginning to look antique, The company adopted the “art deco” style that was becoming the stylistic rage.  This new letterhead had a sleek, streamlined design, signaling a “modern” establishment.  Although one of his partners, Henry C. Knode left to start his own liquor store, the other partner, Henry  Thomson remained with the firm throughout.
Meanwhile, Ross was extending his military career in a fashion and achieving even higher ranks.  Upon returning to Indianapolis he had taken a hand in organizing the Indianapolis Light Infantry in 1877.  This was a part of the state militia, the Second Regiment of the Indiana National Guard.  Ross was elected second lieutenant, then first lieutenant, and by 1885 was its captain.  Eventually he would be promoted to colonel.   

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

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

Ultimately known widely as Colonel Ross, James died at his home in Indianapolis  in October, 1900.  He was 59 years old.  As his widow, Thesta, and their only child, Frederick, together with other friends and kinfolk mourned by his grave, he was buried in Section 36, Lot 174, of the Indianapolis Crown Hill Cemetery, shown below.  Thesta would join him there a year later.  In an obituary from far off  New Orleans the Times-Picayune hailed Ross:  “He had a fine record as a soldier and was widely known in military circles.”  Nothing about whiskey.
I surmise that among those attending Ross’s rites was Lew Wallace, whose book Ben-Hur had eclipsed Uncle Tom’s Cabin as the most popular novel of the 19th Century.  At the time he was living in Crawfordsville, where he had first come to know Ross.  Wallace’s tribute to his former aide, “An Ideal Indiana Soldier,” may well have been from a memorial address at Ross’ funeral that later wa expanded. Published years later, the biography currently is not available on the Internet, making it impossible to quote Wallace’s words about James Ross — or to know if the popular author revealed in any way that his Indiana hero had gotten wealthy by selling booze.

Monday, September 19, 2016

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

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

The McCrums were Presbyterians from Scotland who moved to Northern Ireland where they were numbered the Orangemen.  They settled in the town of Carnmoney, County Antrim, an area on the outskirts of Belfast.  The Irish potato failure was no respecter of religion, however, and both parts of the Emerald Isle were victims of famine.  Hugh was born circa 1836 in County Antrim of parents, James and Agnes McCrum. When he was in his early teens, he, his mother and other siblings boarded the S.S. Aberdeen, known as a famine (or sometimes “coffin”) ship,” at Liverpool, England, early in 1850, arriving in the U.S. after several miserable weeks at sea.
James McCrum was not with his wife and children on the voyage.  My guess is that he was already in the United States getting established and had called for his family to follow.  Via the 1850 census, I have found a James McCrum, no wife listed and of the right age, living in Clark County, Kentucky, with his occupation given as “saloon.”  Kentucky was just opening up to settlers and many from Ireland found their way there.  If this was his father, it may help explain Hugh’s penchant for running saloons.

The first ten years of Hugh’s life in the U.S. are shrouded in history.  He later claimed because his father had been naturalized during that period, American citizenship automatically had been transferred to him as a minor child.  McCrum first showed up in a public record in the 1860 Federal census at the age of 22, living in Pine Grove, California, the mining camp shown left.  He was boarding with other miners in a hotel run by an Englishman named Thomas Hardy.  Like tens of thousands of other youths the California Gold Rush seemingly had brought McCrum West. 
Although he never got mining out of his blood, by 1863 Hugh was living in Virginia City, Nevada, and running the Delta Saloon there.  It is shown standing today restored as a tourist attraction.  His stay in Virginia City was marked by a strange occurrence.  According to a newspaper story in December 1868:“Mr. McCrum, proprietor of the Delta Saloon, became suddenly deranged, and seizing a pistol, drove everyone from the saloon, when he closed the doors, shutting himself in.  During the commotion, his pistol was accidentally fired off, but luckily neither himself nor anyone about was hurt.”  After being subdued by the sheriff, he was taken to the jail and shut up in a cell for his own safety.  McCrum was not known to be a heavy drinker and local opinion was that his delirium was caused by contracting smallpox from a partner who subsequently had died.  Whatever the cause, no further such incidents were reported.

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

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

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

At this time McCrum’s frequent trips to Arizona were part of his work as a traveling salesman for the J. M. Goeway & Co.  This was a wholesale and retail liquor house that had been founded in 1869 at 409 Front Street in San Francisco, It featured a proprietary brand of whiskey called “Blue Grass Bourbon.”   Hugh’s success in the liquor trade was indicated in a 1872 notice by Goeway indicating that McCrum had been made a partner in the firm.
By 1876, Goeway had departed the scene and the Front Street business belonged to McCrum and a new partner, John Sroufe.  Born in Ohio, Sroufe was a decade older than Hugh, married with a family of three girls.  Listed in the 1870 census as a “produce dealer,” he brought to the liquor house San Francisco business savvy and a willingness to “watch the store” while the restless and peripatetic McCrum roamed the West.  A Nevada newspaper described the Scotch-Irish entrepreneur being “…as well known in Nevada as sagebrush and as popular as the product he sells.  Yesterday the firm of Manning & Berry, our townsmen, ordered from Hugh ten cases of the famous Blue Grass Bourbon.”

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

About 1886 McCrum and Sroufe also became partners in a saloon in Tombstone, Arizona, called the “Bird Cage,” an establishment notorious for rowdy behavior and a bordello on the second floor.  Hugh, apparently ever on the move, probably instigated the purchase.  Two years later they sold the Bird Cage to Joe Bignon. [See my post on  the Bird Cage and Bignon, January 2014.]  McCrum also is recorded having bought a stock farm near Point of Rocks, a highly scenic area not far from Prescott, shown below.
With their liquor trade burgeoning, by 1881 the partners had moved to larger quarters at 208-210 Market Street.  They also were looking closer at home for opportunities.  The Cliff House Restaurant, perched on rock above the Pacific Ocean was a longstanding San Francisco icon, a eatery favored by the city’s wealthy residents and famous figures that included three American presidents.  When a new owner found himself unable to manage the property, he leased it in 1883 to McCrum and Sroufe.  They apparently brought a different kind of clientele to Cliff House, raising local eyebrows and offending the owner who terminated their lease within two years, instructing their successor to “clear out the riffraff.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, September 15, 2016

The Ripys of Kentucky: “From Father to Son Since 1831"

 That slogan was adopted in the latter part of the 19th Century by the Ripy distilling interests to emphasize the heritage of their bourbon.   Although the validity of the date might be questioned, father and son, James Ripy and Thomas B. Ripy,  combined to create what once was reputed to be the largest whiskey-making operation not only in Kentucky, but in the world.

The Rippey family were Hugenots, French Protestants who fled their homeland under persecution and settled in Northern Ireland where they found a welcome.  James Rippey was born there in March 1811.  While still in his teens, James, with  a brother, John, and sister, Eliza, left Ireland and family members in 1830 to seek better opportunities in America.   Entering through the port of Philadelphia, the trio eventually found their way to Lawrenceburg, Kentucky.

Initially the Rippeys lived in a wooden cabin in a small community below what is now known as Wild Turkey Hill in Lawrenceburg, perhaps similar to the one above.  James became a clerk in a dry goods store, proved to have a knack for business, and before long was operating his own mercantile establishment.  He counted among his customers the many small distillery owners of Anderson County who may also have been supply him with whiskey to sell.

The year 1939 was a pivotal one for James:   He went before a court in Bourbon County, Kentucky, renounced his British citizenship and became an American as “James Ripy.”  Although his naturalization papers say he appeared to be about 24 years old, assuming his birth date was 1811, he was several years older than that.   Family lore provides two different reasons for the change in spelling James’ name. One is that a sign painter hired to render a sign for his store ran out of room and so shortened the spelling.  A second version is that the immigration official who processed his paper work in Philadelphia spelled it that way.  In any case the spelling stuck.

That same year James married Artemesia Walker, a woman about his own age who had been born in Kentucky, the daughter of a prominent local family.  The couple would have two sons who survived to adulthood.  The eldest,  James P., served in the Confederate cavalry, married into the family that produced Bond & Lilliard Whiskey, and became a distiller.  The younger son, Thomas Beebe (T.B.) born in 1847, was given a good education, attending the Kentucky Military Institute in Louisville, the oldest private military school in the U.S.  Later he would attend Sayre Institute in Frankfort. 

The senior James Ripy, enriched by his mercantile business, had taken a increasing interest in distilling. As early as the 1850s a small distillery had been established on the banks of the Kentucky River four miles east of Lawrenceburg.  About 1868 the operation was taken over by a group of local businessmen, among them the 53-year-old Ripy.   Before long the distillery successfully was mashing more than 100 barrels of grain a day — significant capacity at those times.

This arrangement proved to be short-lived as within months the owners decided to sell.  The buyers were Judge W. H. McBrayer [see my post of October 2011] and young Thomas “T.B” Ripy, the latter likely financed by his father.  By the following year, McBrayer had departed and at the tender age of 21 Thomas became the sole owner.  He would operate the plant under the names “T. B. Ripy Cliff Springs Distilling Co.” and “Anderson County Sour Mash Distilling Co #112.”   

Thomas renamed the site of the distillery, earlier called “Steamville” because steamships on the Kentucky River landed there.   Now the location became “Tyrone,” a tribute to the province in Ireland from whence the Ripys had come.  Before long Tyrone became a bustling town of 1,000 residents with stores, a post office, and a port for excursion boats from Frankfort.  A photo shows one approaching the town.   

As T.B. Ripy was rising to the top of the Kentucky distillingThe Ripys of Kentucky: “From Father to Son Since 1831 hierarchy, his father was faltering.  After moving the Ripy family into whiskey-making prominence, James Ripy had experienced some health setbacks.  These must have been difficult times for Artemesia and their sons.  In June 1872,  James Ripy, only 61 years old, died and was buried in the Walker Family Cemetery near Lawrenceburg. The founding father had come a long way from his roots in County Tyrone, Ireland. His monument is shown here.

Two years after his father’s death, Thomas, now 26, married Sally Fidler, daughter of a prosperous local family with extensive land holdings.  They had ten children who lived to adulthood and another who died in infancy. Sally became affectionately known as “Ma’am Ripy,” described as “a tiny lady, with a sharp mind and keen sense of propriety.”  A relative described her in her elder years:  “She sat in her chair to the right of the fireplace in the parlor, frequently cautioning her children and grandchildren to ‘Love One Another,” as the Ripy men engaged in their favorite pastime — argument.”
By 1873 Thomas Ripy had torn down some of the original Cliff Springs buildings and replaced them with sturdier structures, shown above. Insurance records indicate that the distillery was brick with a metal or slate roof.   Of the three warehouses, one was brick, stone and ironclad, a second was iron-clad, and a third frame and iron clad.  All had fire resistant roofs.  A cattle barn and a shed also were on the property.  As a result of the renovations, mashing capacity of the distillery was increased to 600 bushels daily.
Harking back to his immigrant father’s foray into distilling, Ripy coined the slogan for his products:  “From father to son since 1831.”  Although that year makes a clever verse, the date is a bit misleading.  James Ripy had arrived in the U.S. by that time but was just getting established in Kentucky, likely selling whiskey but not making it.  The turn to distilling occurred in 1868 when James and partners bought the small plant at what later became Tyrone.  Perhaps Thomas could not find a suitable rhyme for the actual beginning of the Ripy whiskey dynasty.

Thomas continued to seek new opportunities.  In 1881 with partners J. M. Waterfill & John Dowling he built the Clover Bottom Distillery #418 at Tyrone.  Insurance reports indicate that this distillery was a four-story brick building with two frame warehouses with metal roofs, one located 101 feet east of the still and another 112 feel west.   A frame barn, where the spent mash was fed to cattle, was 750 feet northwest of the distillery.  In 1885 Ripy bought out his partners and expanded mashing capacity of Clover Bottom to 1,500 bushels daily.
Before his career ended, this Ripy had a hand in several different Kentucky distilleries.  In addition to the two located in Tyrone, at various times he owned  the Belle of Anderson Distillery that he sold almost immediately and the Old Joe Distillery at McBrayer, Kentucky. He sold that plant to Wiley Searcy, whose name it took. [See my post on Searcy, June 2013.]  Employing hundreds of local folks, as shown above, Ripy’s Tyrone facilities alone made him the largest distiller in the state and, according to claims, at the time the largest distiller in the world.

Along with quantity, Ripy was providing quality in his whiskey.  When the State of Kentucky had to select one distillery to feature at its exhibit at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, his was chosen among 400 potential claimants. The front windows of a Salt Lake City 1900s liquor store in which the entire display is “Old Ripy” whiskey, give an idea of the national scope of the company sales.  Although it is difficult to date any specific “Old Ripy” bottles or giveaways, the several scattered though this post give an idea of the many products over time that carried the Ripy name. 
As their family grew to ten children, Thomas and Sally determined to build a house in Lawrenceburg able to accommodate them all.  The result was an imposing mansion, shown above, completed in 1888, sitting on 100 acres near the center of town.  Five years in the building, the new home and grounds contained many features rare at the time including a carbide lighting system, indoor plumbing, a tennis court and a swimming pool.  The T. B. Ripy house has been called “…A work of art that is also a definitive piece of American history, representing the people who lived and defined the American Dream.”  In 1980 the house was placed on the National Register of Historical Places.  The Ripy family sold it in 1965 but descendants in 2010 have repurchased and repaired it.  Today the mansion is a Kentucky tourist attraction.  
In the spring of 1899,  perhaps in declining health, Ripy sold his Tyrone distilleries to the Kentucky Distilleries and Warehouse Co., better known as the notorious “Whiskey Trust.”   He died two years later at the age of 55 and was buried in the Lawrenceburg Cemetery.  His gravestone is shown here.   The sale of the distilleries may have met with opposition from Ripy’s older sons who were working for their father in various capacities and might otherwise have inherited the business.  Sons Ezra, Ernest, Forest and Robert subsequently opened their own distillery near Tyrone and operated it under the name “Ripy Brothers.” until Prohibition.

After Repeal Ripy’s sons and grandsons continued to be active in the U.S. whiskey industry.  Several sons operated the Hoffman Distillery near Lawrenceburg and bottled “Old Hoffman,” “Rip Van Winkle” and “Ezra Brooks” whiskeys.  Another son, E.W. Ripy rebuilt the Ripy Brothers Distillery near Tyrone.  Two of his sons, T.B. Ripy III and E.W. Ripy Jr., were engaged in that enterprise.  Subsequently the distillery was sold to Austin Nichols whose Wild Turkey distillery at Lawrenceburg would become world famous.   

Schenley owned the Ripy trademark for a number of years, marketing whiskey under that name after Repeal.  More recently, Wild Turkey, operating in the vicinity of the original Ripy distilleries has registered labels, among them one that features silhouettes of James and Artemesia Ripy, the progenitors of this famous American whiskey clan.  The distillery to date has not yet marketed a whiskey under the name.  It should.

Note:   During the researching and writing of this post, through the good offices of a friend, I was put in touch with Mr. Beebe Ripy, a descendant of James and Thomas and a man knowledgeable about family history.   He was gracious enough to read my initial draft and give suggestions for corrections and additions. I am most grateful for his prompt and valuable help.