Henderson County, Kentucky History


by Colonel A. Kaintuck

The first house established in Henderson for the distillation of spirituous liquors of which we have any account was operated by a man by the name of MELTON. He had a small kettle concern for manufacturing apple and peach brandy. The output of this distillery was about twenty-five or thirty gallons a year. MELTON operated his plant until the beginning of the un-civil War Between the States, when by reason of the revenue laws and taxes he ceased operations.

In or about the years of 1867 of 1868, the first true whiskey distillery known in the county was built by D. R. BURBANK in Henderson. It was quite a large and made several "big crops" of whiskey, which found a ready market.

In 1872 STARLING and McCLAIN set up a distillery about a mile above town on the Evansville Road. The firm continued to operate the plant for a number of years, but in time E. L. STARLING withdrew and Colonel JACKSON McCLAIN continued operations a few years longer. The business was known as the Oakland Distillery.

The Oakland brand of whiskey was made from water taken from a well that was drilled down two hundred feet. Connoisseurs said that the water had much to do with its sought-after flavor. Many folks liked to use it in Mint Juleps in that day. Not long after Colonel McCLAIN abandoned operations of the plant, the distillery building went into the river on account of a cave-in during high waters.

About the summer or the fall of 1880, A. S. WINSTEAD and BONA HILL organized a distilling firm under the name of HILL and WINSTEAD. For their purpose they purchased the grounds and buildings of what was then known as the Henderson Car Works. The buildings were remodeled and repaired for the new operations. The first run of whiskey was made during the winter of that year.

Colonel WINSTEAD gave this whiskey the name of "Silk Velvet" because he said that it was the smoothest whiskey on the market. The capacity of the house was about twenty barrels every twenty-four hours. The brand met with ready sales. HILL later withdrew from the firm and the business was operated by Colonel WINSTEAD until a few years before his death.

His son E. W. WINSTEAD, who was associated with his father in the wholesale business a few years before his death, continued the operations of the plant until a disposition was made of the stock of "Smooth Velvet."

In the summer of 1881, J. E. WITHERS, H. F. DALE and Captain CHARLES G. PERKINS, all of Henderson, formed a partnership under the name of WITHERS DADE and Company and purchased a tract of land not far from the Oakland distillery and built thereon a plant for themselves.

It was a ten-barrel house and according to reports, it was a sour mash whiskey of a superior quality. Its product found a ready sale. It was said to have been one of the most complete houses of its time in the state. This distillery was destroyed by fire and was never rebuilt.

ELIJAH W. WORSHAM, who had just returned from a stay in California in the summer of 1881, formed a distillery firm with Captain J. B. JOHNSTON under the name of E. W. WORSHAM and Company. The men purchased land situated on the L&N railroad between the track and Canoe Creek for the purpose. Operations began in the winter of 1881.

Twenty barrels a day was the capacity of the WORSHAM Plant. It was subsequently cut to eight barrels a day. Carrying the name, "Peerless," the whiskey met with a ready sale.

In 1887 WORSHAM assumed sole charge of the distillery and in time came to have associated with him his two sons: ANTHONY J. WORSHAM, who was later postmaster and mayor and DEWITT C. WORSHAM.

Not long after the death of ELIJAH W. WORSHAM, the distillery plant which he had operated became the property of HENRY KRAVER. He took possession of it in 1889. He made many improvements in the matter of machinery and buildings and greatly increased the output. According to KRAVER'S statement, the plant so increased its output that I was able to produce 23,200 barrels in 1917. During the busy season it ran 200 barrels every twenty-four hours, all being made for the wholesale trade.

The Eighteenth Amendment brought the Henderson distilleries eventually to a halt. The KRAVER Plant and stock were disposed of in 1923. Approximately 6,265 barrels of whiskey stored in the KRAVER Warehouse were transferred to Owensboro, where the whiskey of Western Kentucky was concentrated. The lot was transferred under orders of and by efforts of the federal authorities. It was stored in the Rock Springs warehouse and placed under heavy guard. Thus, for the first time in forty-two years Henderson was left without a distillery of its own.

Reprinted with permission
Newspaper clipping found in the Society files

Contributed by Netta Mullin, HCH&GS
Copyright 2002 HCH&GS