It’s easy to imagine John A. Allan, James A. Doherty and Andrew P. Gavin raising glasses to toast the first bottle of Aldovin Apple Brandy filled at their Old Sam Distillery in February of 1935.
The three friends, golfing and drinking buddies, were born in the 19th century. Yet here in the 21st, their legacies endure.
Allan has his name on one of the top amateur golf tournaments in NEPA, the John A. Allan Memorial Member-Guest at Fox Hill in Exeter. James A. Doherty was the father of James Doherty, the president of Scranton City Council from 1964 to 1980, and the grandfather of Chris Doherty, the mayor of Scranton from 2002-2014. Gavin’s son Andy Gavin, who died earlier this year at 91, founded the iconic Scranton bar Andy Gavin’s.
But the men left another legacy in a village named for them in Lemon Township, Wyoming County, about six miles north of Tunkhannock off Route 29.
It was there they established the Old Sam Distillery, where they made Aldovin Brandy, naming it after themselves with the “Al” for Allan, the “do” for Doherty and the “vin” for Gavin.
It isn’t clear if the men intended to also name the area around their distillery Aldovin, but the name stuck, even though the distillery lasted only five years and even though Aldovin is nothing more than a handful of houses and a few businesses in a small, ill-defined section of Lemon Township between James Ace and Aldovin roads off Route 29.
Allan, Doherty and Gavin were wealthy men. Among other businesses, they all had liquor, wine and beer interests before prohibition made alcohol illegal in 1919. Allan was one-third owner of the Glennon Brewery in Pittston. Doherty was the president of Gold Seal, a wine distribution company and Gavin owned a wholesale liquor distributorship on Chestnut Street in Dunmore.
The elder Gavin wasn’t shy about flashing his wealth. He drove Cadillacs, wore diamond studded cuff links and $240 suits, the equivalent of $2,000 today, tailor-made by Mosher of Scranton. When he married Mary Murphy, his second wife and Andy’s mother, in 1925 he took her to Cuba for their honeymoon.
In an interview a couple months before he died, Andy Gavin, who was born in 1926, said his father made $100,000 bootlegging during prohibition.
Prohibition ended in December of 1933, and Allan, Doherty and Gavin filed articles of incorporation with the state for a distillery in Lemon early in 1934. Doherty was listed as president, Allan vice president and Gavin treasurer. A fourth man, of whom little is known, Thomas V. Judge of New York City, was listed as secretary.
The business was capitalized with $100,000. The distillery was likely named as a dig at the prohibitionists and homage to Sam McFee of the Old Sam Distillery in Kentucky, who famously hung himself during prohibition.
The Aldovin boys chose a perfect spot to distill Aldovin Apple Brandy. Lake Carey, where Gavin and Allan had homes, is only a couple miles away. An existing building, a former creamery, was easy to refit. A pipeline connected the distillery to an artesian well about a quarter of a mile away. A railroad siding ran to the property and there were lots of apples on several surrounding orchards.
Old Sam ran large ads in the Tunkhannock newspaper reading “WILL PAY 50c per 100 for Cider Apples Delivered to the Old Sam Distilling Co. ALDOVIN, PA.”
They hired Fred Cagle as foreman and 10 men to work under him. The distillery had a 1,200 gallon-a-day capacity. Aldovin Apple Brandy was 90 proof. It retailed in Pennsylvania State Stores for $1.05 a pint and $2 a quart.
Among the farms that sold apples to Old Sam was the Brown Hill Farm. Though the farm no longer has an orchard, it is still a working farm with a history six generations deep. The patriarch today is Phil Brown. He and his wife own 600 acres in and around the Aldovin area. His mother is 94 and one of the only local residents who was alive when the distillery operated. She said her brother worked at the distillery and she remembers Old Sam made rye whiskey in the winter.
Old Sam lasted only four years. The first blow was the death of its president, James Doherty in 1937. He was 53.
The distillery’s secretary, Thomas Judge from New York, sued Allan and Gavin in 1938, alleging they let the distillery go to a sheriff’s sale and then bought it back for $1,500, when it’s actual value was $50,000.
The impending war was the deathblow to Old Sam.
A firm called Old Clover Distillery bought it in 1941 to distill alcohol from corn, barley and wheat for explosives and fuel for the defense department.
In 1942, a dairy opened near the distillery and took the name Aldovin Dairy. The dairy was a large operation, buying milk from 400 farms in three counties and becoming the headquarters of the Eastern Milk Producers. It operated until bankruptcy in the 1980s.
Allan died in 1946. Gavin was in his mid-90s when he died in 1969.
Local residents still refer to the area around the distillery and dairy sites as Aldovin. The name pops up in obituaries and wedding announcements and gets a pin drop on Google Maps.
Donnie Allan is the grandson of John A. Allan.
When asked if he recalls hearing any family stories about the Old Sam Distillery and Aldovin Brandy, he said with a laugh, “Only this: if you got stopped by the police going up or down 29, you gave him a bottle of brandy.”