How a New York couple found a bootlegger's 100-year-old stash hidden in their home
AMES — When Nick Drummond and Patrick Bakker heard the tall tales about the former owner of the house they were buying, they brushed it off as hearsay.
They were in the process of purchasing a 1915 American Foursquare just on the edge of the village of Ames, Montgomery County, and a few people had mentioned the home was rumored to have once belonged to a bootlegger in the 1920s.
"It was sort of the local urban legend that it was built by a bootlegger," Drummond said. "We went with it, but we also knew that this was totally made up."
And the story still seemed fictional, at least until October when Drummond ripped off the rotting, wooden skirting on the home's mudroom and something tumbled out at his feet.
He thought it was insulation at first. But what he had accidentally discovered was a package — the brown paper had ripped when he pulled it out of the wall, and inside were six glass bottles wrapped individually with straw.
They were full of whisky.
"All this is happening in a few seconds, of course, and I'm just like, 'What, what is going on?'" Drummond said. His confusion, he said, vanished as soon as he realized what the bottles held inside.
"It hit me, after kind of looking at all of that — like, oh my god. This is a stash!"
Discovering Count Adolph Humphner's hidden stash of prohibition-era booze
Drummond, 30, and Bakker, 29, closed on their 2,000-square-foot home about 50 miles west of Schenectady in September 2019. They had left behind their fast-paced, big city lives in Baltimore and were eager for something different.
The house, they knew, needed extensive work if it was going to be restored. There was wallpaper everywhere (even on the ceilings, Drummond said with a groan), the plaster needed extensive repair and all the electrical and plumbing would have to be replaced.
Among many other changes, the couple planned to renovate the kitchen and add a powder room to the existing mudroom. The mudroom, which is basically an enclosed porch addition that Drummond estimates was built in the 1920s, provides entry into the kitchen from the back of the house.
When Drummond ripped off that wooden skirting and made the initial discovery, the pair couldn't help but wonder if there was more to find in the mudroom.
"There's this hatch in the floor, this wood hatch. We knew about it, it's not like it's particularly well hidden," Drummond said. "We're like, 'So now we have to climb in the hatch.'"
Wedged into the dirty, tight space between the bare ground and the floor overhead, Drummond looked up to where he expected to see floor joists. Instead, he saw boards screwed into the joists, creating a hidden storage space beneath the mudroom floor.
"We were able to pry off the end board that they put on," he said, "and we found more."
How a bootlegger made it to central New York
After a lot of research online and a trip to the county clerk's office to look at old deeds, Drummond learned a lot about the home's former owner, Count Adolph Humphner.
Humphner, who held many self-appointed titles (count was one of them, apparently, since no one could ever prove his royal status), was the bootlegger who built the house, Drummond said.
He was, allegedly, a very well-known but mysterious German immigrant who owned the house in Ames as well as nearly two dozen properties in New York City. He tended to keep to himself, and it was later discovered that he had aliases and foreign bank accounts and $45,000 in cash in his home, which would amount to more than a half million dollars today.
Humphner died under suspicious circumstances in 1932, Drummond said, when he collapsed suddenly in the home's living room with just one witness — a man named Harry Barry, who also ended up becoming the administrator of Humphner's assets, since he had no written will.
There's so much more to the story, especially regarding Barry's quest to find any living heirs after Humphner died, and Drummond's eyes light up throughout the entire retelling.
He's animated and enthusiastic about it, and he certainly doesn't skip any of the details. Bakker chimes in periodically too, and the two get excited hypothesizing about what Humphner was actually like and what people thought of him.
Finding out the home's rumored history was not only true but that it was also even more exciting than they thought has brought a whole new level of importance to restoring the home, Drummond said.
"There's all these crazy parts of the history of the story and it was really amazing," Drummond said. "Just as amazing as actually finding the bottles was finding this story and trying to piece together what happened."
What they've got planned for all the booze they found
Altogether, Bakker estimates they've found about 100 bottles. Some were still full with labels mostly intact, while others were mostly or completely empty. The labels, which describe the contents as a blended Gaelic whisky from Scotland, provide dates from the 1920s on the back.
Drummond has taken to sharing updates on both the renovations and the bootlegger-related discoveries on Instagram (the account handle is @bootleggerbungalow to those interested in checking it out), and the findings have gained national attention.
The newfound fame has led to plenty of inquiries about whether they'd be interested in selling any of the bottles.
To answer that question, no, they haven't sold any yet, though they're considering auctioning off some of the bottles in great condition later on.
And no, they haven't tried any of it yet — and they're not in a hurry to, either.
Finding the stash and unraveling the mysteries surrounding Humphner's life has been a lot of fun, Drummond said, and they're not ready for the discoveries to come to an end.
"I have this weird thing...I sort of like almost the anticipation, or the romance, of not knowing. Because once you do it, it's done," Drummond said.
"Isn't it kind of nice to not know?"
Georgie Silvarole is the backpack reporter for the USA TODAY Network's New York State Team. You can reach her by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @gsilvarole.