I’ve been doing a lot of research on the history of small farm-distilleries here in Southern Indiana over the last several years, trying to find and identify the names of the distillers, the locations of their distilleries and any other details I can find about the particular agricultural crops and varieties they used as raw materials. Sometimes I’m fairly successful, others there just isn’t much to be found other than perhaps (if lucky) a tombstone in some long-abandoned cemetery somewhere in the county. This is sadly the case when it comes to many of the subjects of history here in Southern Indiana. None the less, the effort and research is well worth the reward and even more so when you do find a glaring bit of history you may have otherwise have missed.
I thought I would share a few bios, pictures, and locations of some of the long-gone distillers of Washington and Orange county here with you.
First up is John Fleenor, a name who figures deeply into the history of the Hoosier state and whom literally has thousands of Hoosier descendants in every locale. Originally born in Maryland to a distilling father (Nicholas, who was well known for his apple brandy) and who found his way to Indiana via Virginia and Kentucky. John came to Washington county (Along with two brothers, one named Abraham who brought with him the well-known Fleenor peach) in the earliest of days around 1807 after a short settlement with his first wife in KY not far from the Calloway plantation. Following the wilderness trace he came with Micajah Calloway, an early associate of Daniel Boone who occupies a burial plot not far from Mr. Fleenor (and who’s story of Indian abduction and subsequent scouting deserve their own book)
He settled about two miles north of present day Salem Indiana in an area that would host 9 distilleries and no churches at one point in time and went about farming and distilling his well-known Old Rye Whiskey and Peach brandy as well as hosting “muster days” for the early county militias. He was also known for providing surety bonds for early taverns in Salem and raising a family that would eventually give him 24 children spread across three wives. He was also notable for filing for the first divorce in the state of Indiana which was granted to him as his first wife refused to move with the children into the new wilderness.
The “Old” peach brandy mentioned is highly notable because it speaks volumes to the importance of brandy distillation here in Southern Indiana in those days where many of the early settlers were of German heritage and were very accustomed to the production of brandies. John’s brother Abraham settled about a mile from his brother near Delaney creek and proceeded to plant an orchard of small, white, clingstone type peaches he had brought with him from Virginia and which thrived in the local climate. It is from this “Fleenor” peach that the brandy was produced.
These peaches still exist within the county and the trees and fruit were both once an important part of Hoosier commerce. They culture very easily and come back true from seed with very high germination rates. For some time, there were only a few outcroppings of these peaches left around the county, mostly for the sake of curiosity, but in recent years my father, myself, and my wife have been propagating the little tree with hopes of re-introducing it to commerce as well as with high hopes of one day distilling the famed Fleenor Peach Brandy in the future.
The trees are generally small affairs with thin and short trunks and long branches, they become absolutely loaded with fruit that ripens in mid-September and can have a flesh that ranges from dry to very juicy depending on ripeness, year, and even tree. They are very easily cared for and put on an astonishing crop that seems to be reliable throughout the county (other than one instance near Cave River Valley that we will discuss in the near future).
No information seems to exist giving the size of John’s operation or output there of an I presume it was very small, probably from 30-60 gallons or so. Information does not exist either for where the distillery was located although it is likely it was close to his home and the blockhouse/fort he built for use in the early days after the Pigeon Roost Massacre.
John’s mortal remains were laid to rest in Nicholson cemetery in the year 1853.
The cemetery is a bit hard to get to, laying on private property between Llewelyn and Delaney roads with no roadway access to the cemetery. The find a grave listing shows a fairly large number of burials but the cemetery is in bad disrepair and there are many broken or missing stones. On the north edge of the cemetery near the agricultural field you can tell that the cemetery sits on a slight rise which is likely the result of an old wagon road that ran alongside the cemetery.
More information can be found in the excellent article on John’s find a grave page here: https://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=35861006
Watch this page for the availability of Fleenor peach trees or pits in the coming years.
Fleenor Peach Brandy
50 Gallon Barrel
Pit peaches and save pits for replanting
Put to the barrel two full bushels of peaches
To this add 15 gallons of boiling water
Mash the peaches with a stick (or use a blender before pouring into the barrel)
Cover the top and allow to sit to 30-40 mins.
Top with cold spring water and add yeast (yeast should be rehydrated at 90 degrees)
Allow to ferment 3 days to 2 weeks. Ferment dry.
Double pot distill and make good heads and tails cuts. Age in glass w/out wood in a cool dark place for 3 months and proof to 90 proof over the duration. Alternately, fill at proof (from still) a new or once used new American oak toasted or light (#1 or #2) barrel. Set somewhere cool and dark, proof a few points a year for four years. Bottle at 100 proof.
Catch five to ten gallons of pot tails from your still to add to the next batch of peach brandy mash to “sour” it.
You can also make a split brandy. Follow the same as above but use also 25-50 lbs of rye meal cooked for 15-30 min. at 160-170 degrees.