Frequently Asked Questions
William Tarr was born on June 22, 1824, in Paris, Kentucky (Bourbon County). He married a Kentucky- born woman named Sarah Fisher, the daughter of W.W. and Sarah (Garth) Fisher. She was known by her middle name “Findlay,” the only one on her gravestone. The couple would have two sons, Thompson, born in 1866 and Fisher, born in 1870.
His early business ventures included watermelon farming and mule trading. Before the Civil War, Tarr entered the distilling business - investing in what became known as the Chicken Cock Distillery in Paris - and in 1871 established Wm. Tarr & Company – which acquired the Ashland Distillery in Lexington, Kentucky, producing the Ashland and Wm. Tarr brands of whiskey. During his distilling career, he produced more than sixty thousand barrels of whiskey and paid over $3,000,000 in excise taxes to the Federal government.
In 1873 Tarr's wife - Sarah - died, still a very young woman, leaving William with two small boys to raise. Perhaps to give his children a mother, three years later he married a second time. His new bride was Mary Fisher, a sister to his first wife and a woman 34 years his junior. They would have three children of their own: James born in 1877; William Orr, 1878; and Mary Best, 1880.
Also in 1873, Tarr became one of the principals of Kentucky Union Railroad, and personally guaranteed the bonds in 1883 to start construction of the rail line; sadly, financial problems forced him to sell the railroad in 1886 at a large loss. During the depression of the 1890's, he suffered financial reversals connected to the endorsements of notes for family and friends, and in 1897, he was forced to assign the distillery and his assets over to receivers.
In 1898, Tarr and his wife, Mary, retired to his farm - then known as Deer Lodge or Park Place - five miles from Paris on the Maysville Pike; he maintained a large park for deer on this farm open to the public. The Kentucky Union Railroad built its right-of-way through his property in the mountains. Tarr still owned considerable tracts of land in Bourbon County and Eastern Kentucky, and the receivership played out for some 14 years, ending only in 1911 when Tarr’s debts were finally settled. The lengthy process was a continuing reminder to everyone of how far he had fallen. Tarr died on January 18, 1911 and was buried in Paris. The notice of his death in a Lexington newspaper described him as "formerly one of the most widely known distillers of the United States." The Tarr homestead, now known as Bourbon Hills Farm, remains abandoned to this day.
The facility was located on 11 acres on Manchester Street (Old Frankfort Pike) between Cox and Perry Streets, at the city limits. No original structures from the 1865 distillery are still standing. However, Bonded Warehouse #1 - built after the fire that destroyed the distillery in 1879 - is now home to Manchester Music Hall.
In 1865 the Ashland Distillery was the first to obtain a federally registered distillery license in Lexington and was assigned RD #1. William Tarr assumed majority ownership of the distillery in 1871. You can read more about historic distilleries here.
Many of the brands that originated under our distillery's umbrella in the 1800's live on today, including Old Elk, Bond & Lillard, Belle of Marion, and Belle of Nelson, and we eagerly anticipate the opportunity resurrect a few more!