Prohibition in Richwood – Part One

The Prohibition Movement began following the more moderate Temperance Movement after the American Civil War had ended. The Temperance Movement encouraged people to abstain from selling or drinking alcohol. It wasn’t about prohibition, that is, passing laws that compelled people to behave in a particular way. Instead, it was a movement grounded in moral persuasion; by changing individual behavior by influencing. Temperance supporters believed that freedom meant something very particular. Freedom meant freedom from addictive vices and bad habits and undermines self-discipline, self-improvement, and respectability. Today we tend to see the consumption of alcohol less as a bad habit that oppresses individuals but rather as a consumer choice. It doesn’t matter what you choose, only that you choose. For Temperance Crusaders, however, abstaining from alcohol was a liberating act; it was an act that demonstrated you could govern yourself.

The Temperance Movement resonated with many Ohioans. One possible reason is that Ohioans had experienced intense urbanization, industrialization and emigration. Its cities struggled with urban squalor, economic exploitation and poverty. Migration and emigration to this world was alienating. Most new Ohioans had lived as their ancestors had lived for countless centuries. The modern world of anonymous cities, brutal factories and dense city living was stressful and challenged the stability of family life.

The Temperance Movement was referred to as the “Woman’s Holy War.” Drawing was done by Currier & Ives.

The aftereffects of the American Civil War also played a part. After the war, there was a noticeable increase in alcohol consumption. In the small town of Washington Courthouse, for example, the number of saloon keepers expanded from zero in 1860 to eight in 1870 all for about 2,000 residents. Clearly, the aftershocks of war added to the stress of a state undergoing rapid transformation. Alcohol seemed to offer a salve against social change and post-traumatic stress.

Over the course of 1873 to 1874, there were Temperance Crusades in 31 states and territories involving some 54 thousand women; 60% of those women protested in Ohio. They marched down Main streets, they drafted petitions, they got pledges from people to stop drinking, they picketed saloons by singing hymns at the door as men passed in and out. Often, they were harassed, jostled by men, spat upon, drenched in old beer and dirty water. In Ohio alone, there were 300 Crusades in 200 different places. The women of Washington courthouse, for example, had great success as they managed to persuade the owners of all of the bars to shut down.

The Temperance Movement was later eclipsed by the Prohibition Movement which compelled people to stop drinking. That movement was also set in Ohio and it was led by the Anti-Saloon League which was founded in Oberlin, Ohio in 1893 and relocated to Westerville in 1909. This movement, unlike the Temperance Movement, was led mainly by men. They focused their efforts on the complete abolition of the sale of alcohol through outlets such as saloons. The organization was effective and was able to build off of the Temperance Movement. But, more than any other organization, they helped persuade America to amend the constitution, ratifying the 18th amendment in 1919 to outlaw the manufacture and distribution of alcohol. An important fact to note here is that it wasn’t illegal to drink alcohol, just creating and selling it.

By 1908, there were a total of fifteen various saloons in Union county; eight in Marysville, three in Richwood, three at Milford Center and one in Magnetic Springs. A petition containing the signatures of 3412 voters was filed on September 9th, 1908 with the Common Pleas Judge in Marysville. The petition called for a special election on October 5th under the Rose Bill. The Rose Bill, also called the Rose Law, allowed individual communities to put Prohibition issues on their local ballots. If a majority of residents voted in favor of the issue, then saloons could not operate in the community. Many Ohio towns and cities took advantage of the Rose Law to ban the sale of alcohol in their communities. The Union County Board of Elections were then ordered to have ballots printed for a special election.

The Richwood Gazette posted an article in the paper in September titled, “Attention Farmers and Land Owners: Your vote is Important. Carefully examine the following figures from the State Auditor’s Reports for 1907 then decide for yourself how you honestly think you should cast your ballot.” The article lists the following facts and figures taken from the Ohio Auditor of State’s Report of 1907:

1- By levying a state tax of 1.345 mills on all tangible property, the state of Ohio derived......$3,012,115.05
2- The state received from the liquor tax.........................................................$2,749,750.99
3- The state received from all other sources of revenue...........................................$780,732.70
Total revenue of the state in 1907................................................................$6,542,598.74

The Gazette then pointed out that if the saloons in Ohio were voted out of existence, at least $2,749,750.99 in revenue of the state would be destroyed. This revenue is 91.5 per cent of the total amount ($3,012,115.05) the state raised by direct taxation by a state levy of 1,345 mills. “This revenue must be made from some other source, and that source will be by direct taxation on your farm, your real estate, and your house, for this class of property is sure to bear the brunt of the inevitable increased taxation.” The liquor tax paid for 42% of the running expenses of the state. The Gazette warned that the state tax rate would double to compensate for the loss of revenue. They later state, “Do not be led astray by fanatical and emotional appeals from the non-taxpaying Anti-Saloon League and its salaried itinerant agitators.”1Richwood Gazette, September 17, 1908.

The Richwood Gazette publishes an article a week later exposing the “false statements” made by the Anti-Saloon League. The paper claims that the organization lies about a reduction in taxes that follows wherever the income from the liquor tax is wiped out. “This on its very face sound very paradoxical.” They later point out that, “It stands to reason that when you destroy one source of income, the difference must be made up somewhere else.”2Richwood Gazette, September 24, 1908. The organization likes to point to Washington Courthouse as a good example of this. When called upon to explain this strange condition, they point out that the town didn’t need as many policeman which made up the loss of the liquor tax. The Gazette delves into this by providing the expenses paid to police in the town:

                                1904        1905        1906        1907
Paid for police duty..........$2887.00    $3050.00    $1506.00    $1854.00
Received from liquor tax......$1902.05    $1806.07    $223.62     ________

It should be added that Washington Courthouse had four policemen while the town was “wet,” and that when the revenue from the liquor tax was cut off, expenses had to be curtailed so that in May, 1906, and for the balance of that year there was only one regular policeman on the pay roll of the town. More policeman were needed as shown by the increase in 1907’s numbers. However, the biggest reduction in funding was for public services such as street repairs, street cleaning, sewage, public lighting, ect. In 1905, the public services fund in the town was 7.75 mills. In 1908, that had been reduced to 6 mills. As used in property tax, 1 mill is equal to $1 in property tax levied per $1,000 of a property’s assessed value. It can therefore be seen that a loss in the liquor tax actually did require the town to make up the difference in other ways despite not raising the taxes on residents.

Despite the Gazette’s constant insistence otherwise, Union county had overwhelmingly voted “dry.” By a decisive majority of 1799, the voters of Union county, regardless of politics, had decided that they disproved of the continuation of saloons. Reportedly, many men who were addicted to alcohol also voted dry to try to kick the habit. The total number of votes cast in the county was 5721, the largest voting number in the history of the county at the time. Of this number, the drys voted 3738 and the wets 1935. The drys won every municipality and township in the county except for Darby township which gave wets the majority by a total of 23 votes. Below is the complete tally of votes in all townships in Union county:

Results of the special election which resulted in the closing of saloons that served alcohol in Union county in 1908.

As a result of the election, all fifteen saloons in Union county were forced to close. The Rose local option law went into effect on November 4th, 1908 at 9:30 pm. Saturday evening on October 31, P.J. Speyer closed the doors to his saloon for good, having sold all his stock, and expressed interest in converting his building to a restaurant and pool hall. The two other bars in Richwood, owned by Carl Allgower and Ira Donahoe, were closed on November 4th at the same time that the law went into effect.

The town of Kenton had also voted dry around the same year. According to a discovery reported by a visitor from Bellefontaine, they started selling whiskey in oranges. “‘Give me two oranges,’ said the Bellefontaine visitor, as he threw down a silver dollar. They were carefully handed out accompanied by a wink from the dealer. The Bellefontaine man examined them before asking for change, and found inside of each orange a tin circular flask containing whisky. The purchaser of the oranges did not ask for change.”3Richwood Gazette, January 28, 1909.

Despite the prohibition of alcohol taking effect, many people were still able to get their fix one way or another. Some stores had underground bars which served alcohol illegally and others attempted to make alcohol themselves which caused many people to get sick. Bootleg alcohol was often of lesser quality and sometimes even dangerous. On average, 1,000 Americans died every year during Prohibition from the effects of drinking tainted liquor.

A whiskey advertisement appearing in the Richwood Gazette in 1913, five years after Union county had voted dry. Whiskey was often used for “medicinal” purposes.

A man by the name of Ogan was voted as Mayor of Richwood on the first day of the year in 1910 and promised many reforms. The first thing he did was rearrange the Mayor’s office and made a much needed cleaning of the entire premises. He then called all members of the new council and talked over many things which might be improved upon in the town. One of the things talked about at this conference was the enforcement of the curfew ordinance which was passed by the council a few years prior. It was enforced for a time and was the means of keeping many children off the streets during the night unless accompanied by a parent or guardian. It was decided to enforce this curfew again and on the first night of the new year, Marshal Sloop cleared the streets of the usual gang of children who had been in the habit of loitering in the streets late at night.

The “bootlegger” problem also came up for discussion and it was of the councils opinion that the “bootlegger” and “common drunks” who make it a point to loiter around the corners and alleys of Richwood be made to obey to ordinances of the town and laws of Ohio. Since Richwood and Union county voted the town “dry” in 1908, and thereby imposed an extra tax of $1500 per annum upon the taxpayers of Richwood, it was of the opinion that as long as the town remains “dry” in name, it should also be “dry” in reality.

On April 9, 1910, a twenty-two year old man by the name of Omer DeGood was arrested that morning while on his way to the fairgrounds with a basket filled with whiskey and beer. He was locked up in the village prison and a search and seizure warrant sworn out by Marshal Sloop who, together with Deputy Marshal Aller, went to the home of the parents of Mr. DeGood who resided on North Franklin street. They succeeded in finding many empty bottles of whiskey and jugs. The officers hauled the goods off to the Mayor’s office in grocery carts.

That evening, DeGood was given a preliminary hearing before Mayor Ogan and plead not guilty to bootlegging and was placed under $300 bond. Failing to come up with the required bond, he was again placed in the village prison to wait until Tuesday morning for a hearing. When he appeared before the hearing that morning, he again plead not guilty. In the meantime, Marshal Sloop and others had done what they could to provide direct evidence where it could be proven that Mr. DeGood violated the Rose Law. Although this was impossible to prove, the next best thing for the officers to do was to banish the young man from the town. There were many complaints before this incident against his conduct. He agreed to this arrangement and signed an article stating that he was not to return to Richwood. The Richwood Gazette points out that, “The Rose law is a failure in many respects and has not accomplished much good in Union county, which was voted dry by a big majority. Since its passage it is said by those in a position to know that there is as much, if not more whisky consumed than before the saloons were voted out. They say it has changed many moderate beer drinkers to consumers of whiskey and other stimulants detrimental to the general health.”4Richwood Gazette, April 14, 1910.


  • 1
    Richwood Gazette, September 17, 1908.
  • 2
    Richwood Gazette, September 24, 1908.
  • 3
    Richwood Gazette, January 28, 1909.
  • 4
    Richwood Gazette, April 14, 1910.

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