When Heaven Hill’s Evan Williams Bourbon Heritage Center released their Square Six Bourbon, they included an old map of Louisville showing the “Square Six” area where Evan Williams had his distillery in the 18th century. I like old maps and I was happy to receive this reproduction of this early 19th century map. I Iike old maps and you can learn a lot about where distilleries were from these old maps.

When I worked at the Filson Historical Society, I often worked with old maps. The most frequently used collections for distilling history are the Commonwealth Land Title Collection and the Sanborn Fire Insurance Map Collection. The Commonwealth Land Title Company sent a cartographer into the archives in Louisville in the late 19th century and he copied all of the maps for land deeds in the collection. They show the division of land when neighborhoods were created and often some of these maps show the distilleries near the property in question. They are not as detailed as what was on the site, but they do show their existence. This is where I found the exact location of the Pleasure Ridge Park Distillery. I knew that there was a distillery in the late 1800s in Pleasure Ridge Park, but not the exact location.

More useful are the Sanborn Fire Insurance maps. The Sanborn Fire Insurance maps start in 1866. These maps were drawn of different cities and towns to allow insurance companies to assess the fire risk of a property by showing the neighborhood by the type of building, wood, brick, etc., and the type of businesses near the property. For example, a distillery in the neighborhood is a bigger fire risk than a residential-only neighborhood. The drawings were color-coded with yellow being a mainly wooden structure and red indicating a brick or stone structure. The maps were drawn to cover several blocks of the city and on the street level, showing every building, road, alley, railroad track, and business. The businesses were identified as to what kind of business and the business name. These maps were collected and published in volumes with the city of Louisville having several volumes covering different parts of Louisville and Jefferson County. 

Because distilleries are a fire risk, Sanborn Fire Insurance had a special book in Kentucky of just distilleries. The Filson has one of these distillery studies in its collection and the University of Kentucky Special Collections has a complete collection of the distillery maps for the entire state of Kentucky. These maps were updated every several years, with changes in the structure pasted over the old structure. They also kept track of changes in business names. Often you will find a distillery labeled with the name of the distillery at the time, but also labeled with their DBA (Doing Business As) names and often as “Formerly the   _____ Distillery”. Sometimes they will list several previous names of the distillery if it had changed hands often in a short period of time. 

The drawings of the distillery can help determine what kind of warehousing they used with iron clad buildings drawn in yellow and brick buildings drawn in red. The maps indicate whether the distillery had a fire suppression sprinkler system or steam heated warehouses. The Sanborn Map for the A. Ph. Stitzel Distillery from the 1910s even shows where they added the charcoal mellowing vats to make George Dickel Cascade whiskey. These maps are very helpful for finding out how large the distillery was and its storage capacity.

The Square Six map that Heaven Hill provided is a useful bit of distilling history. When looking for information on old distilleries, it is always a good idea to look at maps. They will tell you a lot about the history of a distillery.

Photos Courtesy of Rosemary Miller