Not much is known about E.E.Gouge's early years, but his bottles are among
the most known and sought after by Bristolians...
In about 1880, E.E.Gouge established a distillery at Fish Springs
near Gouge,Tenn. (approximately 5 miles southeast of Hampton). Here he distilled a brand of whiskey that would become
well known across the region. Named Happy Valley after a section of Carter County near Elizabethton,Tenn., the whiskey
was advertised as being 100 Proof, Pure White Corn, Copper Distilled.
By 1904, Gouge had entered into a partnership with W.T.Sams
and W.B.McNabb, who were operating a distillery on the banks of Beaver Creek, on 6th Street Extension
in Bristol,Tenn. Here the distilling of Happy Valley Corn Whiskey was continued, in addition to, Gouge's Own
Brand Apple Brandy and Old Zeke's Oldest Corn Whiskey.
Gouge's Happy Valley was now so popular that other dealers were selling it in
their establishments. Some of their reasons for doing so were: " it was a Home production, there was a profit in it,
it was pure, and it was worth to the consumer the price it sold for."
In 1903 the State of Tennessee passed a law removing saloons from the State, but
the length of time they could remain operational depended upon the size of the towns and the votes of the residents there.
It wasn't until 1907 that the residents of Bristol,Tenn. decided to hold a referendum to vote to close the saloons. At the
same time, across the State Line in Bristol,VA. residents there decided to ban the sale of alcohol in any form.
Thus, it came to pass ,on Oct.31st, 1907 both towns went "dry." For many it was
a cause of celebration...for others it bespoke the death knell of their businesses. Saloon keepers, their customers, farmers,(who
grew corn for mash), and many other community members and providers of various services were affected. This trend became
a national one when Nationwide Prohibition was enacted in 1920... and many believe it led the Country directly into the Great Depression of the 1930's...
It had been reported that the E.Gouge & Co. was going to relocate, but didn't
know where yet. Then , in November, E. Gouge & Co.declared they were going to challenge the "Dry" law,
stating that the law did not prohibit them from manufacturing and wholesaling intoxicants to dealers as long as the good were
sold in bulk. And, that Gouge & Co. intended to produce a larger output than before.
Strangely enough, it was at this time the Office of Revenue elected to transfer
the U.S.Gauger at the White Oak Distillery in Chattahooga, Tenn. to Bristol's E.Gouge & Co., and send their man there
to the White Oak Distillery.
At some point in time, U.S.Revenue Agents seized twenty barrels of whiskey from W.T.
Sams' & E.E.Gouge's distillery and stored it in the basement of the Bristol,Tenn. Post Office building. A flu
epidemic struck the country. People were sick and dying all around. The doctors, able to attend to only a portion of the stricken,
reported whiskey was needed for those afflicted. Clarence King, Mayor of Bristol, knew the twenty barrels had been aging in
the Post office basement. He asked for and received permission from Washington,D.C. to dispense the whiskey out on prescription.
On a Sunday morning, Mayor King assembled a crew to hand out the whiskey in pint bottles gathered for that purpose. To
the consternation of the Mayor, they found that the spirits had "evaporated", leaving twenty oak barrels still damp and smelling
of their missing contents. Nothing was ever done about it...no outcry or investigation was pursued.
Oct.31, 1907...and both Bristols are "Dry" for only the second time in their history
- the first being in 1886, lasting two years. Nearby Abingdon,VA. capitalized upon the fact both towns were "dry", and established
a Dispensary System for selling whiskey and enriches its coffers by thousands of dollars. A new type of "job" soon became
available in the Bristols, that of "Booze Toter", which was largely filled by the area's African-Americans. Though it was
against the law to carry alcoholic beverages for/to another person, the law was not strictly enforced.
One newspaper account describes such an incident:...
A commotion was created among the Negro "Booze-Toters" Monday afternoon when Train #11 passing over
the Norfolk & Western Railroad from Abingdon stopped in Bristol. The train was greeted by Chief of Police Keller
and several officers who closely inspected each Negro with his suitcase or baskets laden with whiskey. One by one they were
allowed to pass on with their suitcases, baskets, or jugs. One had a suitcase, a basket, a gallon jug, and all of his pockets
full. The officers, it seems, were searching for an assault suspect reported to be on the train.
Then history repeats itself as Bristol, VA holds a referendum less than two years
after going "dry", and returns to being "wet." On Oct. 19,1909 there are ten applicants in Judge Kelly's court for liquor
licenses and more to come. Revenue from these ten licenses was $15,000.00.
Gouge & Co. were evidently still operating while continuing to challenge
the intent of the "Dry" law, but on Nov. 30, 1909 they were voluntarily suspending operations due to the fact they had too
much stock on hand. Since October the Distillery had manufactured 8,000 gallons of corn liquor and the Revenue Tax had yet
to be paid on all of it - resulting in a Government Agent, W.T.Testerman, being assigned to the Distillery to look after the
Government's interests. William H. Hampton, the Gauger of the Revenue Service assigned to the Distillery ,was to assist Deputy
Collector Testerman in the work.
Gouge stated the closing would be only temporary, if the Manufacturer's Bill now
before the Courts, was decided in the manufacturer's favor, which would mean the distillers could make all sorts of liquor
Gouge also made the announcement at this time that E.Gouge & Co. was in the
process of erecting another distillery of a larger capacity, on the Virginia side of Bristol, to begin operations
about the first of the year. The Company already owned and operated a Rectifying House on the corner of Moore
& Scott Sts. in Bristol,VA. This building would later become the Company offices and a small shipping warehouse. * *This
building is still standing and in the process of being renovated as a Fire Museum**
(At this time-Nov.1909 - the Company consisted of E.Gouge, W.T.Sams, and W.B.McNabb,
with Gouge listed as manager. And was called The Bristol Distilling Co.)
Gouge's challenge of the "Dry law" was evidently upheld in the manufacturer's
favor, as a calendar circa 1914 (see pic), noted Gouge & Co. operated no less than three distilleries.
Gouge,Tenn...near Fish Springs
South Bristol...6th St.Ext.
North Bristol..Spurgeon Lane area
Offices noted in 1914 were 526-528 Commerce St. Bristol,VA...
Rectifying House @ rear of Moore & Scott Sts., Bristol,VA.
Gouge also had another occasion to appear in the local courts: seems the Byrd
Law forbid the employment of women, in any capacity in a saloon :-either as a book-keeper, stenographer,dish washer, scrub
woman, or any other job. Additionally, under the Bristol City Ordinances, no woman could enter a saloon for any purpose. The
matter had created some heavy controversy, as several of the whiskey dealers ( including Gouge & Co.), did a heavy business
and had a large amount of work, such as typing, printing, folding & addressing circulars, book-keeping,etc, that women
could do. The case in question was one where the offices were in the same building as the saloon/wholesale department/rectifying
house/shipping area, but in a seperate room(s).
On June 1st, 1912, E.Gouge & Co. entered the mail order liquor business, stating
they'd ship only one kind of corn whiskey, being 100 proof, and it will be known as Happy Valley. The broadside also
states Gouge & Co. have been manufacturing corn whiskey for 32 years ( placing their origins about 1880).
In April 1914, Henry Baker, City Sergeant of Bristol,VA. sold at public auction
the stock of the Will Sherfey Company's Saloon, located corner State & Commonwealth. The successful bidder was E.Gouge,
who paid $1050.00 for all wine, liquors,beers, cigars, and tobaccos, but did not include the bar fixtures.
In the latter part of April 1914, E.Gouge & Co.. were required to renew their
liquor licenses. The following licenses were bought by Gouge:
Retail...E.Gouge & Co. & The Palace Saloon - P.C.Fallin,
Wholesale...E.Gouge & Co.
Manufacturers...E.Gouge & Co.
Licenses were priced in the following manner:
Retail...State $550.00...City $2000.00
Wholesale & Malt...State $500.00...City $500.00
Manufacturers...State $700.00...City $3000.00
Thus in order fr Gouge to renew his various Annual licenses he had to pay $7500.00. By the
way, the total amount received by the City of Bristol,VA. for this one day's renewal of licenses was $340,000.00. With an
additional $ 14150.00 going to the State of Va. And this was only for 12 liquor dealers!!
(In case you're interested, they were:)
E.Gouge, Martin Lynch, Hotel
Bristol, Southern Wine & Liquor Co., State Line Whiskey Co., Bristol Distributing Co., Blue Ribbon
Bar, M.R.Miller Co., Bristol Wine & Liquor Co., Bryan Brothers Stag Saloon, Heller Brothers,
and M.P.Dyer & Co.