Hancock County, MS – “Moonshine Capital of the World”
In the early 1900’s, bootleggers worked the woods around Hancock County. Specifically, Kiln, MS now an unincorporated community located approximately 15 miles off the beach of Bay St. Louis and approximately 50 miles northeast of New Orleans, was a hot spot for illegal whiskey stills and bootleg liquor coming into the U.S. during prohibition.
Kiln takes its name from the many kilns once found in the area. These kilns served the timber industry; they produced naval stores such as tar, which were shipped by schooner to New Orleans to be used for caulking ships.
The sawmill era began around the time of the American Civil War, when a sawmill was built on the Jordon River by Samuel L. Favre from Mobile, AL – ancestor to Kiln native and Southern Miss/Green Bay Paker Hall-of-Fame QB Brett Favre.
The Great Depression hit the Kiln hard combined with the depletion of lumber in the area. The Kiln lost its hotel, hospital, and railroad. The residents who stayed in the area found they could eek out a living by distilling illegal whiskey. The production of whiskey became big business in the Kiln after Mississippi passed a state-wide prohibition act in 1908. Being an existing source and also because of its high quality, Kiln moonshiners could sell all they could make to New Orleans and eventually further points north and east. At the height of moonshine popularity in the 1920’s, there were at least 50 moonshine stills operating in central and north Hancock County.
When New Orleans and Chicago gangsters came to Kiln to purchase moonshine, they discovered other benefits to doing business in Hancock County – nearby direct railroad lines to Chicago and the Jordon River. Imported foreign liquor was smuggled from ships anchored beyond the ten-mile U.S. territorial limit. Al Capone purchased a fleet of “rum runners” to pickup the awaiting liquor and then dash into the Bay of St. Louis and up the Jordon River.
Hancock County became known as the top producer of moonshine whiskey in the U.S. and the top importer of smuggled foreign liquor on the U.S. Gulf Coast – a reputation some say still warranted today!