In the years before National Prohibition, there was a distillery in southwest Jefferson County called the Pleasure Ridge Park Distillery. This distillery was put out of business by prohibition and faded from the local memory. All that remains of the distillery is the street named “Railroad Avenue” that runs where the railroad spur that connected to the distillery was located.
There are references to the distillery in pre-prohibition sources. Isaac Wolfe Bernheim states in his autobiography that his firm, Bernheim Bros., was invested in the Pleasure Ridge Park Distillery. In fact when there was a fire at the distillery in 1896, it destroyed a warehouse where Bernheim had whiskey stored. The United States government sued Bernheim for the taxes on that whiskey and it took 18 months of litigation for Bernheim Bros. to clear the firm from the tax obligation. The courts agreed that since the whiskey was destroyed and never sold, then there was no tax due to the government. This was not the first fire at the distillery. We know from an article in Louisville’s “Wine and Spirits Bulletin” that in 1891 the distillery built two new warehouses to replace one that had been destroyed in a fire earlier that year.
There are other sources of information about the distillery. The trade magazine “Mida’s Criteria” published a financial index of the liquor industry in the early 20th century. The Pleasure Ridge Park Distillery, DSP 29, fifth district Kentucky was listed as being owned by The Combined Distillers of Kentucky, address Cincinnati, Ohio. There is a 1906 atlas of Jefferson County that outlines the property owned by the distillery and shows the railroad spur connecting the distillery with the main railroad. There is also the early Sanborn Insurance Maps that show the footprints of the buildings. Still, there were no images of the distillery available to the public--until now.
Distilling historian Chet Zoeller was in the Filson recently doing research in the D. X. Murphy & Bro., Architects collection, looking the architectural firm's project records for Louisville distilling companies for his book, Bourbon in Kentucky: A History of Distilleries in Kentucky. D. X. Murphy & Bro. completed work in 1905 for a warehouse at The Combined Distillers of Kentuck. Correspondence between the distillery and the architectural firm with D. X. Murphy, specifically The Combined Distillers' letterhead, greatly expands the knowledge of the Pleasure Ridge Park Distillery. The letterhead features an illustration of the distillery. It is fairly close to the building footprint represented on the Sanborn maps, so it is probably pretty close as to what the actual distillery looked like. They also had a cattle shed where they fed the spent beer from the distillery to cattle. There is an illustration of stacked barrels with the brands produced at the distillery – “Old Pepper Springs”, “Old Times” and “Aristocrat Rye”. The letterhead states that the company had a “Paid up Capital $250,000” which matches the rating they receive in the “Mida’s Financial Index”. The letterhead also states that they had a capacity of “10,000 gallons daily” which indicates that they are a column still distillery making about 10 barrels of whiskey a day.
The Pleasure Ridge Park Distillery was just one of thousands of distilleries that are part of Kentucky’s distilling heritage. Unfortuneately, often the only thing left of these distilleries is a name, as is the case with the Pleasure Ridge Park Distillery. Their letterhead, archived in the institutional records of another early Louisville business, provides a valuable source of information about their history.