A first hand account of growing up around a Hoosier Distillery circa 1835


I haven’t forgotten about the Alchemist Cabinet, in fact, I’ve been busy compiling more stories than ever! Recent weeks however have seen me become quite busy with various commitments both inside and outside the alcohol industry so updates have been and probably will remain slow until the new year. I recently came across this gem of an article from near Columbus Indiana I thought you might enjoy as it gives a bit of an inside view (albeit from a child) of life around a Hoosier Distillery in the earliest of days. Of note here is the use of the Cordial bottle as a dipping dog and the tread mill and mule used to raise water for cooling the still worms. I have come across both of these before. It is by wanton habit that when searching for still sites I always look for elevated water or nearby water sources but more and more I am realizing that elevated water wasn’t needed if you could raise it yourself and in some cases cisterns/rain water served all the purposes of cooling and the distilleries weren’t always in close proximity to a spring, creek, pond, or well. Enjoy.

Columbus Indiana Weekly Times March 12 1897
“Ye Olden Tyme”
The Distillery

“The distillery at Arnold’s mills, was probably built in the “20’s” somewhere. At any rate I saw it about 1835 when I crossed the river with my father. He was then building the “cottage house” in which uncle Ephraim’s family and ours resided till the early spring of 1841. My mother, then a widow, chose the uncle Joseph Fassett house and farm of 160 acres, and fourteen acres bought of George Cummings as a equal division of the partnership property, and moved there.

Uncle Ephraim took the mills and some timber on the west side of the river, and also took all the credits and debts of the firm.

Hog drovers used to buy our still slops and also to use our ten acre ox lot, for their hogs. I remember walking around the lot and looking at the large fat hogs. The slop was first let out, into a large vat 20 x 60 feet and three feet deep to cool. For a while water was pumped from the river for the use of the still house by a mule on a large circular tread wheel lying elliptically. I often earned a tip (6 ¼ cts.) by sitting up close to the mules back and touching him up with a whip when he began to walk slow. Otherwise he would stiffen his front legs and stop the large wheel on which he was treading. I kept my “fips” and “bits” (12 cts) in a Brandtiths pill box.

Later my father ran some long belts to a mill wheel to run the pump at the still house. This relieved the mule but stopped my revenue

Once I did something out of the way at the house and to avoid punishment took refuge under this big tread wheel, where the hogs slept and fleas abounded. Our hired girl came for me but I refuse to come out, and she would not come under after me. She was unconcerned about it, and said if I would come out mother wouldn’t whip me. But as soon as I came out she grabbed me, and dragged me home where I was chastised severely.

I once saw Jim Chase drink whiskey out of a half gallon measure, and some drops ran down the corners of his mouth. A man said “jim, your mouth leaks”. Chase said “you’re a damn liar!” whereupon the other knocked him down and the back of his head struck the door sill very hard

We children used a Godfrey’s cordial bottle with string attached as a “proof vial” to try the new whiskey. Of course we little boys were judges of such a matter, and would let our bottle down and draw up some of the liquor to look at, just as the head man did. There was a malt house near by where the soaked corn was dried before grinding for malt meal.

The distillery was discontinued for a year or so before my fathers death in 1840. Probably fifty barrels of whisky were stored in an old log house at one time. Cousin Addison Pownail, brother George and myself were having some Christmas by shooting at a mark. Add set a board with a spot on it against this cabin to aim and fired. The ball passed through the board, between the logs of the house, and into a barrel of whisky. We left then and did not make a report.

Isaac Talley of Madison Ind, remodeled the flouring mill about 1846. Uncle Ephraim took him in as a partner, but they got into a tangle somehow, and within a year the partnership was dissolved by arbitration. A miller named Whiteside of Columbus was one of the arbitrators and I think Banfill of the same place was another. They allowed Talley *00 and $2.75 a day for his time, including board for himself, wife and child, and the use of a house. Whisky then sold for twenty and thirty cents per gallon. While Talley was at the mills, the old still house, unused for several years was made into a barn for horses.

A bucket of whisky with a dipper in it was always within reach of the “mill hands” and farm workmen. Once when a boy of six or seven years, while in the company of some men, I took two or three drinks from a half gallon measure, to be like them. Soon I concluded to go home some hundred and fifty yards distant and heard my brother George calling as he came towards me. I was much tickled and laughed to myself, thinking that when we met I would throw him into the middle of the mill race; but somehow when we met I thought I was not well and so I went home and told my mother. She made me a nice pallet on the floor and in reply to her questions I told her I thought I had the ague, but when I began vomiting on the floor she seemed to know all about it and I had to skip on hands and knees over the steps and out of doors without getting up.

And so I learned I had better not drink whiskey while I had a mother!

Thomas H Arnold,
May 1896

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