Still watching and waiting to hear more of the history!!
Still watching and waiting to hear more of the history!!
I was put in touch with a gentleman who purchased about 500 acres of land adjacent to the distillery back in the 1970's from my Great Uncle, Sam Westerman. I had a chance to talk to him on the phone recently had he seemed to have a very good knowledge of the history of the distillery. He's lived in the Deatsville area most if not all his life and was a friend of my uncle when he still owned the distillery. Much of what he told me has already been documented, some has not. He seemed very credible to me, but some of the information is different than what has been documented in the past. So here's what he told me:
After prohibition in 1933, Mr. Samuels was anxious to re-open the distillery, but didn't have the capital to do it. He was introduced to some investors from Cincinatti who were interested in getting into the distilling business and they decided to move forward with there plans. Mr. Samuels capital in the project was his knowledge of the distilling business and the investors put up the cash. They built a new distillery and warehouses in Deatsville just down the tracks from the original distillery. Everything apperently went well until about 1940 when the war in Europe started heating up. The investors from Cinci were convinced that Hitler was going to win the war and being Jewish, decided they needed to liquidate their assets in case the worse happened. Mr. Samuels didn't have the money to buy his investors out and eventually left the distillery and started Maker's Mark down in Lorreto. Anyway, my uncle and 3 other investor's from the Detroit area heard about the distillery being up for sale and decided to buy it. Again, everything went well for about 10 years until the well documented change in the distilling process that burnt the distillate and nearly put the distillery out of business. This was about 1952 and after this episode, my uncles partners were fed up with the business and wanted out. So, my uncle bought out his partners, dumped all the bad whiskey, and started from scratch. Although he never brought the brands back to the prominence they once enjoyed, he did make much better bourbon than what was made in the early 1950's. I was also told that they actually distilled until 1967 and bottled into the mid 1970's. Everything I have read says the distillery closed in 1952 which is incorrect. I have pictures of the bottling line from the mid 1970's. By the late 1960's, my uncle was getting up in years and apparently was losing some interest in keeping the distillery going. He sold the distillery proper in the mid 1970's to a Scottish gentleman and I know that eventually they made bottled water from the Springs on the property. The brands made their during this time that I can document were T.W. Samuels, Elijah Craig and Old Jordan. I also know that my uncle and a man named Stanhope Foster registered the distillery in Florida in 1969 but apparently never produced in that state. I will be going back to the Deatsville area this coming spring or summer and plan on talking to a few of the people that worked at the distillery back in the day. I also plan on doing some research at the Bardstown library and will update this thread with any new information that I find. Thanks for your interest!!
I'm glad finally to see this documented. I know I have a childhood memory of seeing smoke coming out of the stack at Deatsville. I was born in 1957, so unless I lived another life in this area immediately prior to this one....Quote:
I was also told that they actually distilled until 1967 and bottled into the mid 1970's.
My grandfathers brother worked the warehouses there until the mid or late 60s and I remember the bottling going to the mid 70s.
Thanks, Mark. This is interesting.
MarK, My wife and I were down in Bardstown for the KBF last year. (2007) While on a tour of Maker's Mark we were joined about half way through our tour, by none other than the widow of Sam Cecil. If I remember correctly, her name was Jean. Maybe you could get in touch with Maker's Mark, and they could get in touch with her or other members of Sam Cecil's family and maybe they could be of assistance to you. Hope this helps you out a little. Joe
Sam's son works on the bottling line at Barton. You could probably get in touch with him through the distillery switchboard.
Thanks, Mark. That's great stuff.
Re-reading Sam's account in his book, it appears he left the company when Robert Block (that's the Cincinnati connection) sold it about 1943. He identifies the new owners as the Foster Trading Corporation of New York and that's about all he has to say about the new owners.
Mark (chefmel) hasn't given us any names, including his own, so I hope he can tie those pieces together for us. Does that name (Foster Trading) means anything to you?
It looks like 1943 is when Sam Cecil, Charlie DeSpain, and perhaps the Elijah Craig brand, all left Deatsville and made the trek to Heaven Hill. I suspect Sam's account of the post-1943 history is spotty because he wasn't there. Leslie Samuels, of course, was dead by then and Bill Sr. left in 1943 too. He was out of the business for ten years, then in 1953 bought what is now Maker's Mark.
One thing that is always left out of the Maker's Mark foundation myth is the fact that Bill Samuels Sr. was prohibitted from using the family name because they had sold it along with the distillery. Today, that too is owned by Heaven Hill.
I am particularly glad to get the information about Elijah Craig. I knew Heaven Hill didn't originate the brand, I even once saw who did, but I've never since been able to put my hands on that information. This doesn't necessarily prove Samuels started it either, they may have acquired it from someone, but this makes it seem likely that Heaven Hill acquired it from Samuel's in 1943, probably through the involvement of Charlie DeSpain, who was very important in Heaven Hill's history, although he was detested by many.
The 1966 Industry Red Book states that the T W Samuels Distillery in Deatsville has 16 active brands.
My very vague recollection is that the Elijah Craig and Evan Williams brands actually originated at a distillery in Franklin or maybe Scott County. I believe I saw this in a file at the Kentucky History Museum in Frankfort, but I didn't note it then and haven't been able to find it since. What say you about that, Mike?
I'm not quite sure when Heaven Hill started to market Evan Williams, but I know they didn't launch their Elijah Craig until the mid-seventies.
Is it possible T. W. Samuels had both of those brands in 1966?
It makes sense that Samuels, as a commodity producer, would shut down in the early 1970s as opposed to the 1950s. That's when the market tanked.
The book may list the brands but I would have to go back and look. I too, seem to remember the company that owned Elijah Craig before Heaven Hill but don't recall who it was. I have some reference books at home that might be where I saw that information. I will try to look it up sometime after New Year Day.