Stoll, Clay & Company (1880 – 1885)

Commonwealth Distilling Company (1885 – 1899)

Kentucky Distilleries and Warehouse Company (1899 – 1915)

In 1880, Stoll, Clay & Company converted the old cotton mill[1] in Sandersville into a whiskey distillery.  The plant was located three miles northwest of Lexington.  The firm was composed of James S. Stoll, Richard P. Stoll and Henry C. Clay (which see).  The company had $60,000 in invested capital.[i]

Commonwealth Distillery, circa 1899

The distillery had twenty five thousand square feet of floor space.  Daily production totaled forty-five barrels of whiskey.  The grain bill included three hundred bushels of corn and one hundred fifty bushels of rye and barley.  An eighty-five horsepower Lane & Dodley engine supplied power.  Annual capacity was five thousand barrels.  The basement of the distillery contained twelve fermentation tubs of nine thousand gallons each.  The doubler still had the capacity of fifteen hundred gallons.  The doubler was purchased for $1,800.

The company had three adjoining warehouses, totaling thirty thousand square feet.  Combined storage capacity was thirteen thousand five hundred barrels: Warehouse A held three thousand barrels in racks of eleven tiers, Warehouse B held six thousand barrels in six tiers and Warehouse C held four thousand five hundred barrels in seven tiers.  Warehouse C was built in 1895 at the cost of $12,000.

The distillery was supplied from a spring of twenty feet in diameter on the grounds.  The plant used one hundred fifty thousand gallons of water daily.  The distillery was connected with a siding to the Elizabethtown, Lexington & Big Sandy (later Cincinnati Southern) Railroad.  It employed forty-five workers at a daily cost of $1.75 each.  Distilling was conducted for eight months of the year.  The company purchased barrels for $2.50 each from coopers in Lexington.[ii]

During the first year of production, the company produced five thousand three hundred seventy barrels, valued at $125,000.  The production schedule was from February 12 to October 1, 1881.  As of October 24, 1881, the company had five thousand two hundred barrels in bond.[iii]

 In 1881, Richard P. Stoll and Robert B. Hamilton (which see) established Stoll, Hamilton & Company to wholesale whiskey produced at the distillery.  The distillery produced their proprietary brands Owl Club Whiskey and Elkhorn Whiskey as a “tenant leasee.”[2]  This firm also traded in bulk whiskies.

In August 1885, the relationship between the Stoll brothers and Clay deteriorated and the partnership was dissolved.  At a public auction on August 11 the assets of the partnership were sold.  George J. Stoll, Jr. (which see) purchased the distillery and grounds for $10,090.  Richard P. Stoll purchased two hundred ninety one barrels from the 1881 season for $.35 per gallon.  These barrels had been exported earlier to Bremen, Germany.  Stoll also purchased nineteen barrels of “free whiskey” for $1.40 per gallon and another three hundred barrels for $.20 to $.40 per gallon.  This whiskey was stored in the Sandersville warehouses.[iv]


Commonwealth Distilling Company:

In January 1883, the Commonwealth Distillery Company was formed with Richard P. Stoll (President) and Isaac Strauss (Vice President).  In addition, Charles H. Stoll, James S. Stoll, Solomon Pritz and Benjamin Pritz were also appointed directors.  Richard P. Stoll was the primary stockholder.  The firm was capitalized at $100,000.[v]  In 1885, the firm assumed the operations of Stoll, Clay & Company.  This firm produced Commonwealth hand made copper whiskey.

During the 1880s, the brokerage firm of Ireland & Vannatta distilled Owl Club old fashioned, hand made whiskey at the distillery as a “tenant leasee.”

In 1891, James S. Stoll and Sanford K. Vannatta formed Stoll, Vannatta & Company (which see) to market whiskey in the northeast.  The company distilled Old Elk Rye Whiskey as a “tenant leasee” at the Commonwealth Distillery, which was sold primarily in Chicago.  Vannatta was from Bloomington, Illinois.

During the whiskey depression of the 1890s, the price of bourbon was often at or below the cost of production and taxation.  Between 1895 and 1898, the Stolls shut down production and allowed the inventory in their bonded warehouses to be depleted.

Old Elk, circa 1895

In the 1890s, the distillery operated under a number of “tenant leasee” names – including Stoll, Hamilton & Company; Stoll, Vannatta & Company; R. P. Stoll dba Cream of Anderson Distillery; Durham Distillery; Edgecliff Distillery; Edgewood Distillery; Lynwood Distillery; Oakwood Distillery; Owl Club Distillery; Small Grain Distilling Company; Ben Baer Distiller; Rocky Fork Distillery; Forest Mill Distillery; Old Buckhorn Distillery; Evan, Gallagher & Company; Fechheimer Brothers Distillers and W. W. Johnson & Company.[3]

In December 1899, the Commonwealth Distillery was deeded to the Kentucky Distilleries and Warehouse Company.[vi]  Production was shifted to other plants of the Whiskey Trust and the distillery at Sandersville was demolished in 1905.  The warehouses were used for storage until 1908 as the Lexington Public Warehouse (bonded storage).  In 1915, Hillenmeyer & Sons purchased the property for a nursery.  The Hillenmeyer’s farm was adjacent to the plant, and for years their cattle were fed the spent grains.  The original brick warehouse remains today and is used for storage


[1] Colonel Lewis Sanders built a cotton mill at this site around 1810.  He sold the plant to Warfield, Brand Company and eventually it was sold in 1828 to Oldham–Todd and Company.  This partnership included Robert Todd, the father-in-law of Abraham Lincoln.  Lincoln is recorded as having visited his father-in-law in his mill office.

[2]  A “tenant leasee” would lease the distillery for a few days, allowing the broker to be named as distiller.  This was also known as “doing business as.”

[3] Edgewood Distilling Company of Cincinnati, Ohio, owned by the Paxton brothers, controlled the brand Edgewood Whiskey.  Kaufmann, Bear & Company of Cincinnati controlled the brand Rocky Fork.  S. B. Hume of Richmond, Virginia, controlled the brand Lynwood.  Strauss, Pritz & Company of Cincinnati controlled Edgecliff, Durham and Cream of Anderson Whiskies.  They also for a period sold Small Grain Whiskey.  The Mayers Brothers & Company of Cincinnati controlled Oakwood Whiskey.  Fechheimer Brothers of Detroit, Michigan controlled Elk’s Choice Whiskey.  W. W. Johnson & Company was a wholesale broker from Cincinnati.  Johnson also controlled the Old McBrayer Distillery, New Market, Montgomery County, Kentucky.



[i] Deed Book 61, page 437 – 39, Fayette County Clerk Office.

[ii] Perrin, page 210 and Cecil, page 69.

[iii] Perrin, page 210.

[iv] Lexington Morning Transcript, August 12, 1885, page 1, column 2.

[v] Incorporation Book 1, page 161, Fayette County Clerk Office.

[vi] Deed Book 125, page 118, Fayette County Clerk Office.


William M. Ambrose, Bottled In Bond under U. S. Government Supervision, Limestone Press, Lexington, 2008.