In Fords in Four, we ask an alumnus four questions; he shares insights and stories. In this blog post, Elliott Davis '77 shares memories and lessons learned from Haverford, which have served him both in his 40-year career in finance and his newest venture, founding Mine Hill Distillery, in Roxbury, Conn.
What are your favorite memories from Haverford?
I have very fond memories of my four years in the Upper School. I have made lifelong friends, even if we now live all over the country. I also valued getting to know the teachers outside of the classroom. One summer, my physics teacher, Mr. Tatnall, asked me to paint his house and we became friends and went rock-climbing together. He was inspiring in many ways and I wish I could’ve followed him on some of the more extreme pitches.
I also helped found the Outing Club – we explored all over the region, including winter camping near the Delaware Water Gap and canoeing in the Pine Barrens. As editor of the Haligoluk, I remember choosing my senior picture of me hanging off a cliff. I decided to go to Dartmouth where I could study in the great outdoors. What started at Haverford has turned into a lifelong love of nature, through fly-fishing, cross-country skiing, hiking, and most recently birding.
What lessons from Haverford do you carry with you?
I fully credit Haverford for making me the student that I was. We were taught how to meet the challenge of rigorous academics and how to grow as students and individuals. In school, I loved biology and entered college as a pre-med major. As I was exposed to different disciplines, I ultimately switched to studying history and economics, which led to a 40-year career in finance. Since graduating from Haverford, technology has constantly changed (I remember using slide rules), jobs have changed, and I’ve lived and worked around the world. But what I took away from Haverford was intellectual curiosity and the ability to embrace change and stretch myself, even when it’s not easy.
Since graduating from Haverford, technology has constantly changed (I remember using slide rules), jobs have changed, and I’ve lived and worked around the world. But what I took away from Haverford was intellectual curiosity and the ability to embrace change and stretch myself, even when it’s not easy.
Tell me about what led you to found Mine Hill Distillery.
I moved to Litchfield County, Conn. 20 years ago to live full-time, start a farm, and raise a family. I had founded a European venture capital business and was traveling extensively, but loved coming home to the quiet beauty of the country. After 15 years, I really wanted a project closer to home. After a brief thought about hard cider, I decided to start a craft distillery.
In Oct. 2015, I bought the last remnants of Roxbury Station, a small 19th century town situated along a beautiful trout stream. Its heyday was during the Industrial Revolution when local mines were making steel for the Civil War, granite quarries provided stone for the Brooklyn Bridge, and the railroad sent local products all the way to NYC. With my love of history and knowledge of start-ups, I embarked on a three-year restoration of an 1872 Train Station, an 1860 cigar factory, and other buildings, winning a statewide award for historic preservation. I purchased the most advanced distilling equipment and hired a very talented woman distiller from Kentucky and opened up late last year. Our slogan is Still Made in Connecticut, so we use our own spring water, buy all our grain and malt from a 15th generation farm near Hartford, and give away our spent mash to a local cattle farm as feed. We’ve already won an international competition with our gin and will be releasing our first batch of bourbon and rye later this year. After a lifetime in finance, I liked the challenge and change of dealing with construction, production, package design, marketing, and sales. We’re growing as a distillery and I am working on plans to host a Haverford mini-alumni reunion here for Connecticut and New York alums when things get back to normal!
We decided to just give away sanitizer to first responders in our neighboring towns -- police and fire departments, emergency rooms, and senior centers. Even though our business and most of our customers have been closed for months, we felt the need to help those who were helping others.
How did you and the distillery help out during the COVID-19 crisis?
One of our missions for the distillery is to make a positive impact on our community. So when COVID-19 hit our area, we ceased producing spirits and shifted to making hand sanitizer. We turned our premium vodka into sanitizer by adding hydrogen peroxide and glycerol. Because we’re a small distillery, there was no way we could have met the overwhelming demand from the general public, so we decided to just give away sanitizer to first responders in our neighboring towns -- police and fire departments, emergency rooms, and senior centers. Even though our business and most of our customers have been closed for months, we felt the need to help those who were helping others. We’ve since scaled back now that hand sanitizer is commercially available again, but it felt good to do our small part in the much larger crisis.