Owensboro has a very rich heritage in Kentucky’s distilling industry. Prior to Prohibition, Daviess County had a very respectable number of distilleries and distilling families. The Glenmore Distillery, owned during Prohibition by James Thompson and Brother (later Glenmore Distilleries), was a consolidation warehouse for James Thompson and Brother and a lot of medicinal spirits were shipped from Owensboro. After Prohibition, the city had Glenmore Distillery, Medley Distillery and Fleischmann Distillery within the city limits. Unfortunately, distilling in the area did not survive the decline in Bourbon sales in the 1970s and 80s. It was not until the 21st century that distilling has come back to Owensboro.
Prior to Prohibition, these are the distilleries in Daviess County as found in Chet Zoeller’s book Bourbon in Kentucky.
DSP 5: Pat Murphy Distillery (1870-1919)
DSP 7 C.L. Applegate & Sons (1869-1906, later DSP 14 Beechwood Distillery
DSP 8 Imperial Distillery, O’Keefe & Moore Distillery, Thomas Monarch Distillery and Eagle Distillery
DSP 9 J.T. Welch Distilling Company (1880-1900)
DSP 9 J.W. McCullough, Green River Distillery Company. (1888-1918)
DSP 10 S.I. Monarch Distillery (1870-79), Hays & Hill Distillery (1879-1880), Hill & Hill Distillery (1880-1881), After Prohibition DSP 10 Fleischmann Distillery Co.
DSP 11 John Hanning Distilling Company (1869-1919)
DSP 13 E.P. Millett & Co. (1878-1890)
DSP 16 Cliff Falls Distillery (1860-1861), Eagle Distillery at Birk City (1861-1888)
DSP 17 Sour Mash Distillery Company (1880-1919)
DSP 18 N.M. Lancaster Distillery, later Lancaster & Mattingly Distillery, Later Old W.S. Stone Distillery (1855-1919)
DSP 20 E.W. Murphy & Sons Distillery Co. (1892-ca.1900)
DSP 24 R. Monarch Distillery (1869-1889) Glenmore Distilling Company (1890-1991)
DSP 25 Milton Boulware & Sons Distillery (1865-1889)
DSP 26 James F. Hanning Distillery (1870-ca1900)
DSP 30 John Thixton Distillery Company (1881-1886)
DSP 31 M.P. Mattingly Distillery Company (1880-ca 1889)
DSP 33 E.C. Berry Distlling Company (1863-1890)
DSP 133 Log Cabin Distilling Company (1880s-early 1890s)
DSP 144 G.W. Medcalf & Bray Distillery (1891-1896). G.W. Medcalf Distillery (1896-1900), Kelly & Medcalf Distillery (1901-1903)
As it can be seen from this list, there were many legal distilleries in Daviess County, Kentucky. The families that seem the most involved in the industry include the Mattingly, Monarch, Hill, Murphy and Stone families. The city of Owensboro saw two major distillery fires. The Green River Distillery burned in 1918 during wartime prohibition. The distillery never recovered as soon after, national Prohibition became law. After Prohibition, in 1937, the Glenmore distillery saw a major fire in their warehouses that caused burning whiskey to flood the sewers and the Ohio River. Barns burned down on the Indiana side of the river during that fire.
Owensboro and Daviess County, Kentucky were the center of whiskey production in western Kentucky prior to prohibition. Distilling came back after prohibition, but never reached the levels of production of the late 19th and early 20th century. Many of the families that owned distilleries prior to prohibition, never returned to the business as distillery owners, but they could be found on the payrolls of the Glenmore, Medley and Fleischmann distilleries after Repeal.
The 21st century is seeing a return of distilling to Owensboro. The Green River Distillery was rebuilt after Prohibition by the Medley family, closed in the late 1980s, but re-opened in the second decade of the 21st century and once again making Green River Bourbon. It is hoped that Sazerac will look at returning the Glenmore Distillery to the area. A small pot still distillery focusing on the western Kentucky distilling heritage would be a welcome tourist attraction to the city of Owensboro. This rich heritage should not be ignored.
Photos Courtesy of Rosemary Miller