In 1856, Joseph S. Finch built a distillery near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. By 1911, the distillery was worth between $200,000 and $250,000 in Mida’s Financial Index. In 1892, the Sinclair brothers and their partner Henry Bischoff built a distillery in Schenley, Pennsylvania. By 1911, that distillery was worth between $400,000 and $500,000 in Mida’s Financial Index. Both companies were fairly large for the time and prospered. However, when Prohibition shut the distilleries down, the Jos. S. Finch Distillery applied for and received a license to sell medicinal spirits.
Enter Louis Rosensteil – he purchased the Jos. S. Finch Distillery and their Golden Wedding brand with about 10,000 barrels of aging whiskey and the license to sell medicinal spirits. Rosenstiel then purchased the Schenley Distillery for its stocks of aging whiskey and a modern bottling plant. The Schenley distillery was larger and probably in better shape, so he closed the Jos. S. Finch Distillery and moved operations to Schenley, Pennsylvania. Since the Jos. S. Finch’s Golden Wedding brand was very popular and the Finch Distillery was the distillery with the license to sell medicinal spirits, he simply renamed the Distillery in Schenley to the Jos. S. Finch Distillery. Schenley Distillers Corporation was born with Rosensteil at the head of the company. He would later add the Geo. T. Stagg Distillery in Frankfort, Kentucky, the James E. Pepper Distillery in Lexington, Kentucky and the Squibb Distillery in Lawrenceburg, Indiana and become one of the largest companies selling whiskey during Prohibition, second only to National Distillers.
The Schenley distillery became a consolidation warehouse site during Prohibition and many Pennsylvania rye whiskeys ended up being stored in the distillery’s warehouses. As Prohibition was coming to an end, Rosensteil saw that light at the end of the tunnel in 1930 and started purchasing additional distilleries and improving the ones he owned. This improvement included heated, brick warehouses and better stills. After repeal, Schenley Distillers Corp. continued to have interest in improving their distilleries. They invested in aerial photographs of all of their distilleries in order to better determine what should be done and more importantly, what could be done on the property.
This image of the Jos. S. Finch Distillery is one of the aerial photographs Schenley had made in the late 1930s. It shows the distillery on the banks of the Allegheny River. If the warehouses look familiar, that is because Schenley built similar ones in Frankfort, Kentucky at the Geo. T. Stagg Distillery. The distillery was the center of rye whiskey production for Schenley for several decades. They also made whiskeys to put into the Schenley line of blended whiskeys. As seen from this photograph, there was very little room left for expansion at this distillery site.
In 1968. Louis Rosensteil retired and sold his shares of the company (he was the majority shareholder) to the Glen Alden Corporation. Bourbon sales were declining every year and the president of Glen Alden Corporation wrote his MBA thesis on how to get rich by purchasing companies and selling them off piecemeal. That sealed the fate of the Schenley, Jos. S. Finch Distillery. Even before Rosensteil’s retirement, Schenley had been selling off many of its smaller distilleries and concentrating production at the larger facilities, but the Finch Distillery had remained safe. In 1968 that was no longer the case and the distillery was closed down and sold not long after Rosensteil retired. A look at Google Maps satellite images shows there is very little left of the distillery today. You can clearly see the foundation lines from the old builds such as warehouses, but very few of the distillery buildings are left standing.
Photos Courtesy of Rosemary Miller