Stone Mountain State Park, 14,472 acres of lush woodland concealing bountiful trout streams fed by gorgeous waterfalls and winding creeks, straddles Alleghany and Wilkes counties in North Carolina’s northwest mountains.
Today, the park is located 60 miles northwest of Winston-Salem in Roaring Gap, N.C., providing a serene place for those who wish to enjoy nature’s bounty through hiking, camping, or horseback riding. It’s home to a 600-foot granite dome that possesses a National Natural Landmark designation, and it allows visitors to view the historic Hutchinson Homestead, a restored mid-19th Century farm.
However, soon after World War II ended and during the 1950s those freshwater creeks tucked away in the mountains’ tree-covered valleys and coves camouflaged a moonshine factory. The rugged terrain wasn’t conducive to farming, but the creeks’ pristine water was ideal for making illegal corn liquor and stills were easy to hide in the hills. Thousands of gallons were produced weekly with part of it shipped to Chicago and the remainder moved south to Charlotte.
Rough, dirt roads that wound through the mountains towards the Blue Ridge Parkway were used to transport the moonshine from the stills to the highway. A retired revenuer once told Stone Mountain State Park Superintendent Jeffrey Jones that the treacherous roads often provided an escape route for the bootleggers since federal agents didn’t possess the vehicles needed to negotiate them.
Bill Hilyer, Joe Mikey, and Dick Cooley have discovered nearly 200 still sites while hiking in the park during the last two decades. About a dozen stills of those they found never incurred a revenuer’s wrath in the desolate country.
Many small still sites were discovered along the numerous creeks, while the larger ones sat on a hillside or atop a ridge. The large ones were equipped with pumps that transported water from a nearby creek to a 1,000-gallon moonshine manufacturing tank.
Perhaps the most intriguing moonshine operation the group has discovered consists of eight 1,000-gallon tanks sitting in a line. About 25 to 30 of the large tanks have been discovered, but most of the stills found in the park were constructed of barrels welded on top of each other. Those barrels could produce only 50 to 60 gallons of mash.
The stills lie abandoned on the hillsides, rusting away, a relic of a bygone era when manufacturing moonshine was the best way to financially support one’s family. One former moonshiner told Hilyer that in the 1950s he would make $6,000 to $8,000 a week running the illegal liquor.
Not only was bootlegging a lucrative profession, but during the Great Depression, a moonshiner never had to worry about his family’s well-being if he was sent to prison. The person to whom the moonshiner supplied the illegal booze provided for his family until he was released and could resume his business.
Hilyer notes that the length of the sentence was in accordance with the bootlegger’s arrest record. A person’s first offense for hauling moonshine in Wilkes County was a year and one day. The one day was assessed so the person could be released early for good behavior. Anything a year or less in North Carolina meant a person must serve the entire sentence. A second offense signaled a trip to federal prison.
“They were very law-abiding people, except they needed some way to make money, so they ran off some liquor,” Hilyer says. “I say they were law-abiding -- and we heard this story from both sides (moonshiner and revenuer) -- if a revenuer came up and he saw a moonshiner the moonshiner would take off running. The revenuer would run after him. If the revenuer touched him, the moonshiner was considered caught. They would then actually walk back to the police car without handcuffs or anything else.”
Hilyer notes it was the second-generation moonshiner that carried firearms and engaged in shootouts with the federal agents sent to destroy the corn liquor.
It wasn’t uncommon for the revenuers to set up ambush sites where they would lie in wait for a truck transporting moonshine, and the three men have found remnants of those locations. Axes scattered on the ground, as well as destroyed jerrycans, once filled with five gallons of the non-taxed white liquor remain in the woods.
The early stills were wood-fired before the moonshiners switched to coke and coal. However, the coal created a tremendous amount of smoke, making it easier for the revenuers to find. When the moonshiners switched to gasoline to power the stills, they transported the fuel in five-gallon containers and then used the jerrycans to move the liquor to the distributors.
By the early 1960s, revenuers were flying planes over the area in their efforts to locate the stills and with that tactic, the industry was eliminated from the sprawling mountains by the mid-1960s. In 1969, Stone Mountain State Park was created with about 2,000 acres. Since then, the park has increased in size as private landowners sold their adjacent property to it. A portion of the Mountains-to-Sea State Trail runs through the park near the backcountry campsites.
- Contributed by Deb Williams