Prohibition in Richwood – Part Two

The Richwood Gazette’s problems with Prohibition continued with an article on July 14, 1910, in which they accuse the Anti-Saloon League of not wanting to rid Columbus of their saloons. “If the Anti-Saloon League is so anxious to rid Ohio of the liquor traffic why not begin operations right at home? Directly under the noses of the officers of the League in Columbus, are about three hundred saloons. Why not clean them out first? They know full well these saloons are the source of supply for numerous ‘dry’ counties in central Ohio and that they attract thousands of people to Columbus every week. Is it possible the League wants to see Columbus ‘wet’ and surrounding towns ‘dry’ in order to help Columbus financially? It looks very much as if this was the case.”1Richwood Gazette, July 14, 1910.

Humorous snippet from the Richwood Gazzette, 1908.

Things further worsened for Richwood when, in December of 1911, the village council was forced to borrow $300 to pay the salaries of village officials. Up until the past three years, Richwood had always had from $3,000 to $5,000 on deposit in the local banks. After the county voted dry in 1908, however, the village was cut short $1,500 a year or a total of $4,500 for the three years, which was the cause of the deficiency in the treasury. Richwood was now in the financial predicament that many, three years ago, foreseen the village would reach. Richwood was not alone in this situation either. Both Milford Center and Marysville had been cut short from $1,500 to $5,000 per annum by the county voting dry.

The Rose law was later modified in 1910, referred to as the Beal law, to allow individual towns and municipalities such as Richwood or Marysville to vote on whether they wanted to remain dry with the county or choose to go wet. The towns of Marion and Prospect did just that. The citizens of Prospect voted under the Beal law and voted wet by a majority of 19 votes. The total votes cast was 304 with 142 voting dry while 161 voted wet. The remaining one vote was illegal. At the county level, Marion County voted dry by a majority of 37 in 1911. Soon afterward, Marion decided to continue their saloon business in the town. Prospect, being between the wet towns of Columbus and Marion and not wanting to lose out on revenue, decided to also continue selling alcohol. They would later vote dry on April 3, 1919 with the resulting closure of the saloon operated by Schelgel and Speyer.

By 1914, a total of 45 counties were considered dry in the state of Ohio. An election was held in Ohio on November 3, 1914. Four different amendments were on the ballot. Amendment 1 provided home rule on alcohol which allowed the citizens of local municipalities and townships the right to decide, without state intervention, if they wanted to sell alcohol or not. Amendment 2 provided limitation on tax rate and property classification. Amendment 3 provided voting rights for women. Amendment 4 would enact a prohibition on the sale of alcohol as beverages in the state of Ohio. Amendment 1 was the only one on the ballot that passed. Below is an advertisement in the Richwood Gazette paid for by the Anti-Saloon League who supported prohibition:

An advertisement in the Richwood Gazette following the election on November 3, 1914. This ad urged voters to vote Yes on prohibition and No on the home rule amendment.

In terms of results for political office, Warren G. Harding was elected to the United States Senate with Frank B. Willis being elected as Ohio Governor. The state legislature was comprised of mostly Republicans. The home rule amendment was later taken to the Ohio Supreme Court after a case was brought in by Franklin County Common Pleas Court by Charles S. Hockett, a piano dealer from Bellefontaine. He alleged that this amendment violated the general welfare provision of the federal constitution and that an attempt was being made to divest the people of certain rights of which they, themselves, could not put aside. The case was pressed for counsel by the Anti-Saloon League. It was appealed and the Supreme Court held that the amendment was in fact valid.

The state liquor licensing board announced in 1915 that the thirty-one counties which will get county license boards under the home rule amendment will have a total of 493 saloons (versus 823 saloons in those counties in 1908, before the votes to dry). Union county had a total of 9 saloons open. The Anti-Saloon League continued their fight to repeal the home rule amendment and aimed to pass a state-wide prohibition of alcohol.

P.J. Speyer’s Cafe located on North Franklin Street in Richwood, circa 1900. The cafe was one of two other establishments in Richwood that were forced to stop selling alcohol when the Rose law was enacted in Union county in 1908.

Residents in Claibourne Township, outside of Richwood, quietly circulated a petition to hold a vote on June 23, 1917 to decide if the township should permit saloons to start selling alcohol again. A similar petition and subsequent vote was presented to the citizens of Richwood in January of 1915 and was not passed. In fact, the election was taken to the Supreme Court of Ohio. The drys won by a majority of one vote since a couple votes on both sides of the issue were marked as invalid. The courts decided in favor of the drys and Richwood remained as such. Those who supported the prohibition of alcohol were fearful of saloons being operated outside the city limits which is exactly what a few citizens of Claibourne Township tried to do. The petition filed contained names in excess of the number required by law. Under the home rule amendment, only those who resided in Claibourne Township and outside the city limits of Richwood were permitted to vote on the resolution. Dry voters outnumbered the wets ten to one and the resolution was not passed.

As the first World War raged, the Unites States Congress passed the temporary Wartime Prohibition Act, which banned the sale of alcoholic beverages having an alcohol content of greater than 1.28%. This act, which had been intended to save grain for the war effort, was passed after the armistice ending World War I was signed on November 11, 1918. The Wartime Prohibition Act took effect June 30, 1919, with July 1, 1919 becoming known as the “Thirsty First.” The U.S. Senate proposed the Eighteenth Amendment on December 18, 1917. On October 28, 1919, Congress passed enabling legislation, known as the Volstead Act, to enforce the Eighteenth Amendment when it went into effect in 1920. Upon being approved by a 36th state (Ohio being one of them) on January 16, 1919, the amendment was ratified as a part of the Constitution. By the terms of the amendment, the country went dry one year later, on January 17, 1920 when the Volstead Act went into effect. A total of 1,520 Federal Prohibition agents were tasked with enforcement.

Doctors were able to prescribe medicinal alcohol for their patients. After just six months of prohibition, over 15,000 doctors and 57,000 pharmacists received licenses to prescribe or sell medicinal alcohol. A majority of U.S. citizens obeyed the law, although some states like Maryland and New York refused prohibition. Enforcement of the amendment lacked a centralized authority. Many churches formed vigilante groups to enforce it along with organizations such as the Ku Klux Klan, although it was poorly organized and seldom had any impact. As the Great Depression hit in 1929, state governments needed the tax revenue that alcohol sales generated. When Franklin Roosevelt was elected in 1932, he strongly urged the repeal of Prohibition. The Eighteenth Amendment was officially repealed on December 5, 1933 with ratification of the Twenty-first Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The Twenty-first Amendment didn’t prevent states and municipalities from banning or restricting alcohol thereby allowing local control of alcohol. With the Amendment gone, the country was effectively half wet and half dry.

In November 1933, Richwood held an election to vote on the mayoral race. Included on the ballot was an option to repeal the ban on the sale of liquor in Richwood. 619 total votes were against the repeal with 487 votes for. Richwood continued to remain dry even after local elections in 1937 and in 1941 where the citizens of Richwood once again voted against the sale of liquor in Richwood by a nice majority. The elections in 1945 onward included no mention of the prohibition of liquor. It’s currently not know when, if ever, Richwood officially voted to once again allow the sale of liquor. Despite this, liquor sales have since continued in Richwood and no enforcement has been made.

With the end of the Prohibition Amendment, one thing became pretty clear. By prohibiting these sales, the state of Ohio as well as the United States economy would see large losses directly and indirectly from alcohol sales. Supporters of the prohibition expected an increase in the sales of other products such as other beverages like juice and soda to replace the money made from alcohol sales, but this could not be further from reality. The Bureau of Internal Revenue estimated that the prohibition caused the shutdown of over 200 distilleries, a thousand breweries, and over 170,000 liquor stores. Organized criminal organizations saw this as an opportunity to make a lot of cash. Enforcement of the ban had to be paid for to fight the war against both alcohol and crime. The amount of money used to enforce prohibition started at 6.3 million in 1921 and rose to 13.4 million in 1930, almost double the original amount.

If you’d like to learn more about Prohibition, I highly recommend the book Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition by Daniel Okrent as well as Prohibition in Columbus, Ohio by Alexander Tebben for a more local history of the Prohibition Movement. Both books can be checked out at your local library.


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    Richwood Gazette, July 14, 1910.

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