Those of you who have read the blog for a while will know I’ve spoken of Stampers Creek and the Wolfe Family many times. I was lucky enough to interview Andrew Wolfe’s grandson, Howard, shortly before he passed and that Interview is archived in the blog. Howard at that time also shared a few photos of Andrew with me (including one post retirement in Orange County California you will find at the bottom if this post) and a ton of history including the tidbit that there were actually two Wolfe Distilleries in the valley.
The one originally built and ran by Henry Wolfe Sr. and subsequently his son Peter before falling into the hands of his son Andrew which subsequently burned and the second Distillery located next to the then new turnpike that Andrew operated. Here we are focusing on the older distillery which was located North of the Wolfe cemetery and was affectionately known as “Stillhouse Hollar”. I was lucky enough to find someone to lead me back the treacherous terrain recently and found myself amongst the ruins of one of the oldest still houses in Hoosier Occupied Northern Kentucky!
Before I go further, amongst the handful of Stampers Creek locals whom I have spoken to the Hollar was well known as the site of illicit Distilling activity but generally not known as a legal Distillery. The oral history got murky somewhere but this is what I have sussed out. The old still house was legal until the fire that “destroyed” it. For perspective most of it’s operational life was spent in a time when the excise tax didn’t exist. The original Washington/Hamilton tax being repealed by Thomas Jefferson in 1802 while Henry Sr. Was still living in the Shenendoah valley and the second implemented in 1814 and lasting until 1817. Still predating, though only slightly, the Wolfe’s impressive reign. From 1817-1862 no tax existed but the so called “Civil” war brought with it a need to boost to the treasury at about the same time Indiana began implementing various temperament laws.
Despite the fact that the hollow is out of the way and hard to reach now, I saw enough old wagon ruts and have found enough newspaper articles referencing it to have no doubt the government Gauger from the New Albany office knew exactly where to find it, which brings us back to Howard who revealed that his grandfather built the new Distillery on the new turnpike for easy access and a steady (non seasonal) supply of well water, but that Andrew rebuilt and also operated the old still house illicitly to supplement his legal sales! Tax man was none the wiser believing the old operation in ruins and a hefty hike from the new plant!
I took a few pictures though it is hard to make out much if anything but foundation Stine’s due to the heavy vegetation. The distillery sets in a stream bed (I imagine they were using water not just for cooling the worm tubs but possibly for a apple grinder or nut mill) and very closely resembles the outlay of the Old Thomas Green Distillery near Becks Mill as well as the Wesner/Brewer Distillery at Clifty/Cave River valley. I will return when the vegetation is down to take more photos and video (same for the Brewer Distillery at Moscow Cave which we have not yet documented here). Among the things I hope to document are brick from the furnaces found on site, an ash heap, and a dump complete with what is left of peach pits.
Bourbon Historian and Author Michael Veach was kind enough to share a couple of photos of the Harlan Distillery in Moore county Kentucky from 1918 with us to illustrate how some of these old working we’re laid out, particularly the mash tubs being elevated to gravity feed the still. The farmer-distiller technology didn’t change much over the course of 100 or so years and unfortunately I know of know Southen Indiana photos if still houses so these may represent the best chance we have of seeing the inner workings of one of these facilities.