Dixie Hibbs is a woman of many talents. She served a term as Mayor of Bardstown, but politics are not her real passion – she loves the history of her town of Bardstown and Nelson County. She also loves the distilling history of the region. She has written several books on these histories. This book is her latest entry into the field of distilling history.

Before Prohibition: Distilleries in Nelson County, Kentucky 1880-1920, by Dixie Hibbs. New Hope, Ky.: St. Martin de Porres Print Shop, 2012. Acknowledgments, Contents, Forward, Illustrated, pp.74.

This book is well researched, written and organized. Hibbs has combined many sources in order to research this book but unfortunately she only lists three of her sources – Sam Cecil’s book The Evolution of the Bourbon Whiskey Industry in Kentucky, Chester Zoeller’s book Bourbon in Kentucky and the Oscar Getz Museum of Whiskey History. I am sure that there were other sources as well and it would have been nice to know them. For one, the book has many Sanborn Insurance Maps and I am willing to bet she traveled to the University of Kentucky where they have the complete collection of Sanborn’s Distillery maps. It would have been nice to have a full bibliography of her sources.

The writing is excellent. Hibbs does a very good job of describing the histories of the individual distilleries in the book. The histories are informative, clear and interesting. Her histories also contain some of the stories of the people involved with the distilleries. Some of this knowledge surely came from articles in the local newspaper and the Courier-Journal newspaper from Louisville. Other parts may have come from interviews with descendants of the people who still live in the area. 

The book is well organized and individual distilleries are easy to find through the table of contents. The chapters are “Bardstown”, “Northern Nelson County”, “Southern Nelson County”, and despite the title of the book she includes chapters for LaRue and Bullitt Counties with three distilleries in each of those counties. 

The real treasure in this fine book is the illustrations. Hibbs includes many photographs from the distilleries in the period, as well as photographs of many of the people, bottles, advertisements and distillery papers of other types such as warehouse receipts and ledger pages. 

And then there are the Sanborn maps. She has found the maps for every distillery and some distilleries have more than one Sanborn map as the distillery grew or changed ownership during this period. When possible, Hibbs has had the maps printed in color. This is useful as the color used often reflects the building material used to construct the building. For example, a brick building would be colored red while a wooden building would be colored yellow. Sanborn maps are site maps which show all of the buildings on the premises but not exactly where the site is located. Hibbs has solved this by including county maps showing the location of the distillery whenever possible. 

Dixie Hibbs has written a book that will be of interest to historians in the future. It will be considered a classic resource for years to come. It would have been nice to have a full bibliography and maybe even a few footnotes, but that does not detract from the value of this book as a resource. It really should be part of every Bourbon library. 

Photos Courtesy of Rosemary Miller