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Winery was one of Thorsby’s first industries

By Scott Mims

One of the biggest stories in Thorsby has been the recent majority vote by citizens to legalize the sale of alcoholic beverages. But what many residents may not know is that a winery once operated in the town.

According to historical records, old newspaper articles and the collective memory of longtime residents, the Thorsby Winery Company was the second industry in Thorsby, the first being the sawmill where logs were cut to build the town’s first businesses and homes.

Local historian Glenn Littleton said Thorsby’s founders first touted the land as ideal for growing multiple crops, including grapes and other fruit crops.

“That’s what they were pushing,” Littleton said, noting that the word “vineyard” was used as opposed to “lots” when property was advertised.

Circa 1895, founders T.T. Thorson and John F. Peterson organized the Concordia Land Company in the area that is now Thorsby. They purchased about 2,200 acres, laid the land off in 10-acre plots and advertised it to their northern neighbors. Many made the trip on the L&N Railroad and decided to stay and make their lives here. This information was included in an article written by the late Marietta Bice, a writer for the Union Banner and Central Alabama Independent Advertiser.

Bice describes the different varieties of grapes that were grown and sold to the Thorsby Winery Company, as well as their other uses:

“The fast growing, and heavy producers, were concord and morse early. Both of the blue variety. Many farmers planted and produced in abundance, the white Niagara and Diamond White; the Luty, a sweet tasting pink and a small sized red sweet; and the Delaware.

“The early settlers never wasted any of their crops, and the grapes which were not used in the winery were made up into delicious jams and jellies.”

According to Littleton, the property for the winery was purchased on Jan. 15, 1901 from the Concordia Land and Improvement Association by the Alabama Winery Company. Littleton found this fact in record book 52, page 552 in the Chilton County Probate Office.

The winery was located near the corner of Chilton Street and Montgomery Avenue, out from what is now the right field area of the high school baseball field. Littleton said remnants of the building’s foundation have been found, as well as other indicators.

It was once advertised in a local paper for people to fill in a pit, which was formerly the basement of the winery company, with garbage. This activity later ceased, and plans were made to turn the property into a water garden, but this never took place.

“Everything in the world washed out of that bank — old bottles,” Littleton said.

He also found an old city ordinance that outlawed peach trees and grapes because of disease.

“I’m guessing it was short lived, because there were advertisements for peach trees a couple of years later,” he said.

Prohibition meant the end of Thorsby’s wine industry, but the growing of grapes continued long after the business was shut down. Longtime resident Jane Sutlive said her mother used to make grape juice. She also remembers seeing old jugs and wine bottles in the cellar of her family home, but they were never used.

“We definitely did not drink it,” she said.

Sutlive said if it were not for people like Bice who recorded much of Thorsby’s history, much of it would likely be lost.

“We have her to thank for having a lot of our history saved,” Sutlive said.