I recently visited Tom Ripy in Lawrenceburg, Kentucky. He is related to the Ripy family of distillers that are famous for their distilleries in Anderson County, Kentucky. He was kind enough to let me make a copy of this historic, 1905 photograph of the Ripy Bros. Distillery in Tyrone, Kentucky. I like this image because it is a typical early twentieth century distillery photograph of a fairly large distillery of the time. This distillery is now the Wild Turkey Distillery.
The photograph shows the distillery belching out smoke from the smokestack. This was designed to show the modern technology of the time at work. The smoke represents the coal fire that heated the boilers that drove the distillery. You can also see the steam issuing out of the distillery as steam engines powered the production of whiskey. This was all advanced technology of the time. The tall section of the main building was where the column still was located and it was powered by the steam from the boiler. There also would have been a pot still doubler powered by the steam.
Behind, and to the left of the distillery is the warehouse for the barrels. This building still stands and is “Warehouse A” at Wild Turkey. The construction in front of the warehouse looks to be the cistern room, where the barrel would be filled to be placed in the warehouse. It is not a huge warehouse by today’s standards, but it was large by the standards of 1905.
The distillery was opened by J.W. Stevens of Tyrone, Kentucky. In 1888, J.P. Ripy purchased the distillery and operated it as Old Hickory Springs Distillery. The distillery was re-organized in 1906, the year after this photograph was taken, and it became Ripy Bros. Distillery with E.F. Ripy as president and J.P. Ripy as vice president. It had a capacity of 165 bushels per day and 9,500 barrels of storage. It was closed down with the onset of wartime prohibition in 1918.
The Ripy family had many distilleries in the Lawrenceburg and Anderson County area. This is just one of their distilleries and they were well known for making excellent Bourbon. They employed a huge percentage of the people in Anderson County. Tyrone was fairly large time at the time with its own post office, general store and other amenities. Prohibition put an end to that. When the distillery was forced to shut down, the people left in search of work. The distillery was the major employer and when the workers in the distillery left, the people who owned businesses slowly went out of business. Without the distillery, the farmers also had lost their major buyer of corn and other grains. They also lost a source of cattle and hog feed as the distillery was no longer supplying them with spent mash to feed the animals.
The distillery re-opened after Prohibition, but the damage had been done. Tyrone never regained its pre-Prohibition population. The distillery was purchased by J.T.S. Brown and Sons. It was owned by them when the famous “turkey hunt” happened, when several executives from Austin-Nichols were on a turkey hunt and drank the whiskey that would become Wild Turkey 101, 8 year old Bourbon. This distillery continued to make whiskey for Austin-Nichols and in the 1970s, Austin-Nichols purchased the distillery and re-named it the Wild Turkey Distillery.
The Ripy Bros. Distillery has a long and worthy heritage in Kentucky’s distilling industry. Photographs like this one help tell of that heritage. What they show reflects not only the heritage of the distillery, but also the mind-set of the people of that time. While today people would not like the smoke billowing from the stack. People in the early twentieth century saw it as progress and an example of the most modern technology of the time.
Photo Courtesy of the Ripy Family Archives
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