The Crystal Springs Distillery was located in Louisville, Ky. at the corner of First Street and Ormsby Avenue. It was a whiskey and brandy distillery. It was owned by T.H. Sherley, a former officer in the Union Army and a leader in the local Grand Army of The Republic chapter. Sherley was instrumental in bringing the National Encampment of the G.A.R. to Louisville in 1895. After Sherley retired the distillery was owned by Thomas J. Batman, known as the “Brandy King” because he was the leading distributor of brandy in the city.

This photograph, taken in 1886 is interesting for several reasons. It is typical of the period photographs of distillery employees. The first thing most people notice is that they misspelled “crystal” on the wall. The second thing that most people notice is that the employees seem to be holding the tools of their trade. The distiller is holding a whiskey thief, the accountants are holding ledger books, the miller standing by a bag of malt. The African-American employees are holding shovels as the people feeding the coal to the boiler, but they both have a dignity to them that comes through in the photograph. In the white dominated society of late 19th century Louisville, they are relocated to the sides of the group, but it is interesting in that the whites even included them in the photograph.

The barrels in the photograph are the eight hoop, 48 gallon barrels that were standard for the 19th century. They are branded on the heads. There are two different styles of brand, but unfortunately the quality of the old photograph does not allow you to read the information even under magnification. It could be we are looking at one brand for whiskey and another for brandy.

The final thing most people notice are the distillery dogs. Not cats, but dogs. Many of the other period photographs of employees I have seen also have a dog or two in them. I have never seen a photograph of a distillery cat in the 19th century. I am sure distilleries had cats since they are good at keeping the rodents out of the grain. My guess is that an undisciplined cat would not hold still long enough for a photograph. As can be seen in this photograph, the hound lying on the ground moved his head while the film was being exposed and his head is blurred.

I like old employee photographs such as this one. I only wish that someone would have taken time to identify the people by writing their names on the back of the photograph. I believe the man with the beard is Sherley and the man with the open book next to him is Batman, but I am not sure. The identities of the employees of the Crystal Springs Distillery is a mystery left to be solved.

Images from the archives of Michael Veach