G. W. West & Brothers (1867 – 1871)

Nat Harris (1880 – 1895)

James E. Pepper (1895 – 1900)

Henry Clay Pure Rye Distillery Co. (1900 – 1913)

Henry Clay Distilling Company (1913 – 1918)

The Silver Springs Distillery was located six miles from Lexington, on the Leestown Pike, at the Yarnall Depot on the Lexington, Cincinnati & Louisville Railroad (later Louisville & Nashville).  The property contained forty acres, including the famed Silver Springs.  This spring supplied pure limestone water at the daily rate of two hundred thousand gallons.

G. W. West & Brothers founded the distillery in 1867.  They operated the plant for four years.  In 1871, Younger Stone purchased the distillery and relocated the plant outside of Fayette County.

Nat Harris:

In 1880, the property was sold and the distillery rebuilt by Nathaniel Harris of Versailles, Kentucky.  The distillery was constructed on top of the spring.  The cost of rebuilding was $15,000.  The distillery was half stone and half frame, with twelve thousand square feet.  The plant had one hundred seventy mash tubs of eighty gallons each and four fermentation tubs of five thousand gallons each.  The doubler had the capacity of six hundred gallons.

The company produced the N. Harris brand of “pure hand-made sour mash whiskey.”  Production was started in January 1881.  The grain bill included one hundred bushels, divided between eighty-six bushels of corn and fourteen bushels of rye and barley.  The sour mash was allowed to ferment for seventy-two hours.  The firm produced ten barrels of whiskey per day.

In 1881, the company produced a total of two thousand barrels.  The company had three warehouses – built of stone and iron-clad.  After the first year, the warehouses held fourteen hundred thirty five barrels of bonded bourbon.  This output was valued at $45,000.

Six hands were employed at the cost of $1 daily.  The company produced for nine months and seven hundred hogs were fed from the stillage.

Henry Clay Pure Rye Distilling Company:

During the whiskey recession of the 1890s, the distillery was sold to Colonel James E. Pepper in 1895.  He mothballed the plant for the next five years.

In July 1900, Colonel Pepper organized the Henry Clay Pure Rye Distilling Company of New Jersey and transferred to the new corporation the plant for $20,000.  This transfer included the Henry Clay Pure Rye brand.  The company issued $300,000 in gold bonds with the North American Trust Company of New York.  Colonel Pepper was listed as President and Frank Dutson as Secretary.

With these funds, the distillery plant was rebuilt and two new warehouses were constructed.  These two warehouses had the capacity of five thousand barrels each.  The distillery became known as the “Little Pepper Distillery”.  He distilled Old Henry Clay, a rye whiskey, at this plant.

 On February 25, 1901, the renovated distillery was placed in commission and operated at full capacity for the season.  The new plant could mash four hundred sixty bushels or roughly forty-six barrels of rye whiskey per day.  The plant was leased to the Jas. E. Pepper & Company, which operated the facility.

After his death, the plant was sold with Pepper’s other holdings to Joseph Wolf of Chicago.  He continued to operate the plant.

The Henry Clay Distilling Company was incorporated in January 1913 by Matt S. Walton, Trustee (nine hundred ninety four shares), John L. Boor (three shares) and George C. Roberts (three shares).  Walton was a local attorney, who represented Joseph Wolf and the James E. Pepper Distilling Company.  Capital was set at $100,000.   The distillery operated until Prohibition (1918).  The distillery was dismantled during Prohibition.

Following Prohibition, Schenley produced the Henry Clay brand for regional consumption until the 1960s.  Today the site is the Silver Springs Farm.  The spring still flows, but nothing remains of the distillery or warehouses (the last warehouse was demolished in 1962).  The distiller’s house built in 1880 is now a bed and breakfast.

Old Henry Clay, circa 1920s

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