Lexington Historic Distillery District
Historical Marker #2313 notes the legacy and location of Lexington's Historic Distillery District.
Shortly after the end of the Civil War, the Headley and Farra Company established a distillery in Lexington on Old Frankfort Pike, now called Manchester Street. In 1879, the James E. Pepper Distillery took ownership of the site. The Pepper Distillery constructed new buildings since the former structures were destroyed in a fire. Between 1880 and 1901, the company built six warehouses with the capacity to store nearly 50,000 barrels of whiskey. Around the end of the nineteenth century, they sold whiskey to more than ninety brokerage houses around the United States.
During Prohibition (1920-1934), the distillery was abandoned and the company's warehouses were changed into locked storage for whiskey stockpiles from multiple distilleries around the area. This method helped prevent the common occurrence of thefts from small, rural distilleries.
Just before the end of Prohibition in 1933, the James E. Pepper Distillery sold their company to Schenley Products Corporation of New York. In 1934, several buildings on the site burnt to the ground in a massive fire, but the company quickly rebuilt new structures. Whiskey continued to be made on the site until 1962. The company still used the warehouses for storage until 1976. Finally, Schenley Products sold the property in 1977.
Over this expanse of time, whiskeys produced by the distilleries included Old Pepper Whiskey, James E. Pepper, Pepper Whiskey, Old Jas. E. Pepper, Henry Clay, Henry Clay Rye, Old Lexington, and Old Oscar Pepper. When needed, Town Branch provided water for steam power for production and the distilleries collected water from McConnell Springs to use in the whiskey.
Although the land formerly used by the distilleries was largely abandoned for many years after 1977, three buildings still remain standing today- the Pepper Distillery, the Pepper Bonded Warehouse, and the Old Tarr Warehouse, which could house 8,000 barrels of whiskey. In recent years, the City of Lexington has taken steps to redevelop the Distillery District and find new uses for the existing structures.