The Johnson Distillery In Washington County Indiana


I’ve been rather lax in my writing for the Alchemist Cabinet lately, quite obviously not due to disinterest but due more to a lack of time as my work at Spirits Of French Lick, on the home farm, with Hells Half Acre, and on the current documentary as well as the second book have kept me busy. I still have yet to make my trip to visit the site of the old Sterling Alexander and Kemper Distilleries at Mauckport and New Amsterdam but it is certainly in the que. Thursday night I will be visiting the site of the original Wolfe distillery in Stillhouse Hollow in Orange County with a new made friend who claims that the foundation and possibly more still exist in the remote location. Until then, I continue to learn and uncover more about the history of distillation in “Hoosier Occupied Northern Kentucky.” My friend and Washington County Historian Jeremy Elliott of the John Hay Center in Salem Indiana recently found these and sent them my way.


This certainly rings familiar to nearly every distillery we have researched so far. The common themes are there; mills were always associated with distilleries and the Southern Hoosier Hills produced a lot of brandy! The letter above even talks about the “feet” of peach pits to yet be plowed out with mirrors our conversation from last year with Mr. Howard Wolfe about the 2 1/2 truckloads of peach pits he removed from the site of the second Wolfe brandy distillry in Stampers Creek Township in Orange County Indiana.

The history of Lawrence, Orange, and Washington records the following about this distillery on Elk Creek in Washington County Indiana:

EARLY MILLS FACTORIE8 DISTILLEBIEB ETC Daniel Winslow and Joseph Johnson built a saw and grist mill on Elk Creek in Section 11 in 1833 It changed hands several times and was run until about 1808 Joseph Johnson and John F Price Sr built a steam saw and grist mill in 1854 It is now owned and operated by the latter and in its day has been an important industrial feature of the township Simeon Garriott conducted a distillery between 1820 and 1830 on Elk Creek in Section 26 Joseph Johnson built a distillery and made as whisky until the internal revenue was put on it He has distilled some brandy since.

I’m presuming Johnson was distilling prior to the re-implementation of the excise tax in 1862 and was caught distilling illicitly sometime after. The later produced brandy may or may not have been legal. Interestingly enough some other distilling family names and connections are mentioned as well. Winslow is a name associated with Cave River Valley and Old Clifty distillery as they were related to the distiller Henry Robertson and had a distillery further down the valley at Moscow Cave (stillhouse cave system as some documents call it). The Garriott family as well as having their own distillery were relatives of the infamous John and Abraham Fleenor who introduced the famous distilling peach the Fleenor into commerce and production. The Johnson distillery it is important to not is not but just a couple miles from the site of John Fleenor’s old distillery as well and those peach pits were likely of the Fleenor genotype. Much like modern Polinka and Slivovitz distillers the peach distillers of Washington County were making fruit mash brandy by running the peaches through a nut mill. The wine for stillage would have included seeds which would fall free of the flesh and to the bottom of the barrel. The fermentation of the seed would not have harmed their viability any at all and those peach pits were often collected for replanting to furnish new trees for the old orchards.

From Warder W. Stevens Centennial History of Washington County Indiana:

Dariiel Winslow and Joseph Johnson built a saw and grist mill on Elk creek in section II in I833 It changed hands a nurnber of times and wasfkept running until about I868 when it was abandoned Joseph Johnson and John F Price built a steam saw and grist mill on the northeast quarter of section 22 and for several years it was probably the most important industrial feature of the township Simeon Garriottv conducted a dis_tillery between 1820 and I830 on Elk creek in section 26 Among others who operated distilleries in the township at different periods were Joseph Johnson and John Crockett

Here we see that John F. Price of “Price’s mill” mentioned in conjunction with the distillery of Johnson earlier actually built and operated the mill and subsequently owned it in conjunction with Joseph Johnson.

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