A. Smith Bowman, 75, chairman of the board of the A. Smith Bowman Distillery of Sunset Hills, Va., makers of "Virginia Gentleman" bourbon, died yesterday at his home in McLean.He had cancer.
Sunset Hills is a name that has exixted since the Bowman family first arrived in Fairfax County in the 1920s, and letters addressed there are still delivered. If a stranger asks the way, he should be directed to Reston, for the distillery now is surrounded by the town. The Bowmans did not build Reston. But they owned the land on which it stands.
In his lifetime, Smith Bowman maintained an older way of life in this part of the country and then helped speed it into the past. With his brother, E. DeLong Bowman, and their father, A. Smith Bowman Sr., who died in 1952, he was a paternal and generous landowner and farmer, a foxhunter and horseman, a breeder of dogs, and a developed and proprietor of the only legal still in the Commonwealth of Virginia. In 1960, the two brothers sold a tract of land of about 10 square miles -- in all, they owned about 7,200 acres at Sunset Hills -- to a national real estate firm.
This began the change from a large farm into a sizable suburban community. But until 1979, when he moved to McLean, Smith Bowman lived in a large old house near the distillery. It was built by a man named Max Wiehle, who tried to start a new community in the area in the 1880s and 1890s. w
Some of the buildings Wiehle put up have been used for years to store aging whiskey. One of them is Wiehle's town hall. It had a steeple once, but the government persuaded the Bowmans to remove it lest it appear that they were aging liquor in a building that could have been used for worship. But that was a long time before the bustle of Reston arrived.
Smith Bowman was born in Lexington, Ky., and spent part of his boyhood in Indianapolis. According to a family story, his brother, DeLong, suggested that the family needed a farm. His father, who had owned farms in six states and Canada, agreed. He sent DeLong to buy a copy of the Louisville Courier-Journal, thinking to ge back home to Kentucky. Instead, DeLong came back with a copy of the Cincinnati Enquirer. The newspaper carried an advertisement for 4,000 acres in Northern Virginia. The senior Bowman bought the land in 1927, and that was the beginning of Sunset Hills.
The family raised beef and dairy cattle. Smith Bowman went off to Princeton, where he graduated in 1927, and then took a degree in architecture at Harvard. He was in the private practice of architecture for about five years.
In 1935, the Virginia legislature repealed prohibition in the state and the Bowmans promptly established the distillery that bears their name. Smith Bowman came home to help run it. They grew corn to make bourbon. They used the spent mash to feed hogs and other livestock and for fertilizer to grow more corn. They cut their own white oak to make barrels for aging the whiskey.
During World War II, Smith Bowman went into the Navy, where he rose to the rank of lieutenant commander and served in both the Atlantic and Pacific theaters. After the war, the family bought an additional 3,000 acres adjacent to their existing holdings.DeLong Bowman ran the farm and the distillery. Smith Bowman was in charge of sales. Each year, as whiskey production expanded, they would clear about 400 acres of land, turn it into pasture, and eventually use it to grow corn for making more whiskey.
About 20 families lived on the property as tenants. They were the beneficiaries of a profit-sharing plan based on their length of employment.
In 1960, the Bowman brothers sold 6,440 acres of their land to the Lefcourt Realty Corporation of New York. This is what became Reston.
Smith Bowman held office and directorships in a number of corporations. At the time of his death, he was a director of International Fueling. He was a trustee of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts and St. James School, a member of the Virginia Historic Landmark Commission, and a former president of the Historical Society of Fairfax County and editor of its yearbook. He was a governor of the Fairfax Hunt, which was founded by his father, and a mamber of the Society of the Cincinnati. His clubs included the Metropolitan, Chevy Chase, City Tavern, National Press and the Commonwealth Club of Virginia.
His first wife, the former Kate Hyde Scully, died in 1960.
Survivors include his wife, Mary Lee Bowman of McLean, and his brother, of The Plains, Va.
The family suggests that expressions of sympathy be in the form of contributions to the A. Smith Bowman Fund, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts Foundation, Richmond.