View Full Version : The Pre Pro Graham Bros Distillery Rockford, Il

09-28-2011, 22:02
A couple of years ago I posted on the Graham-Ginestra house in Rockford and the distilleries run by Freeman Graham and brothers. We never could quite locate the spot but I found an old Rockford business directory online that indicated it was located at 1310 S Main St Rockford, Il. Illinois's first sour mash whiskey distillery.


"Distillery.—Freeman Graham, No. 1310 South Main street, East Rockford."

Google maps shows two different locations depending on how you search:

1310 S Main St, Rockford, Winnebago, Illinois 61102
http://maps.google.com/maps?client=opera&rls=en&q=1310+S+Main+St,+Rockford,+Winnebago,+Illinois+61 102&oe=utf-8&channel=suggest&um=1&ie=UTF-8&hq=&hnear=0x8808ea91531d2391:0x21db60f544ab5ebd,1310+S +Main+St,+Rockford,+IL+61102&gl=us&ei=ofyDTp-UHuHW0QHoyqG6AQ&sa=X&oi=geocode_result&ct=title&resnum=1&ved=0CBoQ8gEwAA

On the west bank of the Rock River....makes sense. Current location is an aviation company and across the river from Rockford's airport.

The other...1310 s main st rockford, il....shows a downtown location and vacant lot with the foundation footprint of a large structure.

http://maps.google.com/maps?client=opera&rls=en&q=1310+s+main+st+rockford,+il&oe=utf-8&channel=suggest&um=1&ie=UTF-8&hq=&hnear=0x880895644faea06d:0x8d45dda422345bab,1310+S +Main+St,+Rockford,+IL+61101&gl=us&ei=PPaDToSxN-zH0AG_m8hv&sa=X&oi=geocode_result&ct=image&resnum=1&ved=0CBsQ8gEwAA

I wonder if our Rockford SBers know which location is correct and if the Rock River spot has any remaining structure if it is the one.


"<; rah a m's Distillery. This firm consists of Julius, Freeman and Byron
Graham, with a capital stock of $150,000. They manufacture sour mash whiskies.
The annual product is $300.000. They employ forty-five hands, with an annual pay-
roll of $30,000. "


10-01-2011, 21:58
The downtown location would be the correct one of the two you've listed. The map showing it being close to the airport is off by a few miles, it's actually indicating around the 4900 block of S. Main. The 1300 block on the even numbered side of the street was leveled a number of years ago and sits vacant.

However, I'm wondering about the accuracy of that address. In the 1880 business directory (I'm assuming this is the one you refered to) that lists the distillery at 1310 S. Main, it also shows Graham's house as being at 905 S. Main, when in fact, it is at 1115 S. Main. This home is listed in the U.S. National Register of Historic Places and for many years was open as a museum. Unless there was street number change at some point in time, the 905 isn't right. By the way, the home was sold in 2006 and is apparently no longer open for tours. There's a sign posted on a tree that says, if I remember correctly, "Trespassers will be shot, and those who survive will be shot again".

I found another bit of information that shows the distillery being at 1602-1608 S. Main. There's also a Graham Street that is at the 1500-1600 block area and runs from S. Main east towards the Rock River. Makes me question which address is correct. There are some small buildings on that stretch of S. Main, but nothing that would lead you to believe there was a distillery there. There is, however, a liquor store at 1634 S. Main :grin:

I doubt I've been of any help. It seems like I've only made things a little more confusing.


10-02-2011, 08:21
Thanks, this seems to be a bit of a local mystery! I would love to nail down its location, though the actual distillery is long gone. I am surprised that there is so little info in the local histories that I have found about the actual distillery. It is not too surprising that the addresses have changed over the years as the city grew.

I like a good challenge and this is one that is relatively near by - I live in McHenry county.

10-02-2011, 09:52
Here is an 1880 map of the city....not much detail but the street listings indicate:


"Fourth Avenue, east from Kishwaukee, fourth south of State, E.R. Graham, from S Main to the river, north of distillery."

Business Directory

"Graham's Distillery 1310 S Main S.R."

Any idea where this puts the correct area today? What does E.R. and S.R. refer to? East of the river? South of the river?

10-02-2011, 18:30
I happened to remember that my church has a city map from the 1800's in the lower Narthex, so I made a point of checking it out this morning. It's from 1880 (what is it with this date?) and drawings of actual buildings with numbers in them instead of squares with numbers. On the index I found the Graham Distillery, but do you think I could find the corresponding numbered building on the map? My eyes couldn't focus in on the small print so I'm going to have to see about taking the map off the wall and check it out with a magnifying glass. There's hope yet!


10-02-2011, 19:51
If it was the first sour mash distillery in the state it would be cool if Rockford had a bronze historical marker on the site. What would be even better is a new distillery!

10-03-2011, 13:14

Nice resource...Report of the Commissioner of Internal Revenue for the fiscal year ended 1888.

Look up what distilleries were active in your state....

10-18-2011, 15:28
I am originally from Rockford, IL, so this is a pretty interesting discussion to me.

I found an 1879 map of Rockford that labels the Graham Bros. Distillery (this may be the map Vosgar is referring to):


Go to the 300dpi map and zoom in until you can see the numbers on the rooftops. According to the legend, the distillery is #37. By the way, Freeman Graham also owned the Graham Cotton Mill, #36. The orientation of the map may throw you off. The birds-eye view is facing west, so west is toward the top of the sheet.

So, if this map is accurate, the distillery was on the north side of State St on the west bank of the river. This seems like a likely location for a distillery, as the river would be the source of the water. It looks to be a couple blocks from Main Street, but perhaps the distillery office was on Main.

Incidentally, Rockford's manufacturing started in the Rockford Water Power District, between Kent Creek on the south, the railroad tracks on the north, Main St on the west and the Rock River on the east. and . The machine shops ran on water power that was diverted from the river above the dam and through a series of sluice gates to the water wheels. Leather belts ran to each floor of the building and drove the machines. The guys working in the machine shops may have drinking the distillery products after work!


10-18-2011, 21:02
That is a great resource for historic maps of cities in all of the states.

So the building to the north of the bridge on State is Graham Distillery..right on the river. Looking at the satellite map of Rockford and keeping in mind the orientation, it appears that.....this is funny....the site is occupied by Rockford Lutheran Ministries and PNC Bank. Too bad, there is nothing left of the buildings to see. Any ground artifacts are long gone with the modern construction.

http://maps.google.com/maps?client=opera&rls=en&q=rockford&oe=utf-8&channel=suggest&um=1&ie=UTF-8&hq=&hnear=0x8808b9cdfd0300db:0xacad897828f6780,Rockfor d,+IL&gl=us&ei=W0qeTsT8JMPl0QGF27yeCQ&sa=X&oi=geocode_result&ct=image&resnum=1&ved=0CC4Q8gEwAA

When you were in Rockford was there any local history about the distillery...other than the Graham Genestra house?
Are people even aware of the history of distilling there?

10-19-2011, 21:38
I never heard of the distillery before reading this thread. But, it had been gone for a long time, so it isn't surprising. In fact, the city bears little resemblance to what it was 100 years ago.

I wrote an email to the historic society to see what info they have about Graham Bros. I will post anything I get back from them.


10-20-2011, 06:25
Look at the map again, over on the far left side, almost at the edge of the map, just south of Main Street and you'll see #37. It's faint and tough to see, I had to go to full zoom. This matches the 1600 S. Main street address.

The location you're refering to on the north side of State St must be 31. When I was a kid the State Theatre was there, and now it's a high rise for seniors, the Luther Center. It also houses the N. Illinois Synod offices for the Evangelical Luthern Church.

The bottom line, however, is that the distillery is no longer there :frown:


10-20-2011, 08:42
Good catch, I was searching all over that map and could not locate 37 and was unsure if the script digit was a "1" or a "7" at the bridge site. The location on the map shows the distiller on Lincoln St between Rock and Main....the river was right there.

See satellite view:

Street view...industrial buildings...Miller Engineering among others. A shabby liquor store...Laredo liquor is a block away.

Graham Street (appears to have been part of Lincoln in the past) runs right in front of the old location which appears to have some buildings on it today. Graham street is the only historical marker of the distillery. South Park is across the street from the old location. I wonder what the river bed would bring up if dredged...old bottles etc.

10-21-2011, 11:10
[A shabby liquor store...Laredo liquor is a block away.quote]

Shabby is being nice to this place. I went in once, just because you have to check out any and all liquor stores, and the word "dump" is probably more appropriate.

A friend of mine is an attorney for the state and prosecutes mainly drug and murder busts. He claims there's an average of 1 drug bust a month in their parking lot. Nice area


11-01-2011, 12:57
Look at the map again, over on the far left side, almost at the edge of the map, just south of Main Street and you'll see #37. It's faint and tough to see, I had to go to full zoom. This matches the 1600 S. Main street address.

The location you're refering to on the north side of State St must be 31. When I was a kid the State Theatre was there, and now it's a high rise for seniors, the Luther Center. It also houses the N. Illinois Synod offices for the Evangelical Luthern Church.

Good eye!

I was unsure when I looked at it, but yours is definitely a 37. Plus the location makes a lot of sense. Looking at Google, I knew there was a Graham St in Rockford, but it isn't labeled on the antique map (I should have seen Lincoln though).

I haven't heard anything back from the historical society, but I would love to learn more about this distillery.


11-01-2011, 20:37
Be sure to post if you get some info from them...a fascinating piece of local history.

07-04-2015, 08:36
Thought I'd reopen this thread. Some new information has come to light.


07-04-2015, 08:53

The Graham-Ginestra house can be your's for $149,900. I found it interesting that Graham had the distillery along with a cotton mill and had the house built halfway between them. I'm hoping the museum mentioned in the article is able to buy the place and re-open it to the public.