Pine Hill spirits

By on March 25, 2015

History of the Becker Distillery

Whiskey from the Becker Distillery, once located along Pine Hill Road in Warwick Township, was transported in Conestoga wagons to Delaware for mass distribution in the 19th century. The still house was razed in the early 1980s. (photos courtesy of the Becker family)

With the recent popularity of whiskey, both locally and nationally, I thought I would use this month’s historical vignette to discuss one of the Lititz area’s lesser-known but important distilleries, the Becker Distillery.

The story of the Becker family of Pine Hill begins about 1737, when Valentine Becker and his three brothers arrived in America from Germany on the ship “Betsy.” They eventually settled on a tract of land in Warwick Township northeast of downtown Lititz, surveyed and deeded to Valentine by Thomas and Richard Penn.

Flash forward to Sept. 18, 1817, when a license was applied for by Valentine’s grandson Henry Becker to manufacture spirits via a 151-gallon still for a period of 30 days. The equipment which was used to create this whiskey was said to be the largest in the area. The whiskey retailed for 25 to 30 cents per gallon, with 18 cents per gallon going to the federal government for taxes.

The “still house” where the whiskey was manufactured was located along what is now Pine Hill Road, just across from the family homestead. When the product was ready, the whiskey was shipped in “hogsheads” (very similar to a barrel) and transported via Conestoga wagons to a port in Delaware, eventually being sold to taverns near and far for customer consumption. Due to the amount sold at any given time, Becker’s whiskey never existed in bottle form; rather, their product was poured into “house” bottles and sold to thirsty and weary travelers by an innkeeper.

Henry Becker's 1817 license to operate a whiskey distillery in Pine Hill (Warwick Township).

Henry Becker’s 1817 license to operate a whiskey distillery in Pine Hill (Warwick Township).

In 1865, a gentleman from Womelsdorf, Berks County, placed an order for 500 gallons at a price of $2.15 per gallon. It is not clear if this enormous amount of product was for personal use, or if he owned a tavern. Either way, that must have been some party.

A patent was eventually applied for by Becker on Jan. 23, 1834, for advancements in the distilling apparatus. The patent detailed five new improvements in speed, heating and economy, among others.

Unfortunately, the patent office which received the application burned down during the review process, and by the time Becker reapplied, another distiller had applied for and was granted this patent. It was a sad day for the village of Pine Hill.

Operating for a total of 56 years, the Becker Distillery was last run by Israel Becker in 1873. After business ceased, the building that housed the still served as a tobacco barn for many years, before being torn down in the early 1980s.

The Becker homestead, containing more than 90 acres and located at 1150 Pine Hill Road, was passed down from one generation to the next for more than 200 years. Many will remember it as “The Bicentennial Farm” of Pine Hill, with its spring gushing fresh water along the side of the road. The property actually contained several springs, which no doubt came in handy for the manufacturing of whiskey.

Although the farm was sold to a new family a few years ago, Valentine, along with other members of the Becker ancestry, are buried on the hill across from the family home, in the Becker family cemetery.

Cory Van Brookhoven is the president of the Lititz Historical Foundation and a freelance feature writer for the Record Express. He welcomes reader feedback at coryvb@hotmail.com. 

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