Mine Number 5 - Distillery -
Cahokia Township Macoupin County Illinois
compiled by Frank Masters 28 Nov 2012
The late 1800’s brought a “black-gold rush” of prosperity to the area with the opening of many underground coal mines. Where prosperity leads, vice will follow. Benld was no exception in it’s heyday. The town has quite a “colorful” history.
Throughout Prohibition in the 1920’s, a bootleg distillery was operated about one mile east of Benld, allegedly by Al Capone’s crime sydicate. This was no “Bubba still”. This was more of a booze factory, with a reported output of around 2,000 gallons per day (~1/2 Million gals/yr), which dominated the underground liquor market throughout Madison, Montgomery, Sangamon, and Macoupin counties. The still was located in a remote, wooded area about 300’ from the Cahokia Creek, which served as the plant’s water supply. To disguise the still, the bootleggers fasioned it’s exterior to resemble a typical coal mine tipple. As the area did four actual coal mines operating at the time, named “No. 1 Mine”, “No. 2 Mine”, etc, the local folks jokingly refered to the still as the “No. 5 Mine”. By some reports, the height of the still’s “tipple” was three times that of a real coal mine’s. Ben and Dominic Tarro opened Tarro Brothers Grocery in 1919, and soon got into the business of selling sugar and yeast to the gangsters operating area stills, especially the “No. 5 Mine” still, which bought by the railroad boxcar. The Tarro brothers also owned and operated the Coliseum Ballroom in Benld. The Coliseum has a rich history of top-name contemporary bands, and gangster patronage. In October of 1929, Dominic Tarro was indicted for supplying liquor-making supplies to bootleggers. In May of the next year, Tarro’s body was found in the Sangamon River tied to cement blocks with barbed wire, allegedly murdered by gangsters. One story says Capone caught him cheating on the sugar deals for the still. Another supposes the gang suspected that Tarro had turned State’s witness against them. One day, federal agent Captain W.B. Murry discovered the still and it was promptly destroyed by court order, but not before a federal agent accidentally fell into one of it’s two 50,000 gallon vats.
The following is some related information and details pertaining to the No. 5 Mine Still…
Location of No. 5 Mine Still
Location is between Sawyerville and Benld, about one mile east. Route 4, shown on the map, approximates the trace of Route-66.
The still is located alongside of a gully leading to the Cahokia Creek, about 300’ due east. A pipeline from the still to the creek supplied water to the still.
The following picture was taken from the remains of the still, looking east down toward the Cahokia Creek valley.
This is an areal photo showing the still location.
Following are period photos of the No. 5 Mine Still, and the accompanying newspaper captions. Note the reference to the two 50,000 gallon vats. Note too the gully venue, and the tipple-like structure. The website source(s) are also cited.
The following article mentions the still, boxcar-loads of sugar, Tarro, and Capone. I located the remains of the still based largely on this article’s reference to “DeMartini’s pond”. The DeMartini family still operates farms in the immediate area of the still. Steve DeMartini took me to the site of the still’s remains. The still property owned by the grandson of the man who owned it during the still’s operation, both men’s last name is Savio (the latter now lives in Florida).
More information from Daryl Butcher here:
The following photos were taken by me (Frank Masters) on 11-26-12 showing the actual remains of the No.5 Mine still (raised by court order soon after discovery by federal agents).
The only remains are what appear to be basement walls cut into, and built up from, the adjoining gully embankment. However, these may not be basement remains at all. They may be the two 50,000 gallon vats, likely raw material (ie, sugar) storage vats (the sugar was likely liquid corn syrup), mentioned in a photo caption cited earlier above (the liquor was stored in the “four giant barren-like containers” , which the accompanying period photo appeared to be horizontal, cylinder-shaped vessels). Indeed, there were only two, roughly square basement wall-like remains (the caption mentioned two “units”). At 0.133 cubic feet per gallon, 50,000 gallons would be about 6,700 cubic feet of storage space, or about 20’ by 20’ by 20’…which is roughly the dimensions of each of the two units’ remains. Another, third remain, located nearby the still’s, was said by Mr. DeMartini to have been the home of landowner Savio (no picture taken of that remain).
This first photo is of the only metal thing I found among any of the remains. It is the threaded end of a two and one-half inch pipe, very neatly embedded into a “deliberate-looking”column of concrete. When asked why I was photographing a rusty old pipe, I told DeMartini it was odd that no other metal is here…”besides Steve, where’s your imagination? This could have been the business end of this operation”.
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