Morehead State University

Poster Title

Historic “Moonshine” Distilling Sites in the Daniel Boone National Forest

Institution

Morehead State University

Abstract

Whiskey distillation has a long tradition in Kentucky. Many early settlers brought copper stills into Kentucky and set up their apparatus wherever they established a homestead, so that by 1810 there were more than 2,000 small distilleries operating in the state. In addition to satisfying the need for personal consumption, whiskey distillation provided significant value added through conversion of a bulky, low value crop such as corn into a compact, easily transportable and valuable commodity for export. Passage of the 1919 Volstead Act and imposition of nationwide Prohibition promoted widespread illegal distillation in the 20th century. Small-scale production continued in the form of illegal “moonshine” stills hidden away in remote areas of the state, usually destroyed when discovered by authorities. The only systematic survey of historic illegal still sites was conducted by archaeologists for the Daniel Boone National Forest on federal property in eastern Kentucky, a by-product of the need to assess prehistoric cultural resources in the DBNF. Information gathered was held only in hard copy and not subjected to analysis until, during 2012-13, the investigator examined all DBNF site reports and was able to identify 107 locations representing former illegal stills. Most sites were located within natural concavities in sandstone cliffs, known as rock shelters, and many artifacts display axe marks and other indications of intervention by law enforcement. For some sites, historic period of distillation can be determined by associated artifacts. The detailed information on these reports has allowed an analysis of the nature, distribution, and significance of this clandestine Kentucky industry.

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Historic “Moonshine” Distilling Sites in the Daniel Boone National Forest

Whiskey distillation has a long tradition in Kentucky. Many early settlers brought copper stills into Kentucky and set up their apparatus wherever they established a homestead, so that by 1810 there were more than 2,000 small distilleries operating in the state. In addition to satisfying the need for personal consumption, whiskey distillation provided significant value added through conversion of a bulky, low value crop such as corn into a compact, easily transportable and valuable commodity for export. Passage of the 1919 Volstead Act and imposition of nationwide Prohibition promoted widespread illegal distillation in the 20th century. Small-scale production continued in the form of illegal “moonshine” stills hidden away in remote areas of the state, usually destroyed when discovered by authorities. The only systematic survey of historic illegal still sites was conducted by archaeologists for the Daniel Boone National Forest on federal property in eastern Kentucky, a by-product of the need to assess prehistoric cultural resources in the DBNF. Information gathered was held only in hard copy and not subjected to analysis until, during 2012-13, the investigator examined all DBNF site reports and was able to identify 107 locations representing former illegal stills. Most sites were located within natural concavities in sandstone cliffs, known as rock shelters, and many artifacts display axe marks and other indications of intervention by law enforcement. For some sites, historic period of distillation can be determined by associated artifacts. The detailed information on these reports has allowed an analysis of the nature, distribution, and significance of this clandestine Kentucky industry.