The Staley Mill Farm and Indian Creek Distillery....
a Legendary American Whiskey Legacy
It all began in Staley Bridge England. During the 1400s amidst political and religious persecution, the Staleys (Stehlis) departed their beloved England and found themselves in Holland. There they lived for the next 300 years becoming Swiss Reformers. In 1737, as political and religious persecution once again was forcing them to flee their homeland, Jakob Stehli, Missy’s direct ancestor, chartered a ship named the Charming Nancy (there is evidence that the Charming Nancy was built in Philadelphia and a part owner was…Benedict Arnold)! With Captain Charles Stedman in charge, the first recorded voyage of the Charming Nancy was from Rotterdam to Portsmouth with a destination of Philadelphia in July 1737 with a large number of Amish aboard ship… and so, Jakob and his family sailed for a new land called… America. Upon arrival, the ship sailed up the Chesapeake Bay and the Potomac River to the head of navigation around Harper’s Ferry, Virginia. There they disembarked with Jakob settling in Frederick, Maryland while others moved further south into Virginia.
Missy’s great, great, great, great grandparents, Joseph and Julianne Staley settled in Lancaster, Pennsylvania and would become known as “Pennsylvania Dutch” for their religious beliefs. Together they produced 16 children. Later, as the Northwest Territory became available for settlement, the adventurous ones moved westward and grew up with the country; David, Henry and Elias journeyed to the “Ohio Country” in search of fame and fortune. The three brothers were fine millwrights by trade and built many grist mills in Greene, Montgomery and Miami County. Elias was also a distiller and owned several distilleries & grist mills in Dayton; one he co-owned at the ripe age of 24 with John Rench. He and his brothers were contracted to build a grist mill and mill races for John Rench on his farm located alongside Indian Creek in Bethel Township, Miami County. The Grist Mill was completed in 1818. Unfortunately, John Rench died soon thereafter and Elias took the opportunity to purchase the farm.
Immediately (and wisely) Elias built the brick StillHouse in 1820 which was located directly across the road from the busy grist mill; the 100 year production of hand-made double-copper distilled whiskey had begun...
For forty-five years under Elias' oversight, this amazing Pioneer Agricultural/Industrial Complex flourished. Water flowed through the mill race to power the sawmill, the grist mill and also provided the water for the distillery to make whiskey. Abiding in tax-free industries, Elias and his farm prospered. The grist mill provided a place for settlers and Indians to bring their grain to be ground into flour and as Staley Rye Whiskey became famous for quality, customers came from miles around to get their jugs filled. Not only was the whiskey delivered (in barrels) by wagon to saloons, general stores and groceries in nearby Dayton and beyond, but many barrels made their way southward to thirsty Union soldiers during the Civil War.
Indian Creek Distillery has always been a commercial distillery. It was one of two such distilleries in Ohio at the time producing 30 to 35 gallons a day and at times 100-400 barrels of whiskey was aging in the Warehouse. The StillHouse operated day and night until the middle of the Civil War when Abraham Lincoln placed an excise tax on whiskey and Elias ceased operation of the stills in protest; "ain’t never paid a tax, ain't about to now!"
After Elias' death in 1866, sons Andrew, John and Simon (Missy’s great-great grandfather) continued the distilling operation in compliance with the new taxation. Now known as Distillery #5 in District 10 in the State of Ohio, the "Staley Boys" increased production by modernizing the distilling system with a mid-century pumping system and cistern house and by utilizing the abundant artisan springs on the farm. There would be no more low water via the creek to the mill race as Elias had made note by saying "when the water is low, so is the money". Also a new hit-or-miss engine powered an up-to-date 1500 gallon wooden mash tub and a new two story warehouse was built to accommodate the growing demand for the Staley's frontier whiskeys. Times were good; gold was the currency and whiskey flowed from the StillHouse.
In the later part of the 19th century, rumors of Carrie Nation and her bevy of "prohibiting women" (the Women's Temperance Movement was officially organized in Cleveland, Ohio in 1874) circulated throughout the Ohio countryside carrying a warning of the end of an era into the ears and hearts of the old distillers. With the enforcement of the Volstead Act closing in, change was inevitable and on its way... The old "Staley boys" passed away one by one and left behind Missy’s great grandfather, George Washington Staley (Simon's son) as the last distiller of Indian Creek Distillery. The golden era of America's "liquid gold" would soon be gone. One hundred years of a family's distilling legacy was simply slipping away before his very eyes; 1920 and the new prohibition law would soon be here.
George continued to distill the family's storied Rye Whiskey as well as Bourbons amidst the growing reluctance of folks to buy spirits of any kind. In the family’s personal archives are many small hand-written notes from country doctors, old "medicine men" asking if George would sell a gallon of Staley Whiskey for "medicinal" purposes only to his patient... Slowly George sold off his warehoused barrels of whiskey before the government men came knocking and closed his distillery door.
But George had something else in mind... Those old stills, the whiskey and the distilling way of life meant much to him; it was his life and his livelihood, his memories and maybe, just maybe his future...? So, incredibly, he hid the stills and the remaining assorted distilling equipment on the second floor of the old warehouse. One important thing enabled him to do just that: he was close friends with Tom Widener, his neighbor, who happened to be the Federal Gauger and Revenuer for District 10. Tom must have known and kindly ignored the fact that his old friend George had removed the stills (and all other distilling equipment) and placed them in the top of the Warehouse. George also thoughtfully wrote down the old Rye mash bill titled The Method of Operation which had been passed down from father to son to grandson. And he waited. But 13 years went by and the law remained. His wife, Anna Sabra suffered a stroke, money was thin and he grew older and more discouraged. His daughter, Avanella Staley Marker and her daughter, Carol Jean Marker Mumford would have no opportunity to begin again their family’s whiskey legacy because of the laws that prohibited distilleries in Ohio. So the old stills remained tucked away with only the family's knowledge of their existence. There the stills waited and hoped for another generation to bring them back to the distilling life they once knew. But, the Past met the Present when the 6th generation resurrected history.
Destiny is a Powerful Thing
The Pioneering Spirit tapped us on our shoulders and whispered in our hearts to begin again that which was long gone, but not forgotten. The original distillery had fallen into ruin after Prohibition and was the only piece of history missing here at the farm. Both Joe and I wanted to resurrect the true “spirit” of the place- the whiskey, my family’s “liquid gold”. The laws in Ohio changed, allowing Distilleries to be operated once again, so we saw an opportunity and took a risk, knowing that the biggest risk was to do nothing at all.
So, with a wing and a prayer and a wink and nod from my ancestors, we ventured into the crazy competitive “Land of Whiskey”.
After slumbering for 92 years, Joe and I "woke up" the old sleeping stills, gave them a good bath and put the “old girls” back to work. Our Amish built Stillhouse proudly sits just across the road in view of the old distillery ruins. So today, in our new distillery, Legendary Ohio Frontier Whiskeys flow once again. Distilled, using those ancient copper pot stills that Elias used 200 years ago on the same family farm, utilizing the same artisan spring water, our whiskeys are distinct in that we are truly the only family owned historic artisan distillery in the United States using the old fashioned double copper distilling method and using the original 1820 stills.
Our whiskeys are truly small batch and thoughtfully crafted with "old school" character... Our distilling process is labor intensive from grain to bottle. Our rye and corn is sourced from a local farmer. The stills are hand cleaned, hand greased so that we may fuse historic accuracy into the spirits. Our dedication to quality extends to the hands-on bottling process: we apply each and every label by hand and continue the bottling process by dipping the bottle into wax to seal. Our whiskeys are non-chilled filtered. Our entire distillation process is truly artisan; authentic Historic Heritage Distillation.
Legendary Ohio Frontier Whiskeys where each is a small batch run. Every whiskey is unique to the ancient art of distillation, true to the creative passion of the distiller himself with no computers, no chemistry. Just artistry and instinct and passion.
Today's Indian Creek Distillery is a personal expression of what my husband Joe, our daughter Carmony (the 7th generation) and I believe in, a point of view that there is a character, a soul to what we do; heritage and longevity in a place (with purpose). Old fashioned whiskeys we are passionate about, produced by us, historic artisans who in our own right are creating a cultural revolution back to the things that matter most in life. Like integrity, inspiration, honest thoughtful hard work, made by hand merging material and soul craft into... the spirit of America in a bottle...
Here’s to another 200 years of distilling “the true American Spirit”