Editor’s note: For many years, local historian Jean Wallis provided a feature to The Times-Gazette called “Highland Guideposts.” She is updating and resubmitting some of those articles from time to time, including this one.
The location of Whiskey Road from New Market to James Hemphill’s stillhouse located at the confluence of George’s Creek and the West Fork of Ohio Brush Creek in what is now Scott Township, Adams County, differs somewhat by historians of the county.
Some believe State Route 136 to Winchester to be Whiskey Road. However, the location of the road starts just south of New Market and follows the roads known today as Custer Road, Miller’s Chapel Road, Prine Lane, Beatty Road and a section still known as Whiskey Road.
There was no official authority obtained for its location. Whiskey was the inducement for making the road, and the labor was free and voluntary. A barrel of that prized commodity was the first article of trade carried over it.
By 1809 there were various roads and trails in existence in both Highland and Adams County. Numerous settlers had moved into both counties since the Treaty of Greenville in 1795 and trail blazing and road building was a priority among those early settlers. The New Market expedition had only to cut their new route from one existing trail or road to another.
The small distilleries in the vicinity of New Market were operated by various persons including Phillip Wilkin, Thomas Robinson, Jacob Barnes, Jacob Medzker and Lewis Gibler, who operated a still in connection with his grist mill located on Whiteoak Creek. However they were inadequate to the demands of the people and they looked about for a more abundant and satisfactory kind of the liquid.
The first tavern in New Market had been operated by William Wishart. Oliver Ross located a tavern east of the town and on the trace that led from Chillicothe to New Market. Around 1802 George Washington Barrere with his family moved into the new settlement and purchased a one room hewed log cabin from John Eversole. Here he operated a tavern. It was in his tavern on a cold winter day in December 1809 that a group of men came up with the idea of building a road to Hemphill’s and obtaining some of that good sipping whiskey they had heard about.
After much discussion the men decided to follow through with their plans. There lay between New Market and Hemphill’s a forest wilderness. They then decided to blaze a new road over the 15 mile route. This was to be a permanent road over which they could obtain more of their favorite refreshment in the future.
Historian Daniel Scott, from whom we will be quoting, says “that Hemphill, an old Virginia Dutchman of considerable wealth, had established an extensive manufactory of whiskey in Adams County and the fame of his whiskey promised a much better article than Highland County could produce. It was believed that his whiskey was equal to or even better than the Monongahela long a favorite in the area. When the settlements began in Ohio whiskey was $4.50 per gallon, however, in the spring of 1797, when the keelboats began operation the distillers on the Monongahela rushed it to market in such large quantities that the price fell to 50 cents a gallon.”
It was a bold but not hazardous undertaking when they started out on the last day of December, 1809, from Barrere’s Tavern. “First was G.W. Barrere, Justice of the peace for New Market Township and first senator from Highland County, with his compass and jacob staff in hand. No chain was needed, however there was a marker to blaze the route after the surveyor. Next came some 30 men with axes on their shoulders, and last a ‘slide,’ (two whiteoak poles, three inches thick at the butt, lower slide sloped to run or slide on the ground, and inch pins two feet long in the upper side of each, three feet from the lower end-holes bored in the upper end and through which ‘tugs’ were passed by which this primitive vehicle was fastened to the hames on the horse, which was placed between the poles as in shafts). On the slide supported by pins, was a full barrel of Jacob Medzker’s newest whiskey, tapped and ready for use. Two or three tin cups attached to each other by a string, dangled from one of the pins, and a side of bacon from the other. A boy bestrode the horse, under whom was a two-linen bag partly filled with corn dodges. Some of the party carried, in addition to their axes, rifles and shot pouches.
“To complete the train a large number of dogs followed, and a few of the most enterprising and venturesome of the village boys followed in the rear and ran along the sides of the coterie, but were wisely driven back at the edge of town. All the population, who remained at home, were out to witness the departure of the road cutting party.”
A road building crew had left New Market, traveling in a southeasterly direction toward James Hemphill’s still in present day Scott Township, Adams County. As we mentioned, no official authority was obtained for the location of the road. In later years several sections of the road fell into disuse and were closed other sections were altered, losing the original identity of the road in Adams County.
A study of old maps along with tradition has been used to determine its location. In Highland County, Whiskey Road has been more effectively maintained and retold by word of mouth from one generation to another.
We again quote from Daniel Scott, Highland County’s 19th century historian, “The group of men having left New Market struck the woods on the southeast side of the town. A halt was called and the compass set and the course fixed. Whiskey was freely drawn from the barrel that was fixed on the slide.
“After refreshing themselves the company proceeded on their way with much vigor and determination of purpose, to cut the first saplings on the route.”
When the road cutting party reached the Adams County line south of present day Fairfax in Concord Township they intersected with West Union Road. This road had been blazed in 1807 from West Union to Xenia. The section from West Union to Hillsboro is known today as State Route 247.
By the time they reached the Adams County line, evening was approaching and the men decided to camp for the night. Again we quote from Daniel Scott, “The party camped out that night on Buck Run. Some of the hunters managed to kill some game, along with the bacon and corn bread, furnished a supply for supper. Mike Moore happened to be a fiddler and had fortunately taken his instrument with him. He played them music by the camp fire to their hearts content, and all who could, danced till a late hour. In the morning they discovered that the barrel of whiskey they had brought with them was almost empty. This discovery prompted them to hurry on their way.”
They followed the West Union Road for less than three miles before veering off to the road known today as Watt Young Road. Staying on high ground they reached Ridge Road, today known as Nichol’s Ridge Road. Ridge Road followed the West Fork of Ohio Brush Creek and led them to James Hemphill and his famed whiskey. This road required little work from the New Market group as it had been in existence since the 1790’s.
Ridge Road had been built by a settlement of Covenanters who had removed to the area from Virginia and Pennsylvania. Scott described them “as an intelligent, refined Christian community, who are quite as ambitious of a reputation for temperance and as loud in the denunciation of whiskey as the most zealous, noisy, and shortsighted advocates of reform, in the favorite and exclusive subject of the quenching of thirst, apparently peculiar to frail man the world over.”
The party of men reached their destination at 11 o’clock on New Year’s Day, 1810. They were entertained by the Hemphills with a good dinner. James Hemphill was an early settler in Adams County, first locating on Beasley’s Fork about 1797. He sold his farm on Beasley’s Fork and purchased land in 1805 in what would be Scott Township and here he built his mill and stillhouse.
Again quoting from Scott, “After dinner they purchased a barrel of Hemphill’s best whiskey and loading it on the slide started back for New Market which they reached before bedtime.”
Thus was opened Whiskey Road. Although the purpose of the road was to convey whiskey from Hemphill’s to New Market, it was also used extensively for other travel as well and from this we have our guidepost.