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Brewing beer, distilling liquor and growing hops were major industries in Madison County

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The largest distillers in 1855 were John Hearsey of Cazenovia, who produced 300,000 gallons of high wines and 375,000 gallons of whiskey, Ellis Morse of Eaton, who produced nearly 320,000 of high wines and John Woodhull (he was part of a firm called Woodhull & Seawood, and also had a personal distillery) of Madison who produced close to 170,000 gallons of high wines.

Hearsey’s whiskey was shipped throughout the region. According to Luna Hammond’s “History of Madison County,” Hearsey (in her book spelled Hersey) “traveled once a week from Cazenovia to Utica with two hogsheads of spirits per week (a hogshead is around 53 gallons).” Old Hearsey’s whiskey was also popular around Syracuse and was shipped throughout the northeast.

While popular, Hearsey’s whiskey did have its enemies. In 1814 a fire destroyed some of Hearsey’s buildings. An article about the fire and Hearsey’s business from the Feb. 23, 1814, Cazenovia Pilot states: “We cannot rejoice at the misfortunes of anyone; but we must say that the loss, which the community have suffered, by the destruction of this liquid poison, will not be a matter of great lamentation. Especially, if the loss of this soul ruining material should prove the occasion of leading Mr. Hearsey to take warning by this, perhaps seasonable, notice to discontinue his unworthy employment of manufacturing this polluted cup of death.”

Hearsey rebuilt and continued to operate his distillery. In 1841 he purchased the property known as the “brewery,” which today would be located on Albany Street near Chittenango Creek from Robert Quaife. He operated in distilling for the better part of life (he also built custom cabinets). The property was sold to a number of brewers after he left the business in the 1850s. We will talk about the brewers in the next article.

The rebirth of agricultural and commercial development of the hops industry is just as important today as it was originally in 1808. As we move forward in this new era of production, I hope we learn from prior endeavors.

(Sources Cited: 1835, 1845, and 1855 Madison County Census. Marshall, J. Rush, “Scrapbook of Local Historical Collections,” courtesy of the Cazenovia Public Library. Luna Hammond, “History of Madison County,” Syracuse, 1872. “Fire in Cazenovia Village,” Cazenovia Pilot, Feb. 23, 1914.)

Matthew Urtz is the Madison County Historian. He can be reached at 366-2453 or matthew.urtz@madisoncounty.ny.gov. The new Madison County History webpage at madisoncounty.ny.gov/historian.

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