Bourbon Barons in Central Kentucky Berry Hill Mansion - Juniper Hills, Frankfort Kentucky
Bourbon conjures ideas of cool shaded verandas and gentlemen smoking cigars and talking horses. It is this image that endears bourbon to the American culture and helped to produce a powerful and prosperous industry within Kentucky's Bluegrass Region. The amber liquor flowing from charred oak barrels could be transported and sold in markets all over the United States. The New Orleans area was the prime market for bourbon. In 1828 Kentucky distilleries shipped some 44,000 barrels to the Crescent City. The distilleries within Central Kentucky were producing more than fine amber liquor; they were, in fact, producing liquid gold.
There were three pockets of prominent bourbon production in Central Kentucky. These areas were located throughout the Bluegrass Region and are from west to east: Nelson County and Bardstown, Franklin County and Frankfort, and Bourbon County and Paris. There are numerous stories and wild guesses as to where the first bourbon was produced and who produced it; however, the actual history of early bourbon production is very clouded. Regardless of the mystery surrounding initial bourbon production it is known that by 1810 there were some two thousand whiskey distilleries in Kentucky, and by the mid-19th century bourbon was selling for an astounding 14 cents a gallon.
Within the Central Kentucky area it appears that bourbon was being produced as early as the mid-183 Os on Glenn's Creek located on the Franklin and Woodford County boundary. James Crow, a Scotch immigrant, began distilling "sour mash" bourbon in the area. It is said that he was the first to utilize this process and produced a finer grade bourbon whiskey. However, bourbon production in the Franklin County area was at best crude and unreliable until the after the American Civil War. It was at this time that Colonel Edmund H. Taylor Jr. is credited with revolutionizing the distilling industry within Central Kentucky.
Taylor was the grandnephew of President Zachary Taylor and possessed a talent for business. Taylor established three distilleries within Franklin County. The first, in 1868, was located on Glenn's Creek where James Crow began his whiskey making enterprise some years earlier. This was the Old Taylor Distillery and produced the widely popular Old Taylor brand. The main distillery building was constructed during the 1880s and it resembled... "a medieval castle." Inside, Taylor substituted modern, sanitary distilling equipment for the unclean, wooden beer still which distilleries had used for decades.
In 1870 Taylor purchased the Swigert distillery located at Lee's Town in Franklin County. Taylor invested some thirty thousand dollars into the newly named "O.F.C. Old Fire Copper" Distillery. The Carlisle distillery, which shared the same area, was located below the Lock and Dam No. 4 on the Kentucky River and produced the Carlisle brand. These distilleries were technological breakthroughs in the whiskey industry. The O.F.C. and Carlisle distilleries were "the only distillery where the product is in contact with copper alone from the time the grain is ground until the finished whiskey is barreled in the splendid oak packages made at the company's cooper shops from selected and seasoned timber. Additionally, Taylor owned the Hermitage Distillery, which was also located on the Kentucky River in Frankfort between Second and Cross streets. This distillery complex possessed a cooperage (barrel maker), seven warehouses and produced the Old Hermitage Brand.
During the 1870s several other distilleries were opened within Franklin County, among them were the Spring Hill Distillery, Arnold's Spring Distillery, and the Cedar Run Distillery. These distilleries prospered and from 1870 till 1880 capital investment in distilling increased from $347,000 to $620,000. However, it was not these newly opened distilleries that were the greatest rival of the Taylor Empire. That title was awarded to the W.A. Gaines & Company Distillers.
The firm of Gaines, Berry & Company Distillers was organized in 1867. The firm was established with the most prominent member of Frankfort society. Included among these individuals were William A, Gaines, Hiram Berry and Edmund H. Taylor, Jr. The firm became associated with the large New York House of Paris, Alien & Co. in 1868, and it was at this time that the firm established the name under which it would conduct business for the length of its existence. W.A. Gaines & Company included prominent members W.A. Gaines, Hiram Berry, George H. Alien, Marshall J. Alien, and Frank S. Birch. Colonel E.H. Taylor withdrew from the firm and established his distillery at OFC. W.A. Gaines & Company constructed the Old Crow distillery on the banks of Glenn's Creek and adopted the distilling practices of the old Scotsman James Crow in 1872. The Old Crow brand remained the premiere bourbon distilled by W.A. Gaines throughout the company's existence.
The Gaines' company expanded its product line and capital by purchasing Taylor's Hermitage Distillery and produced the popular Old Hermitage brand. W.A. Gaines & Company reported in October 1884 that they possessed 12,343 barrels of bourbon with the tax lists being signed by Hiram Berry, By 1914 George F. Berry was Vice President of W.A. Gaines & Company and reported that the Old Crow Distillery bottled 4,493 barrels from May to August of that year. During the same time the Hermitage Distillery produced 1,796 barrels of bourbon, which were bottled.
During the last quarter of the 19th Century the bourbon business in Franklin County continued to thrive. Frankfort's bourbon barons were busy Grafting whiskey production's future within Kentucky and the United States. Colonel E.H. Taylor Jr. was instrumental in Grafting the Bottled-in-Bond act of 1897, which was a "federal subsidy by tax deferral for product made to strict government standards and stored under government supervision.
After the bottle-in-bond act was adopted, distilling within Frankfort boomed. Bottling houses were attached to every distillery and their daily output during the bottling season could exceed 36,000 bottles. During 1912 the estimated capacity of the county's bourbon warehouses was 600,000 barrels. The bourbon industry paid the wages of a large labor force, provided a local market for farmer's grain crops, and the lumber industry flourished providing the lumber needed for whiskey barrels. Altogether it is estimated that the bourbon industry within the area provided eighty five percent of all "municipal, county, and state taxes paid by Franklin Countians.
There is little doubt that the bourbon industry within Franklin County drove the local and impacted the regional economies. The thousands of barrels of Kentucky bourbon produced at the numerous distilleries demanded a huge labor force, provided outlets for local farmers and lumber mills and certainly produced a large fortune for the owners and operators of these distilleries. It is from these large fortunes that a "Bourbon Aristocracy" arose in Central Kentucky. Within the Franklin and Woodford County areas the most influential individuals were a collective of bourbon producers that at the turn of the 20th century included amongst its most prominent members Colonel E.H. Taylor Jr., George T. Stagg, and George Franklin Berry. These individuals forged lucrative business enterprises that extended beyond the bourbon industry, were highly involved in the civic duties and cultural endeavors within the area, and were prolific builders who added some of the area's most astounding and distinctive architecture.
One of the most distinctive of the distilling complexes was E.H. Taylor's Old Taylor Distillery on Glenn's Creek. Local author Carl Kramer describes the main distillery building as... "resembling a medieval castle, with heavy stone walls, arch windows, towers and crenellated battlements, a red slate roof, stone bridges, a sundial, and a sunken garden. The carefully landscaped lawn included pergolas and pools". Taylor utilized this building and the highly landscaped distillery grounds for large community functions as well as a back drop for his political agendas.
During the last quarter of the 19th Century the local distillery business was creating large amounts of revenue for the distillery owners. It was during this time that E.H. Taylor sold interest in the O.F.C. distillery at Leestown to George T. Stagg. By 1881 Stagg's company declared a dividend of $273,843.34 which amounted to a substantial fortune. Unfortunately, the distillery was struck by fire in 1882, but the resources were available to rebuild and the distillery was reassembled immediately. By 1885 Warehouse B and Warehouse C were built and are still standing today.
These warehouses adhere to Johnson's description regarding the principal edifices of the distilling industry as these structures were massive structures completed in brick. CThe entire distillery complex was purchased by the Goldring family in 1992 and renamed the "Buffalo Trace Distillery".
It was during the later part of the 19th century that the distilling industry added to Frankfort's commercial face with several distilling operations opening offices in the city's downtown district. The industry's importance on Frankfort's commercial center must not be overlooked. It is within the commercial area that the emergence of new high style architecture begins to be associated with the bourbon industry; however, the overall building materials remain similar to the structures constructed at the distillery complexes. The E.H. Taylor Jr. Building was constructed of stone and brick on West Main Street. The structure consisted of three stories with the first story being completed in stone and the remaining two stories in brick. The windows were completed in the Italianate style. The building's cornice was very heavy and highly decorated with dentils and brackets. W.A. Gaines & Company commissioned the architectural firm of Charles J. Clarke and Arthur Loomis of Louisville to construct a "four story, red brick structure located at 229 West Main St.". The structure was completed in high style Italianate. The front facade possessed an iron storefront topped by three different window courses and a highly decorative cornice. As a sign of emerging importance, it is within this building that W.A. Gaines & Company owned one of the first telephones in Frankfort.
However important the bourbon industry's commercial architecture was to the local area, it is the residential architecture that provides the most outstanding examples of distinctive high style creations that the bourbon aristocracy produced. Certainly the bourbon baron sought out the very finest living accommodations. During the mid-19th century E.H. Taylor Jr. purchased the Swigert-Taylor-Bradley House after the death of Jacob Swigert. The home is a classic Greek Revival structure and was perhaps one of Frankfort's finest homes at the time Taylor purchased the residence. He occupied the home during his tenure as city mayor, but sold it in 1874 to Judge W.P.D. Bush.
However, in the waning years of the 19th century the local bourbon aristocrats strayed from the great Greek Revival mansions and gravitated towards the high style architecture that at the turn of the century was becoming popular. E.H. Taylor Jr. on Louisville Road constructed the first house of this type. Thistleton was not constructed of the stone or brick which had previously dominated the bourbon aristocracy's architectural taste, it was, in fact a wooden structure. However, the setting and mode in which the structure was completed identified with the image the bourbon aristocrat wished to project. Thistleton was a large structure that Carl Kramer designates as "no doubt one of the most splendid Queen Anne-style residences in Franklin County". Unfortunately the house was razed in the 1960s and images are all that is left of the fabulous structure. Two large stone stairs that led to a plateau upon which the residence sat fronted the house. A large veranda encircled the house and crowned with spindles created a balustrade that accented the house's second story. The structure also possessed the medieval characteristics that accent Queen Anne as well as many other late-19th-century structures. Large steep gables and towers adorned the structure and clearly echoed the high style Gothic themes popular during the time period.
Thistleton is an early example of the high style architecture produced by the bourbon aristocrats at the end of the 19th century; however, there are several structures that sprawl across the local landscape. Another striking example of a "bourbon edifice" is Stony Point Mansion, which was constructed on the grounds of the Stagg Distillery at Leestown. Stony Point was constructed during the 1930s by Albert B. Blanton, President of the George T. Stagg Distillery (Buffalo Trace). According to the information collected at the Buffalo Trace Distillery, Stony Point was designed and constructed by Blanton as a home for his new wife. The house is constructed from stone and features a massive fa9ade that once again possesses a reflection of medieval grandeur. Additionally, the structure's interior reflects a Gothic style with its heavy exposed wooden timber beams as well as the heavily wood appointed rooms.
It is, however, the house of George F. Berry that most clearly illustrates the architectural pinnacle reached by the bourbon aristocracy within the local area in the years that surrounded the turn of the 20th century. The "bourbon edifice" required each structure produced by the bourbon aristocrat to be substantial, built of large coursed ashlar stone, brick or be a massive wooden structure and all must possess highly decorative effects. Each of these structures were required not only to reflect a highly defined sense of current style, but also to instill within the visitor, employee, or dignitary who entered that the owner of the structure was important, cultured, and wielded great wealth and power. All of these aspects are clearly demonstrated within Berry Mansion and the surrounding grounds at Juniper Hill.
The house which George F. Berry constructed in 1900 incorporated all the elements that the "bourbon edifice" demanded. From its very beginnings "Berry Hill," as it has become popularly known, was a venture into the high style architecture that reflected all the aspects demanded by the bourbon aristocracy within the area.