Nashville’s Whiskey Distillery

Just days before the passage of the National Prohibition Act, a writer to the Pearson Tribune reminisced about a whiskey distillery that once operated in Nashville, GA.

The National Prohibition Act was enacted October 28, 1919 by Congressional override of President Woodrow Wilson’s veto. The Act, known informally as the Volstead Act, was enacted to carry out the intent of the 18th Amendment (ratified January 1919), which established prohibition in the United States. The Anti-Saloon League‘s Wayne Wheeler conceived and drafted the bill, which was named for Andrew Volstead, Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, who managed the legislation.

But in 1908, Georgia already had already enacted a state prohibition, that legislation having been vigorously promoted by Jonathan Perry Knight, a native of Ray City, GA.  Knight’s legislation was in opposition to longstanding pioneer tradition; alcohol was widely produced in Wiregrass Georgia. Pioneers brewed their own farm beverages – wine, buck, cane beer, or liquor. On court days, liquor was an expected stapleNumerous toasts were drunk at social events. In the days of old Lowndes County, before Berrien County was formed, the county seat at Troupville was considered a wild and wicked town…with much drinking.  Licenses for legal, market production of liquor were issued by the state.  In the late 1870s even Nashville, GA had its own, licensed  whiskey distillery.

Anonymous memoir on 1876 whiskey distillery at Nashville, GA appeared in the Pearson Tribune, October 24,1919.

Anonymous memoir on 1876 whiskey distillery at Nashville, GA appeared in the Pearson Tribune, October 24,1919.

PEARSON, GEORGIA, FRIDAY, OCTOBER 24, 1919

MEMORIES OF THE LONG AGO.
Nashville’s Whiskey Distillery, Paulk’s High License Law.

One of the industries of Nashville in 1876 was a full-fledged, licensed, distillery. It was located on the lot now [1919] occupied by the First Bank of Nashville. A man by the name of John Tucker was the owner and John Carey was the distiller.
Various grades of the “Ardent” were manufactured here, but the principal product was corn whiskey. Some grape wine and brandy, blackberry wine and brandy, small quantities of peach and apple brandy, and rum from cane skimmings. The products of the plant were absolutely pure, and it was strange that only a small quantity of it was sold locally. The greater portion was shipped to Savannah.
Mr. Tucker became indebted to my father for supplies and finally turned the plant and the land over to him in liquidation.
My father did not attempt to operate the distillery. He sold the plant and fixtures to parties who moved it away from Nashville. The title to the land was disputed, an ejectment suit followed and resulted in my father losing the land two years later. He was represented by Messrs. Peeples & Whittington. He got enough out of the plant to reimburse him for the advances he had made Mr. Tucker.
The most remarkable fact about the presence of this distillery at Nashville: There was no apparent increase of drunkenness, the old topers would take their occasional sprees as had been their custom. It was there in plenty, there was no embargo on it, and anyone could get some who wanted it. No one seemed to care anything about it.
The plant was sent away; the government, in its effort to tax the non-essentials for the payment of the war debt, assessed a heavy revenue tax on distilled spirits, made it high-priced, scarce and hard to get. it was then the mania for liquor in Berrien county —and else where —had its origin. A few years later Berrien county was represented in the legislature by Hon. Thomas Paulk, father of Dr. George A. Paulk, of Alapaha. He saw the tendency of the times was toward drunkenness and debauchery, and set himself to the task of finding a remedy for the situation. As a result of his quest, he drafted and procured the pass age of the first high-license law ever placed on the statute books of Georgia. If provided for the payment of a license tax of $10,000 before a person could engage in retailing ardent spirits in Berrien county.
The example was soon followed by representatives of other counties; they adopted and placed their counties under the prohibitive tax law. It put the retail dealers out of business in every one of the counties adopting the measure.
The writer wants to make this observation, in passing, that not a single one of his young men associates at Nashville, embracing W. H. Griffin, H. B. Peeples, Wm. Slater, John Parramore, Silas Tygart, R. K. Turner, J. J. Goodman, Arthur and John Luke, W. H. Morris, W. Henry Griffin, Alfred Simpson, John Connell and Lott Sirmans, were addicted to drinking whiskey, and if they acquired the habit of getting drunk they did so after the good year 1867 [typo? 1876?] Some of them chewed tobacco. I attempted to acquire the habit but did not succeed. It made me deathly sick, the first quid, and I have never taken the second. Tobacco chewing is an evil hardly second to whiskey.

 

Prohibition didn’t stop drinking of Demon Alcohol in Ray City. There were plenty of “blind tigers” running moonshine stills and selling liquor in Berrien County, despite the efforts of lawmen like Jim Griner, Bruner Shaw and Cauley Shaw.   In 1919,  reports of drunkenness and lawlessness in Ray City were making newspapers throughout the section.

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1 Comment

  1. Bryan Shaw said,

    May 9, 2020 at 3:24 pm

    The article states that the distillery was located on the lot where the First Bank of Nashville sits. That lot and the building is now the same known as Dessa’s Dress Shop on Davis Street, across from the front of the Old Courthouse on the Square. See photo of bank at https://berriencounty.smugmug.com/Towns-and-Communities/Nashville/Street-Scenes/i-wsgmJNS


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