• Bob Vlach, Woodford Sun Staff

Distillery will boost tourism, reconnect Midway to its history

Midway Mayor G

Midway Mayor Grayson Vandegrift said he’s excited about Bluegrass

Distillers coming to town because its owners are embracing history and

will bring visitors to local businesses.

“I think it’s one of the more exciting developments we’ve had because it

really is going to be a huge boost to downtown tourism,” Vandegrift said.

With plans to use the historic “Elkwood Mansion” (built in 1835) for its

tasting room, people visiting Bluegrass Distillers will learn about the

history of Elkwood Farm, he said. “And I think it’ll give local

residents a chance to reconnect with this history ...” he said.

“... We’ve been out of the distilling game for almost 70 years, and that

was a big part of our economy ...”

A “Bourbon in Midway” sign features a timeline and photos that remind

downtown visitors of the past, but Vandegrift said Bluegrass Distillers

will give people a reason to visit Midway so they can learn about that

history.

“All those new visitors ... will want to grab lunch, do a little

shopping and spend more money here. And when it comes to tourism that’s

the name of the game,” he said.

Steve Morgan, his wife Julie, Dan Roller and John McDaniel, were a part

of the Midway Distillery/Brewery Task Force, which laid the groundwork

for Bluegrass Distillers to move its operations on 61 acres at 158 West

Leestown Road. “We really recruited them,” said Morgan.

“They came to town several times. We showed them around.”

Eventually, an agreement was reached that led to Bluegrass Distillers

purchasing a portion of the Mitchell family farm, he said.

Sam Rock, who was born and raised in Woodford County, co-owns Bluegrass

Distillers with Nathan Brown and Ben Franzini. “They seemed the most

interested” in coming to Midway, Morgan said.

“Once we brought them to Midway and showed them the history of the

distillery that was here in town,” he added, “I think they became more

interested.”

Morgan said he dug into the history of distilleries in Midway with his

wife after the formation of the task force. What they learned was this

historic railroad town – midway between Lexington and Frankfort – also

had a thriving distillery in its downtown for nearly 100 years,

beginning in 1865.

Located at the corner of Gratz and Dudley streets near the Lees Branch

of the North Elkhorn Creek, Midway’s largest distillery was operated (by

different owners) as S. J. Greenbaum Distillery, Belle of Anderson

Distillery and Midway Distilling Company.

Remnants of the old distillery operation still exist, including an aging

warehouse – now an apartment building known as Midway Lofts – as well as

what’s left of a dam used to pull water from Lees Branch and railroad

tracks to transport the bourbon.

“People who lived here knew about the distillery,” said historian and

author Bill Penn. “But since this new one (has announced plans to locate

north of downtown Midway), it’s brought a lot more attention to what was

here.”

Old maps of Midway show the layout of the town’s largest distillery as

well as the location of a smaller operation on West Main (often called

Railroad) Street. A third distillery was located near Lees Branch.

Midway was not unlike many other cities in Kentucky, where thousands of

distilleries operated in the late 1800s. There’ve been 48 distillery

locations in Woodford County and another 46 in Anderson County,

according to “Bourbon in Kentucky: A History of Distilleries in

Kentucky” by Chester Zoeller. He wrote that bourbon whiskey production

was the largest business in many towns and communities across the

commonwealth.

Rock showed his enthusiasm for locating Bluegrass Distillers on a

historic farm near downtown Midway (where visitors can see the entire

process – from growing corn on the land to distilling and finally aging

the bourbon in barrel warehouses) during a public hearing last November.

“Not only will we be showcasing this beautiful land and the house and

talking about the history of the families (who lived here) and how they

supported themselves through the use of the land … but also how we’re

bringing that to life …” Rock said.

The owner of one Midway distillery lived in the Elkwood Mansion,

according to Morgan, so that also links the past to the Leestown Road

farm where people will soon come to visit Bluegrass Distillers.

“We’re very excited that there was fruition to our efforts,” said

Morgan, who has worked in the alcoholic beverage business (retail,

wholesale and production) and currently leads tours for Bluegrass

Distillers at its current location in Lexington.

Morgan and his wife co-owned Kentucky Honey Farms after moving here from

South Carolina 11 years ago and became a part of the Midway Business

Association, he said.

“That’ll be a big tourist draw to Midway,” said Penn, who co-owns the

Midway Museum Gift Shop with his wife, Leslie.

Both he and Morgan said they’re optimistic that Bluegrass Distillers

will bring more foot traffic to downtown Midway, which will support the

local business community. And as a historian, Penn described the

preservation of the Elkwood Mansion on property that will become home to

a bourbon distillery “as double good news.”

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