Picture this ~ the autumn leaves are falling all around you in bright and muted reds, yellows, browns, and when the sun hits them just right, they seem translucent ~ a perfect day for wandering through a barn sale!
You stroll along through the paths, checking out the tables filled with all sorts of vintage and antique treasures, along with locally jarred honey, bouquets of straw flowers in deep maroons, pinks, and yellows. Every item looks gorgeous. Then, just in a quick glance, this cute, or beautiful, or unusual thing requires a double take, and there it is ~ the find of the day, and you must have it! You get this sweetie home, only to wonder to yourself, “What did I just buy?!” Right? Have you been there?
Well, I’m there more often than not, it seems. I do love going on a hunt for information, though, because I never know where the trails will lead me. I’ll use this antique cream ale beer bottle as an example of something I came across without knowing much about old bottles.
Where to start? Of course, we would all begin with any markings. This bottle shows, “A. TEMPLETON LOUISVILLE,” raised and encircling a decagon mug base with,”CREAM ALE,” raised on a smooth front. The maker’s mark on the bottom completely baffled me. I examined it in every light I could find and under powerful magnifying glasses. I just couldn’t decipher it. Happily, I found a couple of reputable sites that date the bottle somewhere in the mid-1800s and enabled me to recognize the maker’s mark on the bottom from Lorenz & Wightman. I also found values, ranging from $180 – $550.
Not bad, right? With some items, I might have ended my search there, but I already had some other information about the bottle that urged me on. I knew where it came from. While doing construction work on the now defunct Bourbon Stock Yards in Louisville, KY, a worker I know unearthed this bottle from layer after layer of built up dirt, cow and pig manure, and whatever else the years had added, which I suppose helped preserve it so well. So, how could I not go there?
Having been born and raised in Louisville, I was somewhat familiar with the place, but certainly not in any depth. During my research expedition, I began to recognize the valuable contributions the stockyards brought to the city and especially to the residents of the Butchertown area, where the facility was housed, and which enjoys such a rich history of its own.
I began to imagine how the bottle came to be buried for so long in its organic and fecund protective capsule. Who bought the bottle of beer and why? Was it a worker at the stockyards, who needed a break, after shuffling so many cows and pigs off to farmers and packing houses? Did he (and I’m 99% certain it would have been a “he,” given the time period) share the brew with his fellow workers, or did he swill it quickly, only to toss the worthless bottle aside? I tend to meander, I know. Sigh.
As I read more about Butchertown, it became clear to me the area housed breweries, such as The “Butchertown Brewery,” a forerunner to Oertel’s and Falls City Brewing Companies. As a result, the area enjoyed a plethora of neighborhood bars, pubs, and other hangouts where our fictional stockyards beer consumer might have bought that bottle.
Butchertown, the Bourbon Stockyards, Oertel’s and Falls City Brewers gave way to changing times. For its first 100 years, Butchertown enjoyed a growing population, construction of buildings, with a strong and vibrant economy. Prohibition certainly took its toll on the city, as distillers and brewers found less public ways to market their products. But, most say the flood of 1937 is to blame for the area’s decline. The Ohio River crested at 57 feet, and 70 per cent of Louisville was underwater. Butchertown sits in close proximity to the river, so residents and businesses chose to relocate to higher ground, and those who stayed behind would endure a slow and slowing economy, loss of jobs, and a much harder life.
Prohibition, of course, almost directly caused the demise of Oertel’s, and the Falls City Brewing Company finally shut its doors in 1978, leaving employees jobless and without the retirement benefits on which they had staked their working years. The livestock mecca at the intersection of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers, The Bourbon Stockyards, suffered a similar demise in 1995, when The Bourbon Stockyard Company at last closed its doors. From 1864 – 1995, this enterprise served farmers, butchers, restaurants, families, and so on. Interestingly, prior to its relocation in 1864, it was The Bourbon House, a housing facility for farmers in the surrounding areas, who brought their animals to market. At the closing of the stockyards, it enjoyed the ranking of the oldest continuously operating stockyards in the U.S. Isn’t that something?
That’s my story so far, and although we won’t know who tossed this awesome bottle into the muck of the stockyards floor, or when, or why he did it, we do know more about the possibilities that arise out of history. For me, this is the real pay off. I hope you have enjoyed the meandering. If you have stayed with me, I know we are kindred spirits. We love old things, are curious about their pasts, and are willing to ferret the facts out, no matter how far afield it takes us. Thanks for reading, and the next time you find yourself picking up some awesome, unusual, and perfect thing, just to get it home and ask, “What did I just buy?!” I hope you will share your journey. I would love to hear it.