Distilling is theme for Westmoreland County Historical Society

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Distilled liquor has long held a prominent place in southwestern Pennsylvania history.

The locals’ love for the “spirits” was so strong that they took on the federal government over a tax on liquor in the Whiskey Rebellion in 1794.

Over the next century, distilleries flourished throughout the area until Prohibition arrived in 1920, when the government banned the manufacture, transport and sale of alcohol, forcing many to close their doors.

Local historian Robert Myers will talk about distilling from a historic perspective during a presentation sponsored by the Westmoreland County Historical Society, which this year has Prohibition as the theme for its annual program that serves as a fundraiser and a way to bring history to life.

“There seems to be a huge interest” in the subject, said Joanna Moyar, education coordinator for the historical society.

In addition to Mr. Myers' talk on Tuesday, the society will transform the Westmoreland County Courthouse into a 1920s speak-easy on April 26, with food, live jazz, dancing and a drama based on a actual court case involving a speak-easy in Latrobe.

As was the practice during Prohibition, guests will be admitted only if they know a "secret" password and knock. Those who attend are encouraged but not required to wear 1920s attire. 

Mr. Myers' talk will be held at 7 p.m. Tuesday in the Calvin E. Pollins Library in Greensburg.

One distiller he will discuss is Thomas Moore, who produced Old Possum Hollow Rye Whiskey, which was named for a community in Allegheny County near the border with Beaver County.

Moore built a distillery there in 1842 after his father-in-law’s flour mill burned down. Over the years, he expanded his business, building distilleries in Pittsburgh and McKeesport. The Possom Hollow brand continued to be sold until Prohibition.

The event at the county courthouse, called a Spring Frolic, will be held from 6 to 9 p.m. April 26.  

“We’ve thought about this for some time,” Mrs. Moyar said. “We wanted the event to be entertaining and this should be good topic for a lot of fun.”

Tickets for the Spring Frolic are $70 for society members, $80 for others. For more information or to register for either event: 724-532-1935, ext. 215. 

Linda Metz, freelance writer: suburbanliving@post-gazette.com.

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