When walking the trail of the , my neighbor and fellow Patch writer Julie Foster, spotted some scrap metal off the beaten path in an interesting formation.
Could it be just a pile of discarded trash? Her curiosity got the best of her and she emailed her favorite local historian with her ponderings and then quickly goggled this question, “Are there still relics of moon shine stills to be found in the back woods of rural or urban America?”
“Awesome,” is what I told her (me being her favorite local historian), “But I can’t answer that!”
After some combined research here’s what we came up with.
Apparently there are some telltale signs, clues if you will, that indicate that you have indeed stumbled upon the site of Prohibition Era corn mash still and not some pile of dumped garbage.
One way is to look closely at the pile of rusting metal and bits of wood for some broken glass mason type jars. Are there visible axe marks on the metal? This would have been a result of police chopping the stills apart. Another thing to keep in mind is that although stills operated with copper piping most of that type of precious metals would long have been scrapped for cash or confiscated by law officers. The Simpsonwood discovery of circular metal rings seems to have slash mark that would fit clue number one!
Another thing is to see how closely the abandoned site is located to water. Bubbling, hot liquor vapors need cool water to condense it into moonshine. The worm, or condenser, will boil otherwise. This pile in the retreat area is not only close to the creek but within walking distance over the clear crisp waters of the Chattahoochee River as well. Clue two, check!
Clue number three: Are there rocks or cinder blocks placed in a "U" shape that would have at the time of production surround the furnace, a cozy arrangement to protect the boiler from setting the woods on fire and also a acting as a clever way to contain the heat. Did you find a piece of sheet metal that has hundreds of nails along the edges, then that is most likely a still. If you find bits of wood or boards still attached then that is even more proof that you’ve found a moonshine still.
The final clue is an interview. Are there tales from the days of shine? Yes, Norcross and the surrounding area boast notable stories of whiskey waterfalls, mountain runners and . Also, first-hand accounts from old timers and their descendants recall riding into the retreat area to pick up a jar or two of the corn mash in case of snake bite or a touch of the rheumatism.
The demand for hooch, white lightning, corn mash whiskey or fire water during the time of Prohibition, 1923 to 1933, was great. Combined with the large corn farm fields here in Norcross, there's a high probability this little apparent dump area of scrap metal is truly an abandoned still.
During those days many old timers recall harvest parties on the neighboring farms that stretched acre after acre in this now-developed area. Some remember they would last for days on end with property owners inviting everyone in town to sip of corn mash whiskey from mason jars, scoop piping hot Brunswick stew cooking for days in big iron pots and sampling fresh corn bread muffins.
The party topped off by ladies and men and boys and girls all dancing to the tunes of fiddlers and harmonica blowers. Affluent neighbors, including judges and Councilmen, as well as the mayor and even the sheriff, joined in the merriment along with the dirt farmers at each October festival, getting pretty drunk, all be it illegally, among the drying fields of eye-high corn stalks. What a time it must have been!
Hikers be aware, boiling moonshine whiskey is said to smell like corn bread cooking. So, next time you round the two-mile trek through the woodsy trail of Simpsonwood Retreat, truly a walk back into history, if you smell that corny sweet smell… it may be wise to have your canteen or flask at the ready!
About this column: Sally Toole is a local author and historian who runs History Walks of Norcross.