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Who was Cal F. Johnson?

Old Tennessee Distilling Company / History  / Who was Cal F. Johnson?

Who was Cal F. Johnson?

Cal F. Johnson is undoubtedly a Tennessee legend, but we’re proud to claim him as our homegrown hero in East Tennessee. But who was Cal F Johnson, and why do we celebrate him? What legacy has he left behind? And how does Old Tennessee Distilling Company acknowledge his achievements? Let’s find out. 

Cal Johnson’s History

Caledonia Fackler Johnson was born into slavery in downtown Knoxville, Tennessee, in 1844. As an enslaved person, he worked frequently with horses and developed a lifelong passion for these animals. Emancipated at the age of 21, he found work in the aftermath of the Civil War, exhuming the bodies of soldiers buried in temporary graves and reinterning them in Knoxville’s cemetery. 

This macabre job allowed Johnson to save enough money to lease a building in Knoxville and open a saloon. His success as a businessman meant he soon tripled his establishments: the Popular Log, the Popular Log Branch, and the Popular Log Center Branch. Johnson was an excellent host and kept a quality business as his saloons were frequented by the who’s who of Knoxville society. And, before long, Johnson headed up the most popular whiskey joints in the area. 

Cal F. Johnson: Real Estate Mogul

Johnson also returned to his first love of horses, becoming the owner of the main racetrack in Knoxville. His stable of beautiful steeds was envied across Tennessee, and he was a regular at all main racing meets.  

Solidifying much of Knoxville’s social world at the time, Johnson then moved his attention to other areas of real estate, purchasing vast holdings, including a movie theater and a house that he donated to the community and became Knoxville’s first YMCA building

Cal F. Johnson: The Philanthropist

Cal Johnson served as a city alderman for two terms and became known for his philanthropic efforts, resulting in Knoxville establishing the 3.7-acre Cal Johnson Park in 1922 and later the Cal Johnson Family Recreation Center in his honor.

Through his successful business ventures, wildly popular saloons, and prominent race track, Cal F Johnson was one of the wealthiest men in Tennessee by the time he died. 

Cal F. Johnson’s Lasting Legacy

Several locations around Knoxville remind us of the spirit of Cal Johnson. The park and the recreation center off of Hall of Fame Drive are not the only examples of this great man’s legacy. 

The space that was once Johnson’s race track in Burlington still maintains its same shape, although it’s now known as Speedway Circle. 

But, the most notable of the Cal Johnson locations is the Cal Johnson Building, a 121-year-old building that Cal Johnson built and owned as a warehouse and still bears his name today. The three-story building is now home to loft apartments and retail space. The developers of the building pay homage to Johnson with his image on the walls and the names of his saloons used as a naming system for the loft apartments. 

How Old Tennessee Distilling Honors Cal F. Johnson

Cal Johnson Rum Black Mountain Spice

Even over a century later, Cal Johnson is an East Tennessee native who deserves recognition for his works. And the Old Tennessee Distilling Company has created a line of handcrafted rums to honor his legacy. 

Made from premium molasses, the Cal F. Johnson White Rum is an 80-proof, crisp spirit with 40% alcohol, best enjoyed in a summer cocktail like a Long Island Ice Tea. The coconut flavored rum is well-rounded and sweet, working well as a stand-alone sipping spirit or mixed into a fruity cocktail for a taste of the Caribbean. 

The Black Mountain and Black Mountain Spiced Rums are warm and inviting. Their deep, golden hues introduce you to a full-bodied liquor that suits cooler temperatures. Both 84 Proof and 48% alcohol, these rums are smooth movers, but if you’re looking for an extra bite, we recommend trying the spiced version.  

Try Cal Johnson Tennessee Rums

Visit us near Sevierville, East Tennessee, to sample our range of Cal F. Johnson-inspired rums. We want each sip to evoke the glory days of his saloons and race tracks and acknowledge one of Knoxville’s greatest homegrown heroes. 

Old Tennessee Distilling Company is open seven days a week. Stop by for free tastings, $5 cocktails, and premium Tennessee-distilled spirits.  

Kent Merritt

Gatlinburg native Kent Merrit oversees the behind-the-scenes operations at Old Tennessee Distilling Company. He has over 35 years of manufacturing and business management experience and is passionate about developing and promoting businesses with exceptional products and excellent customer service. He invites you to pop in at Old Tennessee Distilling Co. for a free tasting of moonshine and distilled spirits. "Take a moment, take a sip, and get a taste for Tennessee."

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