Wheel Vector

When ‘dry’ didn’t mean lack of rain: Temperance in the Nineteenth Century

The sign reads “Elliott’s Bar Since 1907” on Danville’s Hartz Avenue. A bar on main street doesn’t seem unusual to us today, but setting up a saloon in the earth 20th century was no easy matter. Like much of rural California, Danville had a group of strong temperance supporters. What we call substance abuse today was “demon rum” then. The first Americans came to California in the late 1840s, an era of national prohibition sentiment. After 1848, some of the gold miners and the rare early ministers were temperance believers. But accounts of those years show that, in San Francisco and the gold country, temperance principles made nary a dent. Many organizations opposed liquor consumption, including the Sons of Temperance and the Dashaway Association of Sn Franciso (members were to “dash away” any alcoholic drink offered to them). Later the Good Templars and the Women’s Temperance Alliances began. The columns of the Contra Costa Gazette tell about the efforts of the “drys” to convert the “wets” beginning in the 19th century. In the 1870s, communities could vote on a local liquor option sale and, even thought they could not vote, women took an important part in these campaigns. The Gazette in 1891 provided an article headed “The Question of a License,” which told about a demonstration at the county seat of Martinez in opposition to a renewal of a Danville liquor license: “When the San Ramon train arrived Monday morning it brought a delegation of 70 strong from Danville, many of the ladies, and all of them among the best class of people of that neighborhood. Each wore a bit of blue ribbon conspicuously displayed, and on landing marched up the street in couples. It was soon ascertained that they had a object in view, and that was to appear before the Board of Supervisors and protest against the issuance of a license to sell liquor to one Andrew Flagel, who is now the only person engaged in that business in Danville, and whose present license expires today, Nov. 4.” They presented a 157-signature petition and pointed out that, while most of them were not n temperance people, they regarded ”a saloon…as a menace to the well-being of the community.” The reporter wrote, “Danville is noted as the center of a prosperous, highly cultivated and progressive neighborhood, and the moral tone is exceptionally high.” Mrs. A. J. Young, wife of a highly respected teacher and church leader in the valley, addressed the board “in the name of the wives and mothers there (and) fervently pleaded that the temptation should not be placed before husbands and sons to lure them to ruin.” The Gazette covered Flagel’s license hearing which went on for hours. Witnesses said he had “sold liquor to minors and that gambling had been practiced in the saloon.” Each charge was answered and refuted. Finally, the board made a unanimous decision “to revoke the license for violations of the conditions under which it was obtained.” In 1891 the temperance side was successful, but nine years later the Gazette headline read “Will Run Wide Open – Three Petitions for Liquor Licenses in Danville.” Flagel was back; now he had a wholesale license but by law was restricted to selling liquor in quantities of one quart. However, when Flagel and T. McCauley sold some strangers a pink flask of whiskey, a complaint was sworn out against them and they were arrested. Since the matter had been long fought, it was agreed to let the Board of Supervisors decide whether or not liquor could be sold. The Gazette for Jan. 6, 1900 published the names on petitions, pro and con, which included R. O. Baldwin, James Root and Rev. R. S. Symington against the licensing and Fred L. Humburg, John Hartz and W. C. Andreason in favor. The supervisors granted retail saloon licenses to Flagel, McCauley and M. Lawless with Supervisor Hemme agreeing on the first two and opposing the Lawless license. According to the article, “The result is that Danville will become a wide-open town.” It seems the Supervisors felt that, since liquor had been sold there for many years, it was better that “the men have retail licenses when they are under bond to keep the law.” The battle didn’t end there, for the Gazette on Feb. 10 then reported “The Saloon Fight – Two of Danville Cases Heard Last Tuesday.” A “spy of the anti-saloon league” brought charges against the bartender of A. Flagel. Justice W. C. Lewis heard the case in Danville, 40 witnesses were summoned, and “the town was livelier than it had been for many a day.” The Womens Christian Temperance Union and the Anti-Saloon League carried the temperance fight banner in California and the nation, with the 18th Amendment to the U. S. Constitution the result. When Prohibition went in effect in 1920, closing down the valley’s legal saloons, Danville’s temperance advocates were finally victorious. Hiram Elliott turned his saloon into an ice cream parlor for that decade. However, there were many stills in Crow Canyon and other locations. A book, Jackass Brandy by Bruno Buti tells that story. By Beverly Lane, from The Valley Pioneer, Oct. 7, 1987