Feature: Former V. W. Bush (Sphar) Hemp Warehouse

Valentine White Bush was a grandson of Ambrose Bush, Captain Billy Bush’s brother. V. W. Bush built the first hemp and grain warehouse for railroad shipping (as oppose to River) in Winchester. According to the Clark County Democrat, V. W. Bush commenced building his warehouse in August 1880: “Mr. V. W. Bush has made arrangements with the town authorities by which Main Street just beyond the railroad will be still further widened twenty feet. Mr. Bush is going to build an elegant and commodious commission house adjoining the railroad on the north, and work will begin in a few days.”




V. W. Bush Warehouse - (To be demolished for new city building)

127 North Main St.

Winchester, KY 40392

The following November, Bush placed the following notice in the paper: V. W. Bush, dealer in Hemp, Tobacco, Grain, and County Produce generally. Warehouse on Main Street, at railroad crossing, convenient to depot.” It ran unchanged the rest of the year and into the next. The 1889 Winchester Handbook provides this description of the V.B. Bush warehouse:

V. W. Bush has another large warehouse of the same kind which is now leased to Levi Goff.

It has the proportions of a city establishment and is always full.

By the end of the 19th century, the market for hemp was rapidly disappearing due to importation of jute. V.W. Bush died in 1899, and his obituary states, “He was for a little while in the banking business and for some time has been in the warehouse business.” His “charming home” appeared in the Winchester Handbook of 1889, but the house was razed in the 1970s, and the lot now serves as a parking area for the Bluegrass Heritage Museum. His warehouse, known as the “Sphar Building” still stands.


After his death, the Bush Warehouse became heavily involved in the grass seed business. The name of V.W. Bush’s wife appears beside the warehouse on the 1907 Sanborn map, listing the establishment as the “Mrs. Kate Bush Grain Warehouse.” In fact, V.W. Bush had transferred ownership of the warehouse to his wife in 1883. In two deeds that year, Bush sold the mill to James F. Winn who, the same day, sold the warehouse to Kate Bush. At her death in 1927, Kate Bush left the warehouse to her son, V. W. Bush Jr., a Winchester attorney. He died in 1963 and willed the warehouse to his daughters, Clara and Wilma. Neither Kate, nor V W. Jr., nor his daughters had a major role in warehouse management.

That job appears to have been left to Levi Goff for many years. A 1889 Handbook stated that Levi had leased the warehouse from V.W. Bush Sr. Levi may have had day-to-day management of Goff & Bush, which operated until 1936. The 1910 census lists his occupation as “grain warehouse” and he was an employer as opposed to an employee. In later censuses, he identified himself as “warehouse clerk” (1920) and “grain dealer” (1930). Levi’s obituary (1941) stated that “he attained prominence as a seed buyer” of Clark County. 


In 1936 a new company stepped in to operate the warehouse. In July of that year, W.R. Sphar and his son W. R. “Bill” Sphar Jr. formed a partnership they named “Sphar & Co.” to handle “feed, seed, fertilizer, grain and wool” in a rented section of the V. W. Bush Warehouse. W.R. Sphar, Sr., an active farmer, left operation of the company to Bill Sphar and Gus White, who had previously worked for Goff & Bush. Sphar & Co. retailed feed, seed (“Puritan Field Seed”) and fertilizer to area farmers. The company soon took over the entire warehouse and enlarged their wholesale business in bluegrass seed. In 1939 the Sphars formed a partnership—Sphar & Gay Seed Company—which greatly expanded their involvement in the bluegrass seed business. The partners, W. R. Sphar Sr., Bill Sphar, H. W. Sphar and J. D. Gay Jr., operated warehouses and processing facilities near the C&O Railroad at Pine Grove, Clark County. The main business of Sphar & Co. and Sphar & Gay Seed Company was “cleaning, processing, preparing for market, handling, storing, buying, selling, shipping and delivering blue grass seed.”

Following the decline of bluegrass seed production in Kentucky during the 1960s, the Sphar and Gay partnership was dissolved (1972). Sphar & Co. continued to operate a retail business at the V. W. Bush Warehouse, which they finally purchased in 1987. In 1999, Sphar & Associates (name changed from Sphar & Co.) sold the warehouse to Wayne Wilson and Spencer Pittman, who operated a feed store they called Sphar Feed & Seed. The business closed in 2005.

The V.W. Bush Warehouse continued in business at its original location and is the only 19th century warehouse still standing in Winchester. The warehouse survived as a commercial establishment until 2005, although it would be re-invented several times. After Sphar Feed & Seed closed in 2005, the warehouse stood empty. Unused portions of the building had been deteriorating for many years due to lack of maintenance, and the warehouse was in danger of being razed due to code violations. Recognizing the historic value of the building and its importance in revitalizing the North Winchester area, the City of Winchester and Clark County Fiscal Court stepped forward to rescue the warehouse. Plans call for rehabilitating the warehouse and repurposing it to serve as Winchester’s Welcome Center and professional office space for local agencies including Tourism, Industrial Development Authority, Chamber of Commerce, Main Street Winchester, and The Greater Clark Foundation (Enoch, 2012).

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P.O. Box 1296 

Lexington, Kentucky 40588

admin@hempheritage.org

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