• John McGary, Woodford Sun Staff

Spirits task force does its homework


THIS PICTURE, taken in 1943, shows the Woodford Distillery, then owned by Park and Tilford, in operation. Note the city's water tower in the background. (Photo submitted)

Once upon a time, the small town of Midway was home to a big distillery that, while it changed names and owners many times, was an important part of the city's economy and culture. More than 50 years after Park and Tilford ended its operations at a site behind the present-day Darlin' Jean's restaurant, a task force appointed by Mayor Grayson Vandegrift is trying to lure another to town. At the Midway City Council meeting Tuesday night, Steve Morgan, the chair of the Brewery/Distillery Task Force, updated the council on the group's efforts. Members of the group are Morgan, wife Julie Morgan, Council Member John McDaniel and former Council Member Dan Roller. Morgan said the task force has met three times and, judging by the material he sent The Sun the following day, members had done plenty of homework in the meantime. A timeline shows the history of distilleries in Midway, all of which were at Gratz and Dudley Streets, from 1865, when Buford, Guthery and Co. Distilling opened, to 1959, when Schenley Products ceased operations. Among the highlights: * In 1883, Glenarme Distillery was the city's largest employer. * In 1908, a fire left the owner with an estimated federal tax loss of $2 million, half of which was the whiskey destroyed in the fire. (Some residents were burned while dipping tin cups into Lee's Branch for a homemade whiskey and water.) * After Prohibition began in 1920, Schenley Products, one of six federally licensed distilleries, bottled "Medicinal Whiskey." * After two warehouse workers were shot in a robbery on Oct. 8, 1920, a black man named Richard W. Lewis was charged. His trial ended in a hung jury. * On March 12, 1921, a mob of white men stormed the jail and took Lewis to a tree near the intersection of what is now Frankfort Road and Midway Road, where they lynched him. No one was charged with that crime. * Another fire in 1924 destroyed the entire plant, which wasn't rebuilt until 1933, the year Prohibition ended. * After Schenley Products ceased operations in 1959, the company eventually donated the property to Midway Women's College. Morgan said some Midway residents believe there may have been two other distillery locations, but all the task force found were plats with proposed distilleries. He said research had uncovered no breweries in Midway. The group has identified three sites they believe would be a good fit for a brewery or distillery, among them the originally distillery site and the Leslie Mitchell property near I-64. Monday, Morgan told the council the city's best chance of attracting a distillery or brewery was to find an existing operation considering opening a satellite location. "We just want to increase the potential of (it) being successful and being a long-term entity, because when you get a start-up, particularly if it's a start-up that's maybe green to the business ... there may be a long learning curve, which could end up in failure," Morgan said. The task force is putting a recruitment portfolio that will include a cover letter, a letter from the city, the timeline and information on the Woodford County economic development efforts. The group is also working with the Distillery/Brewery Project Manager of the state Cabinet for Economic Development. Vandegrift and council members have praised the efforts of Morgan, Morgan, McDaniel and Roller. Steve Morgan said while members have put in a lot of hours for an effort that may prove unsuccessful, they've enjoyed their unpaid work.

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