FRANKLIN COUNTY, Va. – We first introduced you to moonshiners in Franklin County in early April.
Now, we will take a deeper look at moonshine operations and where locals could get a drink without the fear of the law enforcement raids during prohibition.
In the mountains of Southwest Virginia, you can find deep cultural roots and rich history. And in Franklin County, there is a deep history of moonshine.
“It was a way of life. It was how a lot of people kept their families fed, kept roofs on schools and on churches,” said Linda Stanley, with the Franklin County Historical Society. “About the only thing, really, that moonshiners did wrong was not pay taxes on the alcoholic beverages because they did not have a license.”
And Stanley knows a lot about the history of the moonshine in Franklin County, from the good and not-so-good.
“Now, I’m not saying they didn’t shoot ‘em up and they didn’t beat each other up and they didn’t have thieves and that sort of thing. But basically, they were good people.”
Good people looking to have a good time when moonshine was prohibited in Southwest Virginia. To drink moonshine and not get caught with the law, there were several speakeasy locations or as they call it, tearooms.
“Particularly, in Franklin County, you had tearooms. So you went in out and in the front — like the country club out on north Main Street — you went in the front, and you could get a hamburger or coca-cola. But if you wanted something a little bit stronger, you winked at the waitress and you went in the back,” Stanley said.
Stanley said they’ve located 14 tearooms in Franklin County.
One is covered in shrubs not too far from Rocky Mount, and at a spot in Rocky Mount, there’s another that is no longer there.
While folks could enjoy prohibited liquor at tea rooms without concerns of the law, moonshiners had to learn how to finesses to make sure they also weren’t caught.
“Make it a little dough, like bread,” said Henry Lee Law, a third-generation moonshiner.
They have a technique that ensures the alcohol doesn’t get messed up.
“I think we got it. You just capped your first one, and then we would do that all the way down, and when the steam catches, it cooks real hard and it will not leak,” Law said.
Law said he got a thrill out of it, especially after getting away from the law.
“The first time I got ran, the officer came around and grabbed me by the neck and grabbed my partner around the neck, both of us at the same time. We wrestled around for a few seconds. I broke loose. My buddy was on the ground. He caught my buddy and I got away, and I’m like, ‘Wow man, what a rush,’” Law said. “You could have lost $3,000 to $4,000, but you got away. ”
Law said those types of interactions with the law continued throughout the early parts of his moonshine career in the 1970s.
Deep in the woods of Franklin County, police would raid moonshine rings or locations by destroying the subs where moonshine was made with axes, or some law enforcement would seize the moonshine and cast it away.
Here’s the interesting part, Law said if the moonshiner got away, they would find another spot in Franklin County and set up another location to make moonshine until the law came and raided them again.
It was a cycle and Law said to avoid getting caught, he learned some techniques.
“They set that raid up where they have a jump man. That jump man would come in by himself. His goal was to catch you at the steel site or run you down away from him. The natural thing to do is run when there is danger. So, if you run away from the jump man for about 100 yards there would be 10 -15 men out there in a half-moon, you’re caught. What I figured out early in the game was to go back around the way the jump man came,” Law said.
Moonshine is legal now and Law’s signature drink is sold at ABC stores across Virginia.
His goal now is to preserve the history of moonshine — the good and the bad.
Law’s father Amos had moonshine rings that produced 500,000 gallons.
Now since the popularity of moonshine is rising, Law wants to make sure people know that moonshiners had to be very smart to build steel subs to make the drink.
“All moonshiners were hard workers,” Law said.