Fresh salvo in 1910 war on liquor

Posted June 13, 2010, at 8:38 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 30, 2011, at 11:26 a.m.

The “Day of Reckoning” had finally come for Bangor liquor dealers, declared a bold headline at the top of page one of the Bangor Daily News on May 11, 1910. A few weeks ago I described Police Chief Lindley W. Gilman’s declaration of war on local rum sellers in early April 1910. Faced with growing public pressure, the new chief had little alternative. Now city aldermen, or a majority of them, anyway, were jumping aboard the prohibition wagon. The newspaper declared it a historic event.

Each year, the proprietors of hotels, boardinghouses, restaurants, pool halls and many other entrepreneurial endeavors applied to the city for licenses to continue their legitimate businesses. These licenses were granted routinely. It had never mattered if a boarding house or restaurant bent the law a little bit by selling liquor, which was illegal under Maine’s decades-old prohibition statute. (Federal prohibition was still years in the future). This year things would be different.

“For the first time in recent municipal history the aldermen, sitting as a licensing board, made a dignified and honest effort to determine just what places have been violating the prohibitory law and hence should be out of business. The results were startling,” said the newspaper. Some of the targets were an important part of the Queen City’s economic infrastructure, catering to loggers, sailors, construction workers and other transients for whom Bangor was an important jumping-off place for jobs.

Chief Gilman told aldermen, “There are a great many places in this city where they sell liquor, and we know they sell liquor, but it is next to impossible to catch them. They have spies and watchers and push buttons and bolts and bars, and hence my men — being only human — are placed at a disadvantage. But I know where these places are, for the most part, and I want this board to share my knowledge.”

Foremost on the list of places to get the ax was the Queen City Hotel at French and Hancock streets. With 100 beds, it was “probably the largest hotel of its class in Eastern Maine,” said the newspaper. Edward Delaney was “alleged to be the proprietor.”

Another was the popular restaurant run by A.M. Cox at 75 Pickering Square. “That man has given us more trouble than any half dozen others put together,” said Chief Gilman. “We’ve never been able to make a seizure, but we know there is a big liquor traffic in his place.” Cox had “dumped” on several occasions when the police had visited him.

The list also included boardinghouses on French and Washington streets “controlled” by Frank Largay. In addition, the license for the Waverly House on French Street was put on hold because “the board had a shrewd suspicion that Mr. McCarthy [the applicant] represented the interests of Mr. Largay.”

Another familiar name on the list was the Scandinavian Hotel, at 219 Broad St., which catered to many immigrant Swedes and Norwegians as well as other transients passing through the city. For many years, it had been “a famous resort of lumbermen and sailors. … Its closing will make a decided change in the complexion of the Acre,” said the newspaper. This was one of those rare references in the papers to the Devil’s Half Acre, that infamous bit of city landscape located down by the waterfront on the west side of the Kenduskeag Stream.

A. Bedreau’s pool room at 211 Broad St., Catherine Cavanaugh’s boardinghouse at 499 Main St. and Mrs. Frank Lozier’s boardinghouse on Union Street were among other establishments that were refused licenses because of previous violations. (A few days later Cavanaugh’s request was granted “upon her promise to keep out of the liquor business”).

One well-known hotel, the St. James at 105 Pickering Square, was spared when it was revealed in testimony that the mother of the applicant, Chris Toole Jr., had taken over the management, allowing no violations of the liquor law.

One well-known individual in particular was mentioned because he had not applied for a license renewal. Pope D. McKinnon ran the Globe Hotel at 46 French St. as well as an express office where people could order liquor by mail. A few weeks before, police had raided Pope’s Express Service in what the Bangor Daily News called “the largest liquor seizure made by police and probably the largest in the history of local enforcement.” It took two trucks and an express wagon in the forenoon and two express wagons at night to remove the goods, which included 70 gallons of whiskey in kegs, 3,300 bottles of beer and much more, according to the newspaper on April 18.

The politics behind the crackdown were predictable. Voting to suspend licenses were the aldermen from wards three, five, six and seven — Fred G. Eaton, Oliver L. Hall, Benjamin W. Blanchard and James H. Haynes, respectively. In opposition were the aldermen from wards one and two — John F. Fleming and George H. Kratzenberg. The alderman from ward four was absent. Wards one and two were located on the waterfront on either side of the Kenduskeag Stream, where most of the establishments in question were located and where many people made their living or found camaraderie in places serving liquor.

In the days that followed, more licenses were denied or held up while police checked out their premises. Chief Gilman’s momentary fame continued to spread. A prominent Methodist minister cited his prohibition push in April. Now, the local Women’s Christian Temperance Union was endorsing him for his leadership and “clear vision” until “a party will take the seat of power in which … rum sellers will have not a friend and not a vestige of the hope that now keeps them strong,” according to the newspaper on May 16.

The actual impact of Bangor’s crackdown was unclear, however. By May 16, a few places had removed their signs and their “wine-rooms were not so much in evidence,” but they were still doing business as usual, said the newspaper. Several proprietors said anonymously they would continue to put up lumbermen as they always had. “Sure, they are regular boarders,” said one. “There are the names of 30 of them on the register. If some of them do go away, or up in the woods, they come back — they are regular boarders, of course.”

The raids continued at the same old places. In a lumber pile in the alley behind the Queen City Hotel, police seized 292 bottles of beer, five quarts of whiskey and more. Another raid at the Waverly House yielded similar results.

An illustrated collection of Wayne E. Reilly’s columns titled Remembering Bangor: The Queen City Before the Great Fire is available at bookstores. Comments about this column can be sent to him at wreilly.bdn@gmail.com.

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