Famous Jack Daniel Distillery
once located in Gadsden
Jack Daniel's is a brand of Tennessee whiskey that is among the
world's best-selling liquors and is known for its square bottles
and black label.
Jasper Newton "Jack" Daniel was
born in September 1850, although seemingly no one knows the
exact date because the birth records were destroyed in a
courthouse fire. If the 1850 date is correct, he might have
become a licensed distiller at the age of 16.
Jack Daniel’s sister had married a
Motlow. The couple had 10 children, including Lem, Spoon, Frank
and Thomas. The first three were engaged in the liquor business
in one way or another. Thomas became a banker in Lynchburg .
Because Jack Daniel never married
and did not have any children, he took his favorite nephew, Lem
Motlow, under his wing. Lem had a head for numbers, and was soon
doing all of the distillery's bookkeeping. In 1907, due to
failing health, Jack Daniel gave the distillery to his nephew.
In about 1890 Lem’s brother, Spoon
Motlow, went to Gadsden , Alabama from Lynchburg , Tenn. to open
the Spoon Motlow Saloon. That was just before he decided to do
what Lem was doing... getting into the distilling business. Old
map photographs have shown Spoon’s saloon to be in the 400 block
of Broad Street .
Records show that on May 26, 1903,
a C. N Alford sold to Spoon Motlow 2.73 acres of land at 5th St.
and Tuscaloosa Avenue . Fifth Street of that day was about one
block east of its present location. It was known as Red Row.
Later it was named Essex St. and still later it was closed.
Spoon Motlow paid $1,365 for the
Tuscaloosa tract. He began making plans to build a distillery,
and his product was to be Coosa River Corn Whiskey, distilled
from waters from Standifer Springs, using the Lincoln County
Process, from Tennessee .
In the fall of 1903 he sold
one-third of his interest in the distillery to Lem Motlow, and
one-third to W. S. Boyd. The Gadsden Distilling Co. then became
a reality. Ten buildings were erected, including a reservoir
that was necessary for distilling Coosa River Corn Whiskey. The
main building was a large two-story building with an exterior of
vertical planking. Each building was painted red.
Judging from the number of
buildings on the property the Motlows must have done a thriving
business. The distillery produced
known as "Black
Jack," and was famous for his Coosa River "Lincoln
County Process" brand of sour mash whiskey.
A 1910 insurance map of Gadsden
shows that the plant was “not in operation since 1908”. A
notation on the 1915 map states, "buildings now vacant and in
Many Gadsden residents remembered
the old distillery and its buildings and how they looked around
1915. The main building was two stories high with an exterior of
vertical planking, painted red. The street on the western
boundary of the property was known as Red Row. Sulphur water
that had a "terrible odor" poured from the old mines through a
There was an old whiskey jug
popularly used in the early days by saloon keepers that had
Motlow’s famous drink. Cut in the crockery is the inscription,
"W. L. Echols, Pure Wines and Liquors, Gadsden , Ala. "
Echols had a saloon at Broad and
Court Sts., in the building once occupied by Hagedorn's store.
The Echols family lived on the second floor over the saloon.
Another saloon, Nugent's, in
Attalla, also did business with the Motlow distillery.
Gadsden had a crockery industry back then and it is plausible
that saloons had their own jugs manufactured with their names
cut into the crockery while the clay was still soft — before
baking and glazing.
"During the early 1900s, Etowah
County was a "wet" county, meaning it was legal to sell
alcoholic beverages such as beer and whiskey. There were many
popular saloons on Broad Street as well as in Attalla. The
saloons were very popular, causing the crime rate in Etowah
County to reach a very high rate by mid-1907. One newspaper
Sept. 20, 1906 -
John Davis Murdered
In a Most Brutal Way Near Boaz. Coroner Investigating
bartender and manager of Spoon Motlow’s saloon at Mountainboro,
was murdered and robbed in his place of business last Thursday
He was shot
three times in the head and shoulders, his throat was cut from
ear to ear, his head being almost severed from the body and he
was beaten about the head and body in a frightful manner. News
of the tragedy was received in Gadsden early Friday morning by
It was at this time that a
committee of prominent citizens formed to put a stop to open
saloons and to try to get a handle on the high crime rate. This
committee soon began to circulate petitions to call for a
wet-dry referendum to try to stop the sale of alcohol in Gadsden
J.E. Blackwood was chosen as
chairman for the prohibition campaign committee, with Col. R.B.
Kyle, one of Gadsden 's most respected citizens, taking up the
cause against prohibition.
By late September, more than enough
names had been gathered to call for the vote, and the battle
lines had been drawn. The date for the vote was set for Oct. 29,
1907, with a rousing campaign being waged by both sides.
Kyle asserted that the question of
alcohol and the open saloon should be left up to each
individual's own freedom of choice, while many of the women of
Etowah County branded Kyle a "devil" and spoke out against him.
On the date for the vote, many of
the men who went out to the polls were surprised at what they
saw. A large gathering of women was on hand to attempt to sway
the opinion of the voters. Many potential voters actually were
turned away, causing a much smaller turnout than was expected.
In Attalla, the women and children
took charge of the polls early in the morning, and many of the
anti-prohibitionists failed to vote. Many of the women at the
polls carried signs, and if the demonstrators could not change a
voter's mind on how to vote, the signs were used to persuade him
not to vote at all.
In Alabama City , where there were
an unusual proportion of women and children - not a woman or
child took any part whatsoever. None of them gathered around the
At several small precincts, there
were some demonstrations by the prohibitionists. There was no
question about the county going dry on this date. The only
question was the size of the majority. At noon, 62 voters had
been polled in Alabama City , with 2-to-1 in favor of
Out of the 90 voters polled in
Altoona , not a single one was for whiskey. Early in the morning
of the vote, a large group of women and children gathered at the
Etowah County Courthouse on Broad Street long before the polls
opened. At 8 a.m., when the election was officially announced,
probably 300 stood on the broad steps of the big building and
began to sing sacred songs and wave banners. The children
present each held flags and joined in the singing. It was a
novel sight for Gadsden .
At first, the women and children
massed solidly in front of the main entrance, but an opening
soon was formed to get to the inside where the voting was being
done. On every hand, the good women of Gadsden asked for votes
for prohibition and, every one of them was ready to argue her
case. When the votes were counted, 1,632 had voted for
prohibition and only 474 had cast votes for the legal sale of
Prohibition became law Jan. 1,
1908. This marked the closing of the saloons throughout Etowah
County and also the closing of the Spoon Motlow Saloon and the
Gadsden Distillery. Etowah County remained dry for several
Gadsden today might have a thriving
distillery, making something like the famous "Jack
Daniel's No. 7" whiskey were it not for Etowah
County 's proclivity for voting itself dry.
But it did this in 1907, for the
first time in the century. And it came at a time when
anti-liquor forces, headed by the
were engaged in a national campaign against the evils of "Demon
Rum." It all ended in national prohibition during World War I.
The 1907 dry vote in Etowah forced
the Gadsden Distilling Company, operated by Lum "Spoon" Motlow,
to close. With this national sentiment against alcohol gaining
momentum, there was little chance for the distillery to reopen
even if the county had changed its mind.
This was the end of legal
distilling in Gadsden .
Spoon returned to Moore and Lincoln
Counties and began to farm and raise prize mules to trade and
show. He loved to fox hunt, and he was also president of the
Moore County Bank from 1901 until 1916.
On October 10, 1925, he died
suddenly at age 57 leaving his eleven years old daughter an
orphan. Further records show that Spoon Motlow died intestate,
thus leaving his sole heir, Nancy Motlow Pitts, the Tuscaloosa
His brother, Lem Motlow had
produced whiskey here with him, and in
Birmingham , off and
on, until Jefferson went dry with national prohibition, and also
in St. Louis
. He had the Birmingham and St. Louis operations going at the
same time and traveled back and forth on a strenuous schedule.
Lem was out of the distilling
business until 1938 when he opened the present distillery in
Lynchburg . When prohibition ended in 1932
was still dry under a statute of its own. Lem vowed to change
this. A resident of Lynchburg at that time, he told the
Moore County , "If you
elect me to the State Legislature I promise you I'm going to
help myself, and if I do that I'll be helping you."
He was elected, went to the
and persuaded the legislators to change the statute. But back
home Moore County had a judge who refused to call a referendum
to legalize the distillery. Lem took his case to the State
Supreme Court. It ordered the referendum. Lem won and the
distillery was opened.
Liquor then could be made in the
county, but it could not be sold there. It was dry then and has
remained so to this day.
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