Sign In | Create an Account | Welcome, . My Account | Logout | Subscribe | Submit News | Community and features | All Access E-Edition | Home RSS

A Peek at the Past

The Prince who became king of the bootleggers

May 3, 2008
The 1920s was the era of the flapper, jazz and Valentino, but most of all, it was the era of speakeasies and bootleg liquor, and nowhere was that era better characterized than Lock Haven, known at the time as the “Bootleg Capital of the World.”

No one single individual personified that colorful period better than Prince David Farrington, “The King of the Bootleggers.”

Farrington was said to have made the best, purest whiskey known to man. Better, say those that sipped it during his prime, than any liquor made today by the good folks at Jack Daniels or Seagram.

During the difficult Depression years, Farrington is said to have employed nearly every farmer within a 50-mile radius of Williamsport, whom he paid above market value prices for their grain and even more money to store his barrels of whiskey in their barns and beneath their cornfields.

It’s said milkmen delivered jugs of Farrington’s product on their standard milk routes; that most of the area’s law enforcement, regulatory and judicial staff were on his payroll; that film star Roy Rogers once had a trainload of Farrington whiskey sent to Los Angeles for a Hollywood party, the barrel taps dipped in root beer to disguise the odor.

It’s even said that, Elvis-like Prince Farrington sightings continued well after his reported death at a Williamsport hospital in 1956.

Today, Prince Farrington (his real name, by the way) is a genuine folk hero. He’s considered a Robin Hood-type figure because of the tremendous largesse he exhibited locally, where he purchased shoes and food for poor children, a roof for a local church and kept up the mortgages for local families in danger of losing their homes.

In one oft-told example, he heard about a family that had lost their house to a terribly destructive fire. While they stood out in the cold, staring mournfully at the charred remnants of their dreams, a construction team suddenly materialized and began rebuilding the house on the spot. That was followed by a furniture truck, from which every chair, table, bed, lamp and appliance that was needed by the unfortunate family was unloaded into the freshly-built house.

Woodward’s Tammy Farrington grew up hearing all of these stories and more. The manager of Aungst’s Family Restaurant in Mill Hall is the great-niece of Prince Farrington. Her grandfather, Charles Archibald Farrington, was Prince’s brother and partner-in-crime.

Grandpa Charles, according to Tammy, manned the Farrington stills while the well-dressed Prince handled distribution. She spent her early years growing up in Charles Farrington’s home in Lamar, where Prince’s widow, Martha “Mat” White-Farrington, also resided until her death in 1972.

While Prince’s glory days encompassed the prohibition years of 1920 through 1933, he continued to manufacture whiskey until his final days, when the local, state and federal governments were even more stringent about enforcement of liquor violations than during the Roaring ‘20s. The reason? Legal liquor is taxable, and booze made and sold outside the law represents a loss of potential government revenue.

Born in 1960, Tammy Farrington was surrounded by the bootleg culture from an early age, she said.

“There were times when my grandfather would go into the basement for a couple of days at a time,” Tammy said. “We didn’t know where he was. We didn’t see him, but he was down there making his moonshine.”

She says she vividly recalls the tiny woman who married Prince Farrington in the early part of the 20th century and never divorced him, although they lived largely separate lives after his bootlegging career took off.

“Prince’s wife, Martha, was Aunt Mat to me,” she says. “She was just a little frail woman who would drink anything she could get her hands on. I’m talking shaving lotion, anything!”

Alcohol was a constant in the Farringtons’ lives, a fact that led to rampant overindulgence and — Tammy says — alcoholism. Prince himself died of heart failure brought on largely by heavy drinking, according to published reports.

“Mat would take care of my grandmother, if my grandfather had to go to the hospital or something,” Tammy said. “My grandfather would come home and he would say, ‘God ——it, she drank all the shaving lotion, all the witch hazel!’ It took me a long time to realize anything about addiction.”

Often, she said, the elderly Widow Farrington sent her young great-niece on grocery store excursions.

“I used to go to the store for her when I was little girl,” she said, “She’d ask for a bottle of Bayer aspirin, two 16-ounce bottles of Coca-Cola and a quarter pound of Dutch loaf, which I think cost four cents. She would sit on the front porch on a swing and take Bayer aspirin and drink Coca-Cola. I think she took it to get high. If she didn’t take alcohol, I guess she found other sources to feel good, or whatever.”

Mat Farrington’s famous husband was born in Greensboro, N.C., in 1889. He learned the bootlegging trade from his father, and at about age 12 was sent to jail — for the first but not last time — for burning down a neighbor’s barn as an act of revenge against a man who, it was said, had “ratted out” his father.

While incarcerated, he met another prisoner from Salona, who extolled the virtues of central Pennsylvania’s crystal clear and ultra-pure water, perfect for the manufacture of whiskey.

Soon Prince and his family were making their way to Clinton County, where they settled on the Florida Fruit Farm near Loganton. There he began producing peach brandy, applejack and some of the best sour mash whiskey that ever crossed the human palate.

Farrington developed a vast network of stills, ably assisted by locals, who were more than happy to protect him from the authorities. By the end of prohibition he was earning an estimated $2 million a year, much of which he spent, gave away or re-invested in his bootleg endeavors.

Despite his popularity and influence (one official report cites Farrington as bragging that “there is no power in the state of Pennsylvania with sufficient authority to do him harm”), the newspapers of the day were full of attempts to bring Farrington to justice.

His fortunes declined precipitously when prohibition ended, and his dubious career took its worst hit on Sunday, Aug. 25, 1946, when authorities conducted the legendary “last raid” on a still on Tangascoootack Creek. Prince was caught red-handed and taken to Lewisburg, where a friend posted the $1,500 bail and the greatly-diminished bootlegger fled the state.

Five years later, in 1951, he was tracked to Florida, where he was arrested and served about two years in prison before health considerations brought about his parole.

There was a time, however, after liquor was legalized, that Prince had thought about going legit. According to his great-niece, he considered purchasing a local brewery, but gave up that notion fairly quickly.

“I had heard that Prince had tried to buy the brewery over in Lockport and the government wanted him to patent his whiskey in order for him to open the brewery,” Tammy Farrington said. “And he wouldn’t do it. He would not take a patent. So he just continued making whiskey on his own.”

Through the 1960s, the Farringtons continued to make bootleg whiskey, despite near-constant surveillance by government authorities, Tammy said.

“I was probably 3 years old, and revenuers pulled up in black cars and black suits,” she said. “They asked me where my daddy and my pappy were. And I said, ‘They’re in the basement making apple butter.’ That was evidently what they had told me when they went down to the basement, so I passed it along to these revenuers who came looking for them!”

Today Prince, Charles and Martha Farrington have all long since gone to their reward (unless one believes the persistent rumors of Prince’s alleged re-appearances), as have many of their children, including Gladys Farrington-Porter, Prince Farrington’s oldest daughter and the torch-bearer of the Prince Farrington legacy. She brought Prince back home to Jersey Shore at the end of his life, where he sipped his last drink before being admitted to Williamsport Hospital.

“Gladys Porter was Mat’s daughter, a very, very funny lady,” Tammy Farrington said. “She lived in Jersey Shore on their homestead, which is now the Gamble Farm Inn. I can remember them coming to our house in Lamar and drinking.

“They would drink moonshine and then pass a bottle of Early Times whiskey as a chaser. They used to sit and play the ukulele, banjo and guitar on the back steps to the kitchen. As kids we were very interested.”

While Tammy Farrington is proud of her family history, and the rogues that populate it, she says some of her relatives are a bit embarrassed by their association with one of the world’s most famous bootleggers.

And, she admits readily, there is a dark side to the family legend: Many of the Farrington clan developed serious drinking problems. In fact, she had her own past battles with alcohol.

But if the Prince Farrington legend lives on in the local imagination, it’s largely because of the folk hero’s genuine altruism, which kept food in the mouths and roofs over the heads of so many families.

One story that bears repeating involves his donation of $400 to replace the roof of a church in Sugar Valley. When parishioners finished the project at a cost of only $200, they tried to return the balance to Prince. He refused to take it, advising them to give the money to the church reverend.

The good reverend mulled over the offer from the millionaire bootlegger and finally decided to accept his largesse, saying, “God needs it more than Prince Farrington does.”

Article Photos

Because bootlegging was a necessarily secret endeavor, the locations and names of the stills and still-workers were similarly secret. The images above are known to come from a Prince Farrington bootlegging “camp” near McElhattan, and are part of a collection on display at the Restless Oaks restaurant there.



I am looking for:
News, Blogs & Events Web