This old letter gives insight into early Chattanooga whiskey. It was located by a new firm - Chattanooga Whiskey.
George W. Wallace
Gold Point Circle
Hixson, Tennessee 37343
Mr. James L. Walker
2768 Hanover Circle
Birmingham, Ala. 35205
Am delighted to give you the information I have about your questions on E.R. Betterton Co.; Deep Spring Whiskey, etc.
My maternal grandfather was Elijah Roach Betterton, born 5-22-1846, 8 miles from Naruna, Va., near Hat Creek. He was released from a Yankee prison camp on an island in the Potamac in late '65 or early '66. Returned home; married; resumed the operation of the family grist mill and still on Hat Creek. A portion of the corn brought in by farmers was taken as a fee by the grist mill. There was no money. The corn was distilled in a pot still; no licenses were required; little whiskey was sold for cash but exchanged for food, meat, linsey woolen, etc. The whiskey was made faster than it sold or could be drunk. About 1868 or 69 he had saved enough cash to move his wife and one child by train to Chattanooga. He opened a small bar, then went into the wholesale business. I have a copper barrel stencil, dated 1870 showing E.R. Betterton & Co. Hand Wade, Sour Wash, Polk Co. Corn Whiskey. There has never been a legal distillery in Polk Co.; in the corner of Tenn., Georgia and North Carolina. In those days all distilleries were small; had no marketing facillities and depended on the wholesalers for distribution and advertising. Whiskey was put up under the wholesalers or bars name.
As today many brands were made in the same still. My uncle E.R. Betteron, Jr. said when he gave me the stencil that at that time Papa had some interest in Jack Daniel; presume the Polk Co Corn was put in barrels at Jack Daniel under that name. About that time Papa and Jack fell out.
By 1880 Papa decided to become respectable and go in the wholesale drug business in Dallas, Texas. He sold everything in Chattanooga except one small rental house and sent his trusted bookeeper to Dallas to rent a building and lay in a stock of drugs. He carried the checkbook and was empowered to write checks for purchases. When Papa, his wife and five children arrived the warehouse was filled, no bills were paid and the bookeeper and $500,000 were gone. He was last heard of in Mexico.
Betterton returned to Chattanooga; moved in the rental house and opened a small bar at 435 Market St. In a year he and J.C. Martin (Spring City I believe) formed a partnership and went in the wholesale liquor business under the name of E.R. Betterton & Co. About 1885 they built a building (in my time it was the Odd Fellows; Bldg.) They bought their local whiskey from small distillers in Midale Tenn. About 1895 they decided to organize a distillery. It was located near Valdeau on a hillside on the present Signal Mtn. Road. In buying whiskey Betterton met a young still master in Kelso Co., near Moore Co. (Jack Daniels) and Lincoln Co. (Deep Spring). His name was Bill Tolley. (His son R. Lee Tolley, a friend of ours, and all southern quarter back at Sewanee '14 lives here). Lee says his family moved here in 1897. The White Oak distillery prospered; had no transportation facilities and was 5 miles from the nearest railroad. About 1899 they built a distillery on the south bank of the Tennessee just east of the present Market St. bridge. The present Shrine bldg. was their warehouse. A deep well was drilled.
In 1913 Tenn. voted prohibition but distilleries were allowed. Betterton, Martin, Tolley and C.W. Cox (my uncle by marriage) decided to close out the distillery. The name E.R. Betterton & Co. continued although they closed out their interest in it. Uncle Lige and Wiley Couch opened a wholesale house in Rossville, Ga. just over the state line. Liquor could be sent by carload freight to Rossville and it was legal to ship back to Tenn. by express, or parcel post. By 1917 most of the stock of the wholesale house and warehouse were exhausted.
In 1914 the Betterton & England Shoe Co. (wholesalers) was started. My father was a salesman. About '16 or '17 he bought England's interest and changed the name to Betterton & Wallace. It was closed out in the depression of 1921-22.
Several years ago the Hamilton National Bank here started a complete remodeling. A portion was torn a out in the basement. A completely sealed room with no door was found. It was filled with Court papers and a trunk. In the trunk were two cases of White Oak Whiskey. The bank tracked down the lessor of the room to Judge McConnell and the Chancery Court. No record of rental payments had been made since 1913. The rental fees totaled over $2000.00. The Court refused to pay and MConnell heirs thought it was excessive charge for 2 cases of whiskey no matter how good. The papers were given to the Court and the 2 cases of whiskey were sent to Erlanger Hospital for medicinal use.
It developed that the hospital could only give whiskey on prescriptions of a doctor and must show a bill for it. Brother Charles tried to get a bottle to no avail. A year ago a friend on the Erlanger Board brought me a half bottle. The Board had been given a bottle apiece. Had sampled half of it. My brother Betterton was given a full bottle. It is now enshrined in wood and glass case. He also has price lists of E.R. Betterton & Co. Will have it copied for you if you wish.
Now as to the other questions. Deep Spring was made by Carl White in Chattanooga near Rossville Blvd. and the present 23rd St. overpass. He was a promoter and possibly bought the name from J.W. Kelly. The county seat of Linclon County is Fayetteville, Tenn. about 20 miles from Lynchburg, Tenn.
The Tolleys and Motlows were related. The last still master of Jack Daniel was Lem Tolley, first cousin of Lee and named after Lem Motlow. He at 75 is now retired at Lynchburg, Tenn; reaportedly a milllionaire after selling out to the big organization.
Cascade was made between Tullahoma and Manchester, Tenn. Coffee County. A distillery opened about the site, one of the larger outfits built there in recent years and produce Tenn. whiskey under the name of George Dickel (note a present adv. campaign showing it against a bottle of Jack and claiming superiority). It does not compare. A friend of mine has a full bottle of original Cascade.
Morg & Scott Price had a small distillery on Main St. in Chattanooga. They did not bottle whiskey but sold it to barrel houses (a bar with no bottles). They paid Uncle some $250,000.00 for barrells that never went dry; filled in the day time, drained from underneath at night.
There is one real collector's item of White Oak whiskey. In the 1st Roosevelt Administration the Food & Drug Administration was started. They were pressured by the large Bourbon interests to rule that any filtered whiskey was not pure. This barred the small Tenn. industry from labeling their product whiskey. Had an empty bottle of White Oak labeled E.R. Betterton & Co. (large letters) formerly (very small letters) White Oak Whiskey (large letters). This was used about the last year of Teddy. When Taft went in office the Tenn Distillers sent a barrel of their best to the White House. It was delivered by several Tenn. distillers and in a few months the Pure Food & Drug Administration reversed their ruling and Tenn. whiskey again became whiskey.
Four Roses was originated here. It was owned by 4 Jewish men named Rose. They did not make whiskey but bought the barreled whiskey from the distiller plus grain alcohol. They mixed it with distilled water and operated under a rectifier's license and sold out to the present firm about 1914.
Cureton made a reputedly good Tenn. type whiskey over the line at Rising Fawn, Ga.
Have only taken one taste of my White Oak. It is just like Virginia Gentleman except probably 80 proof instead of 90.
Am no relation of Alabama's George. Have had phone calls of all types for two years. Some were funny, some silly and some maddening. The one I liked best called about 1:30 A.M.: "George, you old S.O.B. I'm sure going to vote for you!"
Enjoyed hearing from you.
George W. (No Kin) Wallace