Headquartered in the Brooklyn waterfront neighborhood of Red Hook, the Widow Jane Distillery bottles small-batch artisanal bourbons and ryes using non-GMO grains, including a custom-bred corn varietal that president and head distiller Lisa Wicker dubbed Baby Jane. The heirloom bourbon distilled from it won Best Bourbon under Two Years Old at the New York Distilled Spirits Competition and Best in Show at the Great American International Spirits Competition in 2018. But the true secret ingredient in all of the distillery’s products is the “hard-yet-sweet” limestone mineral water used in proofing, sourced in one of Rosendale’s many caves that were carved out during the town’s cement-mining heyday.
The company takes its name from the most publicly accessible of these caverns, the Widow Jane Mine, which is located on the grounds of the Snyder Estate on Route 213, also home to the Century House Historical Society (CHHS) museum. Named for Jane LeFevre Snyder (1820-1904), the Widow Jane Mine has long been a favored site for concerts – taiko drumming troupes, gamelan orchestras and Andean music ensembles are regular performers – as well as movie shoots and private parties, and rental fees are an important income stream for CHHS. But like many small not-for-profit cultural organizations, it sometimes struggles to make ends meet. In late 2018 a GoFundMe campaign was needed to repair the site’s iron gates, shaped like the iconic profile of the Brooklyn Bridge, which was built using Rosendale cement.
As it happened, among the donors to that campaign was Robert Furniss-Roe, co-owner of the Widow Jane Distillery’s parent company, Samson & Surrey. Now that support for CHHS has been taken to a new level: Last week Wicker and CHHS director Althea Werner announced a partnership in which the Distillery commits to make an annual contribution to support the Society in its mission to preserve and present the history of Rosendale and the Hudson Valley’s renowned cement industry, transportation links, businesses and, most importantly, the people who lived and worked in the area. Widow Jane will support the refurbishment of an exhibit within the Century House’s on-site museum, and the two entities will co-host an annual celebration of local history to be held in the Widow Jane Mine and the surrounding picnic grounds (once people can safely congregate again, of course).
“For over a century, natural cement from Rosendale was used to build America,” said Werner. “Thousands of families lived here, worked and sacrificed in these mines for generations producing the building material that helped construct American landmarks as well as many of the everyday structures in New York and worldwide. The history and contributions made by the miners and their families to America are too important to let time erase. Our partnership with Widow Jane Distillery will help preserve this history for future generations while recognizing the newest industry to come to Rosendale.”
Wicker cited the “shared roll-up-your-sleeves, DIY sensibility that unites the communities of Rosendale and Red Hook, Brooklyn. We’re proud to support the tireless, entirely volunteer team who maintain the Estate and Mines, keep that history alive and protect that precious water.”