They’d heard rumors their new home was once owned by a notorious Prohibition-era bootlegger. Now it seems they’ve found the goods.

By Mike Pomranz
October 20, 2020
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When purchasing a home, you rarely know what’s behind the walls. Sellers will let you walk around, but tearing through the drywall is usually frowned upon. And while hold homes undoubtedly have a few outdated wires and plumbing inside, if you purchased the former home of a notorious bootlegger, you probably shouldn’t be surprised when you find a load of hidden booze.

In 2019, Nick Drummond and his partner purchased an old house in Ames, a village in upstate New York. An architectural designer, Drummond began renovating the house and, this month, launched social media accounts for @bootleggerbungalow to document the project. Drummond explained the name in his first Instagram post: “We were told the home was rumored to have been built by a childless German baron who turned to bootlegging in the 1920s,” he wrote. Drummond said, initially, they believed the rumors of a man named Adolph Humpfner were probably false.

Dusty, old bottles in a cellar.
| Credit: Roman Baiadin/Getty Images

However, Drummand says he found plenty of reasons to believe earlier this month. “We were just working on removing old finishes and everything and that’s when we found those first secret compartments,” he told Today. “I was trying to get the trim off (outside). I was taking this thing off and this whole thing fell out. At first, I assumed it was just insulation or something then I was like, why is there glass?” Drummond threw on the camera and documented that the entire area was packed solid with imported whisky dated from 1923.

After discovering a wall lined with alcohol (a Facebook post put the initial count at 42 bottles), the couple says they extended their search, inspecting a suspicious hatch in the house that, lo and behold, contained even more packages. “We knew the hatch existed, but it’s an unfinished mudroom,” Drummond was quoted as saying. “It’s just crawlspace access. We never really thought about it. Previous owners said that’s just how you get to the abandoned well.”

As for the whiskey, Drummond told Today, “We’re keeping at least one bottle to try…. Any empties we’re probably going to keep with the house. The bundles in the floor for whatever reason—the first one at least—that I pulled out, it looked like all of the alcohol had dried up. So at that point, it’s more sentimental. I think we’re actually going to leave some in the floor and maybe do a glass panel so you can see the packages beneath.”

But what about the bottles that remain intact? "We have not had the whiskey assessed by outside experts at this point, although we've been given a vague idea of value for full bottles by a couple auction houses," Drummond told me via email. "We've been told to expect values between $500 and $1,200... They did say some of our bottles appear to be remarkably preserved. We think the crazy story/history behind them with Count Humpfner may also impact the value, although it's hard to know how much."

And as the renovations continue, his search for more bottles—and background behind them—will also forge ahead. “We’re obviously going to continue to dig how we can into the story of what happened here and try to put it all together, but the main reason is actually to document our renovation of the house,” Drummond added. “It feels like we’re solving a century-old whodunnit.”

If you’re interested in following Drummond’s findings, he’s posted a handful of historical documents and newspaper clippings—along with other general renovation updates—on Instagram and Facebook.