“Lose on the track and you go home. Lose with a load of whiskey and you go to jail.” (Junior Johnson, NASCAR Hall of Fame’s Heritage Speedway)
Growing up in the south, NASCAR country, fast cars are nothing new. We all remember the day Dale died, but what is fascinating is not long ago these roads through Cumberland County had never seen a car. Once they did fascination grew, wonder ensued, cars came alive, and whiskey soon followed.
“In the summer of 1907 the first automobile was seen in the county. It did not belong to a resident. About 1910 two cars making a survey for the projected Memphis to Bristol Highway were driven through the county on the eastward trip.” (Cumberland County’s First Hundred Years, Bullard & Krechniak, p. 114)
After witnessing the first car in the county the trend caught on. Dr. A.J. McClarney bought a second-hand car around 1911. Then followed Andy Elmore with the first brand-new car to be brought to Crossville.
The Chronicle, August 21, 1912, wrote:
“Work has begun on Memphis to Bristol Highway. Fifty teams and a hundred men went to work yesterday on the grading of the road.”
“The new road was to cross the entire State from north-east to south-west. It would open the whole of Tennessee to the new and wonderful world-on-wheels. They began near Crossville cemetery and work was pushed east as rapidly as possible. The county court appropriated $40,000 for it- the first county money to be spent on roads.” (Bullard & Krechniak, p. 114)
“The county approved $200,000 in bonds in 1916 to construct its portion of the Dixie Short Route, a highway which was to connect Chicago with Miami. Crossville was the intersection between this highway and the Memphis-to-Bristol road.” (Cumberland County Tennessee, W. Calvin Dickenson, p. 46)
L.T. Thurman and Dr. E.W. Mitchel bought the first Model-T Fords by 1915.
In 1917 there were over 30 automobiles in the county.
Then came the Prohibition. January 17, 1920
“Tennessee ratified the 18th Amendment (National Prohibition) on January 13, 1919. Though it did not prohibit drinking alcohol, it outlawed its sale and distribution. The new constitutional amendment went into effect the following year.” (https://sharetngov.tnsosfiles.com/tsla/exhibits/prohibition/temperance.htm#:~:text=Tennessee%20ratified%20the%2018th%20Amendment,1933%20by%20the%2021th%20Amendment.)
In 1927 the first moonshine still was discovered in Cumberland County, the Chronicle headline read: “Largest Stilling Outfit Ever Captured in Cumberland County.’ Sheriff H.D. Shaver had found it on the French farm. Besides large quantities of equipment, product and makings there were 1,000 pounds of sugar.” (Bullard & Krechniak, p. 115)
“The typical idea of the Appalachian moonshiner evokes images of a simple backwoods farmer whipping up a small batch of ‘shine, mountain dew or corn squeezins in a little still at the back of his barn to drink from a little brown jug. Like many stereotypes, there’s a large element of truth to that picture these days, but there was a time when moonshining was a big business in East Tennessee. In fact, organized crime syndicates involving entire families weren’t uncommon in which various family members held different job roles in their ‘Hillbilly Mafia.” (Legends & Lore of East Tennessee, Shane S. Simmons, p. 58)
The word moonshine “came into general use during Prohibition to describe the potion that rural folk cooked up by the light of the moon.” (American History Through a Whiskey Glass, Harris Cooper, p. 146)
The word hillbilly “was a term used by English and Irish Catholics to belittle the Irish Protestants who lived in the hill country.” (Cooper, p 147)
“The lure of potential big money and widespread disdain of the federal government telling them how to conduct their lives led many locals to defy the law. As more and more money came into play, the moonshine operations took on the look of a normal business with multiple employees. There were the brewers who made the ‘shine and the bootleggers who would distribute the finished product in the back of cars souped up to outrun the law.” (Simmons, p.58)
“Henry Ford hated liquor, but it certainly helped his fortune. Bootleggers needed fast cars and the Ford Coupe flathead V8 was one of their favorites, sometimes souped-up with a more powerful Cadillac engine and heavy-duty shock absorbers and springs. The bootleggers would use fake license plates and wear shoes with the bottoms fashioned to look like hoofs, so they left no human footprints in the woods.” (Simmons, p. 148)
“The Dixie Highway (running from Michigan to Florida) was a major route for the distribution of moonshine. In an effort to deliver their product safely, moonshiners would often modify their cars in order to outrun law enforcement and “revenuers” (agents from the U. S. Department of Treasury’s Bureau of Internal Revenue). These modified cars led to the birth of stock car racing and NASCAR.” (https://sharetngov.tnsosfiles.com/tsla/exhibits/prohibition/moonshine.htm)
Crossville, the crossroads, the perfect place to run whiskey through, no matter which direction the bootlegger heads. This town was built for distribution.
*Books and websites cited in text above
*photographs from books cited above, Library of Congress, Cumberland County Archives, and Tennessee Library and Archives