This Bourbon Narrative is not a history of Shelby County, although it draws on that history. Nor is it a representation of the current state of the county, although it does highlight certain elements of the current economy, especially those related to travel and tourism. Instead, this Bourbon Narrative is an edited and stylized story of Shelby County.
Prior to the Civil War, agriculture and livestock were the foundation of Shelby County’s economy. In 1850 the first railroad line passed through the county connecting Frankfort with Louisville. In 1870 the Shelby Railroad Company constructed a line that connected Shelbyville to Anchorage, Kentucky. Railroads created improved access to regional and national markets for local farmers. With greater prosperity, commercial and residential development followed. Corn was the most important cash crop in the period of 1870 to 1900; followed by hemp, tobacco and wheat. In 1870 Shelby County was the top hog producer in the state and was fifth highest for beef cattle. (Shelby County Historical Society, https://www. shelbykyhistory.org/county-history.html)
Distillation Shelby County was founded in 1792. The settlers in Kentucky, as America’s first western expansion, had to be self-supportive. This meant that these pioneers brought stills with them as they migrated into Kentucky. There is no doubt that settlers in Shelby County made whiskey in those early days. Whiskey was too important a commodity not to be made by the people settling in Shelby County. Farmer-distillers had pot stills ranging in size from 20-200 gallons. The whiskey was most likely unaged whiskey stored in jugs for ease of bartering for goods. It was used as currency in this period of very little hard coinage and paper money was next to worthless in Kentucky. Unfortunately, there is very little documentary evidence of distillation from this time. Before 1792, there was no tax on whiskey so no official record of distillation. The only evidence that could exist is in the form of family papers. No such papers are in the public archives at this time. (Veach)
[vc_gallery interval="3" images="2219,2270,890,2305,1930,560" img_size="1024X683" direction_nav="no" control_nav="yes"]
The flood of 1937 destroyed the Federal records from the [Whiskey] rebellion. Chet Zoeller, in his book Bourbon in Kentucky: A History of Distilleries in Kentucky, found only William Payton of Shelby County who failed to pay his whiskey tax in 1897. (Veach)
P.H. Snyder & Company Distillery, RD#391 The P.H. Snyder & Company Distillery RD#391, located on the Eminence and Christiansburg turnpike in Shelby County, [was] making whiskey for the Springdale brand and in the early 1880s they were making apple and peach brandies. Rheinstrom Bros. of Cincinnati registered the trademark for the purposes of distribution with Mida’s Criteria, an industry publication recording registrations, in 1877 and were probably the sole distributer for the Springdale Bourbon. (Veach)
Wilton Snyder, RD#260 Wilton Snyder, RD#260, was also making brandy in the same period [1870s-1880s] but Zoeller does not give details on that distillery. (Veach)
Shelby County “Grows Bourbon” There are two corn stories in modern Bourbon. There’s the yellow dent story, starting in the late 1800s and really working its way through up into the 1940s when we got really, really good at it, which is the ‘big story’ - if you’ve ever had Bourbon you’ve had yellow dent corn in your Bourbon. And then there’s the heritage, ‘small story’ like at Jeptha Creed where they’re growing their own grain using the bloody butcher – if you’ve had their Bourbon, you’ve had bloody butcher, too.
Jeptha Creed Distillery: Property-grown bloody butcher corn.
Bulleit Distillery: Sources all of its corn from Shelby County, Kentucky - including from Langley and Tucker farms - and is proud to call the Kentucky agricultural community its ongoing partner.
Farms, Farmers & Mills “For at least the last 20 years probably more - we have had a lot of Shelby County grain, corn in particular, that has gone into distilling, into the Bourbon production business at some of the distilleries in Franklin County, Anderson County, local distilleries and our producers have been catering to those distilleries.” Corrine Belton, Shelby County Agriculture Historian
Tucker Farms “Shelby County has always mainly raised non-GMO corn for the Bourbon industry, and the reason for that is, is so the distilleries that they can ship over to the European nations, being able to get that product overseas, obviously, to create a larger market for them, but like I said, they’re required raising non-GMO corn. So, with that... The unique thing about Shelby County is that we have a mill over in Bagdad, Kentucky, which is on the eastern part of the county, and what they do is they sell to, I think, one or two distilleries and based primarily, most all... Well, not all, but a great deal of Shelby County’s corn goes through that mill, and then you’ll take it, clean it and all that and then they ship it out to the distillery. With new distilleries popping up, and there’s become more of a demand on non-GMO corn, especially here in the county, in Shelby County. The reason for that is because those companies, so they can ship those over to the European nations.” Ray Tucker, six-generation farmer and owner of Tucker Farms
Langley Farms “We are selling corn but moreover then that, we’re providing a service. Storage, delivery on-demand delivery. ... The Bourbon industry, their main focus is to make Bourbon. To make Bourbon, they need the gas company to give them gas, they need water, they need the people to show up to work, and they need us to deliver corn to them that day. “
It’s’ a pride factor when you go into the liquor store or you’re at a bar and somebody orders Woodford, and you look over at him and say, ’Thank you. I produced the corn for them,’ That helps me and there’s a sense of pride to that.” Doug Langley, third generation farmer and owner of Langley Farms.
Bagdad Roller Mills “When you go on tour over at Wild Turkey, they’ll even mention that all their grain comes from here.” Charles Jeffries, General Manager/Vice President of Bagdad Roller Mills.
Grains: Bagdad Roller Mills Bagdad Roller Mills, Inc., a feed and grain plant located in the northeastern part of Shelby County in Kentucky, began as a manufacturer of flour when built in 1884 by the Bayne brothers--Sam, Will and Jim. The start of the day at 6:00 A.M. at the mill was signaled by a strong blast from the steam engine whistle. It was repeated at the close of the day at 6:00 PM. The mill was powered by a three-cylinder generator, which supplied electricity to the townspeople in the evening. The mill supplied surrounding rural areas with feed for poultry and livestock, while corn meal and flour were made for human consumption.
The 1970s discontinued the making of flour and corn meal. The mill focused on making poultry and livestock feed in bulk and bags and dealing in local grains, wheat, and soybeans. In 1995, a new bagging line was installed to provide a higher-quality horse feed. The original three-story building still stands amidst a feed mill, a dryer, warehouses, and storage bins, which have been added down through the years. (Shelby County Historical Society, 153)
Shelby County Tourism Narrative Researched: May – August 2019 Distilled Living, Lexington, KY