Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Spirits of West Distillery Harkens Back to State's Pioneer Heritage

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Spirits of West Distillery Harkens Back to State's Pioneer Heritage

Article excerpt

A small plant in northwestern Missouri provides a reminder of the state's pioneer heritage and a link to one of the less savory aspects of the opening of the West.

Whiskey has been produced on this site, now the McCormick Distilling Co., since before the Civil War.

"This was a natural stopping place for wagon trains coming through," said Annette Regan, a spokeswoman for McCormick. "One of the popular products was whiskey."

McCormick, one of the few distilleries west of the Mississippi River, opened in 1856 in the Platte Valley in the rolling hills northwest of Kansas City. It is just a mile from the historic Missouri River town of Weston, known for its antique stores, restaurants and bed-and-breakfasts.

Weston was founded in 1837, when the Platte Purchase opened 2 million acres of Indian land for settlers. By 1853 Weston was the second-largest port in Missouri, with more than 5,000 people.

But between 1853 and 1880, the town was devastated by a series of fires and floods, the last of which left the town stranded two miles from the river. "Weston never grew much after that," Regan said.

Tours of the distillery begin at a natural limestone spring that was one of many springs found by the Lewis and Clark expedition in 1804, tour guide Dorothy Ellis said.

The tour includes a large, ancient cave that provides welcome relief on a sweltering summer day and in which visitors can see a slide show about the history of the distillery and the region.

The cave "was originally used to store meat, then whiskey; and it even has a small spring," Ellis said. Meat was stored in the cave when a slaughterhouse was built on the site in 1840 by Ben Holladay, an enterprising businessman from Weston.

Holladay soon saw the potential for another business to serve the wagon trains passing through Weston on their way west.

"In 1856, he turned it into the Blue Springs Distillery Co.," Ellis said. "He sold whiskey all over the country, especially in saloons in the Old West."

The distillery has changed hands several times through the years.

George Shawhan bought it in 1895 from the Holladay family. Shawhan owned it during Prohibition, when alcohol was banned in the United States, but he found a loophole in the law that kept him in business. …

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