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A not-so-dry Kirkland: The Prohibition years

Effigy of Jack Ferry. Circa 1907 (2005.2.216) - Courtesy of Kirkland Heritage Society
Effigy of Jack Ferry. Circa 1907 (2005.2.216)
— image credit: Courtesy of Kirkland Heritage Society

In April 1933, Kirkland’s City Council passed a beer ordinance by a three-to-one vote. Although our town had been dry since its incorporation in 1905, it was now legal to sell 3.2 percent beer on draft and in bottles in restaurants and cafes, and bottled beer in grocery and drug stores.

When the mayor -— Reverend C.E. Newberry -— resigned in protest, Kirkland knew that it had made a tremendous sacrifice for the sake of beer. As an observer described: “This veteran of years of civic service put on his hat and coat, and left the council chambers where he had served for years as a clerk, councilman and mayor.”

Newberry’s resignation epitomized the end of the wet versus dry debate, which had raged for years and extended as far back as 1909. In that year, Jack Ferry was run out of town for selling illegal booze in his Kirkland hotel, and his effigy (see photograph) was a sober reminder of his misguided deed. This was a taste of things to come.

Statewide Prohibition

On Nov. 3, 1914, an unprecedented 94.6 percent of the Washington electorate voted in favor of the Prohibition amendment to the state constitution, which became law on Jan. 1, 1916. This predated national Prohibition, which passed into law in 1919 and took effect in 1920 with the 18th Amendment to the Constitution.

Although 61 percent of Seattleites favored prohibition in 1914, liquor and saloon laws varied widely across the state, with rural areas tending to be more conservative. While Bellingham and Kirkland, for example, remained dry, Everett voted to become wet in 1912.

Not all “bone dry”

Statewide Prohibition led to the closure of saloons and breweries, but did not stipulate a bone dry state. It was still possible to obtain permits (with restrictions) to import hard liquor or beer, and druggists were allowed to sell alcohol for medicinal purposes -— a loophole that was ingeniously exploited.

In 1918, county officials reported that excessive quantities of grain were being imported and the illegal sale by druggists accounted “for most of the intoxication in the state.” In a six month period alone, King County druggists imported 13,444 gallons of whiskey, 3,441 gallons of brandy, 1,744 gallons of gin, 928 gallons of rum, 4,140 gallons of wine, and 33,840 quarts of beer.

Although the later and stricter national Prohibition law prevented the manufacture, sale or transportation of alcoholic beverages (again with the exception of the druggists), the recently created underworld of alcoholic-related activity continued to flourish. And dry Kirkland was no exception.

An Adventure Underworld

The pages of The East Side Journal are replete with stories of raids on well hidden stills, shootings, arrests, and even a dog or “Rum Hound,” who apparently dug up a gallon of moonshine in a Kirkland resident’s garden.

While Kirkland espoused the virtues of being dry, our town had its fair share of bootleggers, homemade stills, and rumrunners. While searching for fugitives in May, 1926, Deputy U.S. Marshal E. Laird accidentally discovered a huge 100-gallon still in operation near the Juanita school house between Bothell and Kirkland. Other stills were found in a henhouse on Rose Hill, near the pit of the Kirkland Sand and Gravel Company, and deep in the woods three and a half miles southwest of Woodinville.

And then there were the rumrunners, who smuggled in vast quantities of alcohol from British Columbia. In December, 1931, three men were arrested in the $25,000 Kirkland booze case. Most of the liquor was Canadian rye whiskey, which was one of the most popular brands among those who could afford to pay for bonded goods.

Still the debate

While Prohibition was generally opposed by the business community and major newspapers, anti-saloon forces and evangelical churches promoted the virtues of staying dry.

It’s a good law

In Kirkland, the dries expounded their ideas through Union Prohibition meetings at the Rose Hill Presbyterian Church, Anti-Saloon League meetings at the Kirkland Community Church, and the establishment of a Woman’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) branch.

As Dr. J. C. Thompson argued at a Kirkland Service Club meeting in February, 1932, Prohibition had abolished the saloon, which: “diminished the absence from the factory of workmen through drink, the waste of their wages and the consequent suffering of their families.”

Beer brings business

But the business community won the day. America was in the throes of the Great Depression and Prohibition repeal promised more jobs, increased purchasing power, sizable government revenues, and benefits to related industries. Businessmen warned that considerable revenue might leave Kirkland if residents had to go to neighboring towns to purchase their glass or bottle of beer.

In August, 1933 all Eastside districts approved the repeal of the 18th Amendment. National Prohibition ended on Dec. 5, 1933 -— 75 years ago this week.

Sources: KHS; East Side Journal; historylink.org;Washington State History Research Center;Seattle 1900-1920. Richard C. Berner.

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