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​                                                                    FROM THE HOLMDEL HISTORICAL SOCIETY FAMILY!


The Maher Family

The first Maher to settle in Holmdel Township was pioneer, Thomas Maher, who arrived at the Port of New York aboard the large wooden sailing ship called Victory, under Captain James Ainsworth, on May 11, 1860.  One of 500 passengers, Thomas Maher was 20 years old and traveled alone.  His destination was New Jersey!

In 1862, Thomas Maher enlisted in Company C of the 25th Regiment of the New Jersey Infantry and served during the Civil War as a Corporal.  He was wounded in battle and received a medical discharge.

After the war, Thomas Maher married Catherine Comerford in 1866 on Christmas Eve.  Both were natives of Kilkenny, Ireland.  They settled into the Holmdel agricultural way of life and began raising a family.

Several generations later, Peter Maher owner of the apple orchards of Hop Brook Farm.  In 1924, the local Red Bank Register reported that The Maher Farm “produced the largest and finest apples in Holmdel”.

By 1930, Peter Maher’s grandson, James M. Maher, was married to Anna and had two daughters, Helen and Doris.  James used an apple press to make apple cider and then learned how to convert the apple cider into Applejack.  Applejack is a strong, alcoholic beverage also known as “Jersey Lightening”.

James Maher’s still operated during the Prohibition Era which lasted 1920-1933 when the sale, manufacture, transportation and consumption of alcohol was against the law.  Bootlegging, or the process of making alcohol, was risky but profitable.  It was a popular pastime for families to make a few bottles of illegal whiskey in their own bathtub for personal consumption, however, Maher was not thinking small.  Maher's 330-gallon copper still was made for large scale opertion, capable of producing probably enough whiskey for the entire town.


Death Certificate of James M. Maher

James & Anna Maher​​

The Maher Whiskey Still

The Maher home was located at 947 Holmdel Road and James Maher built it to accommodate his still.  Access was on the second floor, through his daughter’s bedroom.  Inside his daughter’s closet, an unmarked, moveable panel in the ceiling allowed entrance to the attic.  Metal piping ran from the kitchen through the walls into the attic.

James Maher's youngest daughter, Doris, didn't exactly know what was up in her father's attic until later in life.  She did remember her father telling her at a young age, "Don't let anybody in the house!"  Once as a young girl she peeked around the kitchen corner and watched her father test "a sample of something with a bobber" but she knew better not to ask questions.  When the cork in this glass vial floated, its content was alcohol.


The attic contained James Maher’s 250-gallon copper still with copper lid and heating coils.  The attic also held large, oak storage barrels with corks, drip pans, Rumsey pressure gauge, faucets and a few stoneware gallon jugs and carrying cases.

James Maher designed the horseshoe driveway to run behind his house so customers could drive up, knock on the back kitchen door, buy a few gallons of hooch and drive away without being seen, much like today’s fast food establishments.   Maher’s clever design allowed him to operate undetected.

In 2010, the Estate of Helen Maher donated the copper still to the Holmdel Historical Society.  Members of the Holmdel Historical Society along with the Holmdel Fire Department and others were volunteers to extricate the distillery from the attic. It took them all day!

Maher's Still was a priceless item that represents a little known but incredible side of the history of Holmdel  Maher's Still was an integral part of life on the farms of Holmdel in the day.

250 Gallon Copper Still