The Eichelberger Distillery at Dills Tavern spanned several eras on the timeline of American history. Dills Tavern was established before the American Revolution near the northernmost gap of the South Mountains. Settlers heading west to the frontier, passed through the crossroads with local farmers and drovers who all stopped into the tavern for meals and whiskey on their travels. In 1794, amid the controversy of the Whiskey Rebellion in western Pennsylvania, the third generation of Dills, converted the log tavern to the stately stone tavern seen today.
At the transition of the 18th to 19th century, a new nation emerged. Colonists were now citizens responsible for their own government. An entrepreneurial spirit flourished in the country as immigrant families like Dills felt enabled by freedoms in their new country. They used grit, opportunity and determination to pursue their vision of the American Dream. Central Pennsylvania was populated by German, Scots-Irish and Quaker immigrants. The mix of ethnicities and immigrant cultures of hard work, risk taking, and self-sacrifice for future generations became the American culture. The country dug itself out of debt, began to prosper and assumed a leadership role in the world. In 1800, the Scots-Irish Dills sold the tavern to the German Eichelbergers.
Before 1800, small farm distilleries operating copper pot stills, dominated whiskey making in America and provided whiskey and other spirits for local consumption. However, taverns were much more than a place to have a whiskey. They were, in fact, the center of social interaction. Most towns built a church first, followed by a tavern. Births were toasted and funerals conducted at taverns. Local farmers, craftsmen and drovers dined with traveling judges, doctors, and merchants. Laborers and people of means shared gills of whiskey as respite from the hard physical labor needed to build a country. But ,drunkenness and unlawful gaming was not tolerated and could cause a tavern keeper to lose his license. Women may have had a “medicinal dram” at home or a bracer in the parlor but were infrequent visitors to the taproom. They were not specifically banned like enslaved people or protected from debauchery like natives, but why would a female traveler hang out in a roomful of sweaty drovers and farmers with manure laded boots? At Dills Tavern, locals learned of events from distant towns and shared news and views of the nascent and tumultuous country. It was a place where “you wanna have a whiskey?” was an invitation to linger by the fire, engaged in conversation and a rye whiskey.
After 1800, farm distilleries became less widespread and production more dominated by larger, efficient distillers. The Eichelberger Distillery was no exception. Prior to the purchase of Dills, the Eichelbergers had been tavern keepers and wagon builders, in addition to distillers. These additional assets helped them expand the distillery business and take advantage of the means to transport their rye, corn, barley spirit to distant markets like Baltimore. Economic opportunity for Dillsburg flourished as more grain, wood, distillers, waggoneers and laborers were needed to meet the growing thirst for distilled spirits in America. Between 1810 and 1820 the gallons of distilled spirits consumed in American tripled. No wonder, by 1826, temperance societies appeared in an effort to deal with the drawbacks of a society where the average adult male consumed 5.1 gallons of spirits per year. After the 1820’s, diversification enabled the Eichelbergers to continue to prosper. As Americans cut back on spirits consumption the role of merchant goods transported on return trips from Baltimore became more important.
Today you can still travel to the crossroads of whiskey and history at Eichelberger Distillery at Dills Tavern. You can see, hear, smell, touch, taste and learn about the distilled spirits of your ancestors. All are now invited to visit the 1794 taproom. But be prepared. You won’t find the hurried pace and omnipresent multi-tasking of modern society. Here at the junction of history and whiskey if you “wanna have a whiskey? “pull up a chair by the fire and join the conversation. Whiskey and history take time.