Panloa Mountain’s Surprising History Of Moonshining

Before it was a State Park and National Natural Landmark, some locals used the remoteness of Panola Mountain to make moonshine.

Panola Mountain State Park is known for its pristine environment, diamorpha and daisy blooms and—moonshine? It’s true. Around Panola Mountain today lie the rocky and rusted remains of what would’ve been several moonshining operations.

“We’re unsure how long moonshining was taking place at the property that is now Panola Mountain State Park (PMSP),” said Panola Mountain Interpretive Park Ranger Veronica Healy. “People weren’t exactly keeping records when doing illegal activities—especially when trying to fly under the nose of both the state and federal governments.”

A Boozy History

Moonshining of some form or another has occurred in Georgia throughout most of the state’s history. In the late 1800s, because of lawlessness in saloons and growing alcohol consumption, temperance movements gained popularity in Georgia and other states. Racial tensions also grew higher as many white Southerners feared saloons as places of interracial mingling that also generated wealth for a nascent Black middle class. “White Southerners felt this growing economic power of minorities would eventually allow minorities to gain political power and they linked racist stereotypes of African Americans to alcohol,” said Healy. “These tensions ultimately led to the Atlanta Race Riot in 1906 and Georgia becoming the first dry state in the South the following year as a response.”

Although at-home brewing or distilling had been a part of early American culture—Prohibition that swept across the nation in the 1910s and ’20s greatly increased demand for liquor, and made these operations even more dangerous. Elaborate moonshining networks popped up across the nation, run by violent gangs who sometimes forced farmers to run distilleries. Surprisingly, moonshiners outrunning the authorities in fast automobiles spurred the creation of stock car racing for entertainment, which would eventually become NASCAR.

A police officer standing next to a crashed car with cases of moonshine.

Panola Mountain Moonshine

In 1933, the 21st Amendment repealed the 18th Amendment’s alcohol ban. However, Georgia remained dry for several years after, and some state counties remain dry to this day. As for Panola Mountain, it’s difficult to pinpoint exactly when illegal distilleries began and ended around the state park property. The land that currently makes up PMSP would’ve been desirable to moonshiners for a few reasons. “For one, there’s a nice creek that runs through the park that would’ve provided a water source for these operations,” said Healy. “But also the land would have been privately owned, and there wasn’t direct road access, which would’ve made it a much more desirable location.”

The land around PMSP also sits on three counties—Henry, Rockdale, and DeKalb—making law enforcement jurisdictions complicated. Away from city centers and police precincts, moonshiners would’ve been under less surveillance from law enforcement and government agents called revenuers. 

Some rusted barrel rings and stones from an old distillery. (Veronica Healy)

“To our knowledge, there are 9 moonshine sites on the current park property,” said Healy. “The one photographed is pretty well built in comparison to the others, and could’ve been a more commercial operation, but we don’t know for sure.”

Moonshine Remains

Although moonshining was once quite lucrative (and dangerous), little remains of that illicit industry. Panola Mountain Park Rangers have found a rusted-out, 100-gallon drum, metal rings from wooden barrels, and lots of stacked stones. “The stones were used in the oven where the corn mash would’ve been heated,” said Healy. “The wooden barrels could’ve been used as part of the distilling process, or could’ve been used to hide finished product to send into markets.”

The 100-gallon drum with three punctures on its side. (Veronica Healy)

As for that big 100-gallon drum, it was most likely equipment in the distilling process, possibly a condenser, which cools vapor or steam converting it to a liquid, in this case, liquor. There’s also a story behind this big drum. “It was hit by an axe at some point,” said Healy. “This operation could’ve been busted by revenuers; it could have been destroyed by competitors; or those who operated it may have destroyed it themselves so no one else could use it.” Exactly what happened will likely remain a mystery.

Like every history, Panola Mountain is full of secrets and fascinating stories. Visit PMSP’s website for more information or to book a tour.