Evan Williams, 1755-1810

Historical Marker #2445 commemorates Evan Williams (1755 – 1810), an early Kentucky whiskey distiller in Jefferson County.

A native of Wales, Williams came to Kentucky around 1780. He settled in Louisville, which had been established two years earlier. In 1783, Williams built his distillery on the banks of the Ohio River, distilling whiskey from corn on the east side of what is now 5th Street. It is said to have been the first commercial distillery in Kentucky, shipping barrels by flatboat down the Ohio River. In 1801, his federal distilling license indicated that he owned three whiskey stills licensed at 141, 130 and 93 gallons.

Williams also held several civic leadership positions, including serving as one of Louisville’s seven elected city trustees. According to legend, he would bring a bottle of his whiskey to the Board of Trustee Meetings. In 1797, he was elected Louisville’s first wharf master. Louisville, located at the Falls of the Ohio River, was a major port for river traffic. Boats were unloaded above the Falls and the freight, carried over land, was then reloaded on boats below the Falls to be shipped to New Orleans. The Louisville harbor was small and needed supervision to avoid overcrowding. As the wharf or harbor master, one of Williams’ duties was to ensure that boats complied with a regulation stipulating that all boats had to be unloaded and moved out of the harbor within forty-eight hours after their arrival.

He was also a master stone mason and builder who oversaw construction of the first jail and courthouse in Jefferson County.

Williams died on October 15, 1810 in Louisville.