Anderson County wouldn’t be what it is today if it wasn’t for a number of important residents changing the county throughout history. In a first of a series, we will be exploring the men and women who shaped Anderson County, starting with the county’s, state’s, and maybe even nation’s most successful bourbon distiller from the late 1800’s, Thomas Beebe Ripy.
Thomas was born to parents James Ripy and Artemesia Walker. James emigrated to America in the 1830’s from the county of Tyrone in Ireland and Artemesia was a native Kentuckian from a prominent family. Thomas would be born on August 25th, 1847.
After moving to Anderson County when Thomas was only eight years old, his father James opened a mercantile business. Some years later, James, along with a few others, bought a distillery out in what is today’s Tyrone on the banks of the Kentucky River.
During that time, Thomas attended the Lawrenceburg Seminary as well as the Kentucky Military Institute in Frankfort for a short while but found that he preferred to go into business like his father. At the young age of just 21, he partnered with W. H. McBrayer and bought out the distillery his father partly owned.
In mere months, he bought out McBrayer’s portion and renamed the distillery, “T. B. Ripy Cliff Springs Distilling Company.” In a few years after buying full ownership, he tore down the old distillery and rebuilt it, making it larger.
His notoriety in the area grew, and he was able to give that region of the county a name in honor of where his family roots originated. Naming it Tyrone after the county Tyrone in Ireland, Thomas was far from done making his mark on Anderson County.
In 1881, he partnered with WJ Waterfill and the Dowling brothers to build another distillery in Tyrone. Right at the mouth of Bailey’s Run into the Kentucky River, they built the Clover Bottom distillery. And in just three years, he again bought out his partners, leaving him owning two large distilleries in the county.
Thomas’ fame and fortune were well known. In addition to distilleries, he owned other businesses and over $100,000 ($2.5 million today) worth of real estate in Louisville in 1889. He also employed 10% of the population of Anderson County.
His fortunes would lead him to build one of the largest houses in the county which still stands on South Main Street. The house was completed in 1888 and had many modern features unheard of at the time.
In addition to owning Cliff Springs and Clover Bottom distilleries, he would also for a short time own the original Old Joe distillery on Gilbert’s Creek and the Belle of Anderson distillery. From all his work, he became the state’s top producing distiller and has been claimed to be the nation’s top producer at the time.
Although passing away in 1902, his children would continue the bourbon distilling legacy. After Prohibition decimated the bourbon industry, they would be instrumental in rebuilding the distillery in Tyrone into what is now known as Wild Turkey.