Moonshine. White Lightning. Mountain Dew. Whatever you call it, illegally distilled whiskey was once a major industry in Northern Florida. In the prohibition era moonshining was common, of course, as either making it illegally or importing it clandestinely (rum running was also popular in Florida in the 1920's) was the only way to get alcoholic beverages. But even after prohibition was repealed by the 21st Amendment in 1933, moonshining remained; some customers had grown a taste for it, while others preferred the lower cost of the unlicensed, untaxed product.
Lost tax revenue was the main reason United States Treasury Agents, disparaged as "revenooers", pursued and broke up moonshining operations. State Beverage Control agents and the local police were also often on the moonshiner's trail, driving the trade into sparsely populated and difficult to access areas like the swamps and barrier islands near Saint Augustine, which made an ideal place to hide an illegal still. Moonshining was so prevalent in that area that a single anti-moonshining operation in the late 1950's and early 1960's in Northern Florida was responsible for the destruction of about ninety stills.
Although still practiced even today, moonshining in Northern Florida hit a peak in the 1950's, and it was in the mid-fifties that an attraction dedicated to the business operated: St. Augustine's Moonshine Still exhibit. Here the tourist could see "real moonshine stills in their natural wooded sites as captured by revenue agents." Given the number of stills the authorities were capturing in those days they no doubt had a surplus (most stills were destroyed on site so they couldn't be used again, of course, but at this attraction they did not, and probably no longer could, operate.) The attraction was located about five miles south of St. Augustine on A1A.
Moonshining entered popular culture as a standard trope of "hillbilly humor" as practiced in comic strips like Li'L Abner and Snuffy Smith (note the stereotypical hillbillies depicted on the attraction's signs). Moonshine was also featured in film comedy, from Fatty Arbuckle and Buster Keaton's Moonshine (1918), to the Ritz Brothers in Kentucky Moonshine (1938), to Abbott and Costello in Comin’ Round the Mountain (1951), and also featured prominently and more dramatically in movies like The Shepherd of the Hills (1941) and Thunder Road (1958).
Note: the attractions profiled on this site are no longer in business.
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Postcard image from the author's collection.
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