What does whiskey, President George Washington and Falling Creek have in common? No, he didn’t get loaded at the Halfway House and wandered up the road and stumble into Falling Creek.
Washington distilled whiskey at Mount Vernon just as “Old Dixie Distilling Co.,” made whiskey in Chesterfield. Old Dixie was located on the hill overlooking the Cary gristmill and the first iron furnace in Colonial America at Falling Creek.
Old Dixie Distillery made whisky (mostly spelled without an ‘e’ in those days) but eventually changed its product to something a little stronger.
The distillery was located at the falls of Falling Creek and was owned by A.C. Little from 1935 to 1939. A while later, Little contracted with the Federal government to make alcohol on a 24-hour-a-day basis.
Little had to triple his output of 1,480 gallons daily of “Falling Creek Whiskey” which was transported by railroad cars from the distillery, in railroad tank cars, to war plants producing munitions, explosives and synthetic rubber to help the WWII war effort.
The distillery has not been in operation since the mid-1940s.
Local resident Marvin Mitten brought an intricate Falling Creek Whiskey label to the Village News. He said as a kid, he and his buddies would play along Falling Creek and as all kids do, looked for treasures.
Minton said above the old Cary gristmill was what seemed like thousands of bottles and labels. He picked up a label and kept it to this day. He was never able to figure out just to what it was related.
According to Lyle Brown, a historical architect, who has been working the Falling Creek area, especially the old iron furnace, said there is a flat area above the old mill and the creek where a VCU architectural class found remnants of an old building. Brown thinks that was probably the location of the distillery because of its proximity to water, which the distillery would have needed.
In 1914, Virginia banned the sale and use of alcohol products. Prohibition continued until its end of Prohibition in 1933, and many distilleries began to reopen. Old Dixie had remained open due to its government contract. Once the contract ran out, Falling Creek Whiskey was sound to the public.
During WWII, distilleries, especially the Louisville, Kentucky distilleries, were forced to convert all their production facilities to the distillation of 190-proof alcohol for the war effort. Old Dixie was making alcohol at 140 proof. There is no explanation for that. The Louisville distilleries made 25 percent of the alcohol for war operations.
Two-hundred-and-fifty years earlier, whiskey was on the minds of a lot of non-teetotalers. The Whiskey Rebellion broke out in 1794.
“Alexander Hamilton, secretary of the Treasury, had proposed the excise (enacted by Congress in 1791) to raise money for the national debt and to assert the power of the national government. Small farmers of the back country distilled and consumed whiskey, which was easier to transport and sell than the grain that was its source. It was an informal currency, a means of livelihood, and an enlivener of a harsh existence. The distillers resisted the tax by attacking federal revenue officers who attempted to collect it,” according to the Encyclopædia Britannica.
The encyclopædia of our childhood continues that Thomas Jefferson enjoyed a little nip once in a while and “he like many Americans, particularly members of the opposition Jeffersonian Republican Party, were appalled by the overwhelming use of governmental force, which they feared might be a first step to absolute power. To Federalists, however, the most important result was that the national authority had triumphed over its first rebellious adversary and had won the support of the state governments in enforcing Federal law within the states.”
The Old Dixie Distillery didn’t have the worry over taxation but prohibition could have been just as bad. If Mr. Little hadn’t had a government contract for alcohol he may have been in western Virginia operating a still.
Ethanol was first isolated from wine in approximately 1100 and was found to burn shortly thereafter. These early solutions distilled from wine-salt mixtures were referred to as aqua ardens (burning water) or aqua flamens (flaming water) and had such low alcohol content that they burned without producing noticeable heat. By the 13th century, the development of the cooling coil allowed the isolation of nearly pure ethanol by distillation.