Menominee Range Memories: Prohibition enforcement waned in Roaring Twenties

In 1892 in Iron Mountain’s first city directory, William Graf operated a saloon at 100 E. Hughitt St. in Iron Mountain and lived here, as did Jim Alexander, a laborer at the Chapin Mine. By 1902, John Vercelli/Vercella was the saloonkeeper here and Thomas Langdon, a painter, lived upstairs. By 1905, Edward (Annie) Shea operated the saloon and also resided here, as he still did in 1907, advertising “liquors and cigars” in the city directory. This photograph was probably taken between 1900 and 1910, when a beer wagon stopped in front of the Milwaukee Saloon where wooden ramps led to board sidewalks and a young girl looked on from the upstairs window. By 1913, the structure was listed as “vacant” in the city directory. However, by 1925, Charles/Claude (Edna) Burby operated a restaurant at this location. By 1935, the structure was again listed as “vacant” in the city directory. By 1939, Conrad Smith operated Smith’s Gun Shop here, and by 1946, Bert (Marion) Harvey was the proprietor of Harvey Sporting Goods at this address. This building still stands. (Menominee Range Historical Museum)

The 30th installment of Menominee Range Memories, a series of articles by William J. Cummings, Menominee Range Historical Foundation historian, now available on the Dickinson County Library’s website, is titled “The Roaring Twenties — Local Prohibition Enforcement Lax in the Early Twenties.”

As noted in a Feb. 20, 1925, article in The Iron Mountain News, transcribed below, local enforcement of the Volstead Act was lax, being described as a “joke” by Leo J. Grove, federal prohibition enforcement chief for the northern Michigan district.

Grove noted in early 1925 that there had “not been more than a dozen liquor law arrests in Iron Mountain by city police in the past five or six years,” further stating, “Willingness of the police to co-operate with him and his men in making raids and arrests here” had “not been forthcoming … despite the fact that scores of alleged ‘soft’ drink parlors” were “in operation here.”

Placing the responsibility for conditions in Iron Mountain “almost entirely on the local administration,” Grove declared that it was “the duty of the mayor to instruct the chief of police that a clean-up is in order.”

Joseph B. Eslick’s term as mayor began May 3, 1920, and Walter A. Henze’s term began April 17, 1922. Walter Henze was the son of Louis A. Henze, of the Henze-Tollen Brewing Company. Alfred Sutherlund succeeded Henze as mayor in 1926.

Thus, newspaper accounts of prohibition violations in the early 1920s, particularly in Iron Mountain, are sparse until first Grove and later local officials began to clamp down on liquor law violators.

Under the headline “Sheriff Destroys Moonshine Stills: Cleveland and Deputy Visit Foster City Territory,” the following article appeared in the Sept. 20, 1923 edition of The Iron Mountain News:

“Two moonshine stills, each of great capacity, were destroyed yesterday by Sheriff Frank Cleveland and Deputy Louis Youhassey (sic — Yuhasey/Uhazie), who discovered the devices on farms located near Foster City.

“The first still was found on the farm of John McMahon, who gave the officials permission to search the premises. It was destroyed and McMahon, according to the authorities, promised that no more stills would be found on his place.

“As the result of complaints from residents of Foster City, the officials also visited the home of Mrs. Ernest Steuben, whose husband was arrested some time ago and is now employed in another city. The complaints allege that Mrs. Steuben and her two children were making and distributing moonshine. A large still was uncovered in the woods some distance from the Steuben home, the authorities being led to the spot by one of the children. Part of the still was saved and the rest burned. The officials also destroyed a half barrel of mash which was in a room in the Steuben home.”

The following article appeared in the April 18, 1924, edition of The Iron Mountain News, under the headline “Prosecutor Threatens To Put Ban On Sunday Dances: Drinking Orgy at Quinnesec Last Night Results in Closing of Hall:”

“A ban may be placed on Sunday night dances throughout Dickinson county as a result of an orgy of drunkenness at Quinnesec last night, which resulted in the closing of the dance hall by Sheriff Frank Cleveland, it was stated today by Prosecutor Ray E. MacAllister.

“The Quinnesec dance was closed after the views of several prominent residents of the town had been solicited by the sheriff and these men and women were found to be in hearty approval of the step.

“Two Iron Mountain girls, described as about 20 years of age and attractive, figured in the alleged drinking bout which caused the closing of the dance. Cleveland said, ‘These young women who attended the dance with two youths about 15 years of age, were found in a drunken condition in the rear seat of an automobile parked back of the dance hall.’ Several bottles of liquor had been spilled in the car, Cleveland said.

“The sheriff stated that an investigation showed that a large number of dancers also were under the influence of liquor in varying degrees.

“‘We are going to try to put an end to affairs of this kind,’ declared Prosecutor MacAllister today. ‘We are going to go ahead and put the damper on all Sunday night public dances all through the county.'”

On Jan. 26, 1925, the following article appeared in The Iron Mountain News under the headline “Record Set By Liquor Seizure: Raid Saturday Netted Big Still, 226 Gallons of Moonshine:”

“The daddy of all stills and 226 gallons of moonshine were resting today in the basement of the county jail following their seizure late Saturday afternoon by Sheriff Frank Cleveland in a raid at the home of Alois Mortier, 27 Saginaw location, Norway.

“The haul was the largest liquor confiscation in the history of the county. Mortier, authorities claim, was in business on a ‘wholesale’ basis.

“The investigation that led to the arrest was conducted by the sheriff’s department following information that Mortier was in the moonshine business. After carefully laying his plans, the sheriff led the raid which resulted in his finding the mammoth still and the contraband liquor.

“Mortier has not yet been arraigned but will be bound over for trial at the April term of circuit court, Ray E. MacAllister, prosecuting attorney, declared today. Mortier has furnished bond for his appearance.”

Under the headline “Nineteen Arrested in County Rum Clean-Up: Padlock of 13 Places to Be Asked Court: Score of Federal Agents Swoop Down on Alleged Violators: Many From City: Officers Time Arrival for Changing Shifts of Bartenders,” the following article appeared in the Feb. 11, 1925, edition of The Iron Mountain News:

“Padlock injunctions will be sought by Leo J. Grove, prohibition enforcement chief for northern Michigan, against 11 Iron Mountain saloons and one each in Quinnesec and Norway, he announced here last night following raids in which 19 Dickinson county persons, 16 of them from Iron Mountain, were arrested, charged with violation of the Volstead act.

“Mr. Grove, accompanied by three United States marshals, another agent and three members of the state police, timed their arrival so that they would get both shifts of bartenders as they were changing. In numerous instances their plan was more than successful, not only getting both bartenders, but the proprietors as well, who were checking over accounts of the retiring bartender.

“In no case was any trouble experienced, Mr. Grove said, not the least resistance being offered.

“The persons arrested, seven of whom were taken to Escanaba last night, to be arraigned today before a United States commissioner, with the remaining 12, are:

“John Sloper, American House; John Donahue, 102 West Ludington; Middaugh Menard, 102 West Ludington; James Fontecchio, 510 Sixth avenue; Carmelio Tijilint, 115 Stephenson avenue; Santo Secinaro, 416 Millie street; James Diagostino, 416 Millie street; Sam D’Alfonse, 710 Millie street; Charles Henderson, 110 East Brown street; George Gilbeau, 110 East Brown street; Reno Romagnoli, 300 Margaret street; Charles Fredrickson, 710 Millie street; Frank Skok (sic – Skog), 112 East Brown street; Carl Montier, 102 West Hughitt street; Walter Jednak, 102 West Hughitt street; John Sack, 102 West Hughitt street; Victor Braspennickx, Quinnesec; Charles Peterson, Norway; Peter Westlund, Norway.

“Braspennickx has been arrested before for violation of the prohibition law, it was said by the raiders, and only recently completed serving a term at the Detroit house of correction, while Diagostino was arrested last night for the second time within a month.

“Evidence against the prisoners was secured last week by state troopers working in plain clothes while two federal agents appeared to be attempting to make liquor purchases here, it was said. With the bootleggers keeping close watch on the two federal agents, it was an easy matter for the state men, dressed as laboring men, to get ‘buys’, the raiders said.

“The entire party will be arraigned in Escanaba this afternoon on charges of violating the eighteenth amendment and will be tried in Marquette during the April term of federal court.

“Descriptions of the places against which Mr. Grove will seek padlock injunctions, under which they would be closed by federal court order for one year, are being prepared by Pros. Atty. R.E. MacAllister, who co-operated with the federal men.

“In several cases, Mr. Grove said, owners of the buildings will be charged with conspiracy, in that they knew the buildings were being used for the sale of illicit liquor. Addresses of buildings against which injunctions will be sought were given by Mr. Grove as follows:

“112 East Brown street, 102 West Hughitt street, 110 East Brown street, 416 Millie street, American House, 102 West Ludington, Victor Braspennickx building at Quinnesec, 710 Millie street, one at Norway, 516 Sixth avenue, 300 Margaret street, 115 Stephenson avenue, 104 East Hughitt street.

“The raiding party was made up of Mr. Grove, U.S. Marshal Martin Brown, of Grand Rapids; Deputy Marshals Paul Nelson, of Marquette, and Matt Mitchell, of Sault Ste. Marie; Federal Agent Floyd Smith, and Sergt. Engle and Troopers Reardon and Pearsall of the state police. Leaving Escanaba at 1 o’clock yesterday afternoon in two automobiles, they timed their arrival so as to reach here at 5 o’clock, when they expected to find the ‘day shift’ bartender turning over his duties to the ‘night shift’ man.”

In the Feb. 20, 1925 edition of The Iron Mountain News, the following article appeared under the headline “Record Rum Haul Made in Federal Raid Here: Sponge Squad Net Captures 5 Last Night: Single Seizure Greatest in History of Upper Peninsula: Grove in Charge; Declares Enforcement of Volstead Law in City Is Joke:”

“The largest haul of moonshine whisky ever taken in a soft drink parlor by federal prohibition enforcement agents in the upper peninsula was seized here last night by dry agents working under Leo J. Grove, of Marquette.

“The record seizure was made at Meehan ‘soft’ drink parlor at 104 East Hughitt street, where a 50-gallon barrel, a 10-gallon keg, three five-gallon jugs, two one-gallon jugs of moonshine, two gallons of wine and three cases of beer, as well as a number of pint bottles of whisky comprised the haul.

“The persons arrested last night are: Stanley Ulys, 101 West Hughitt street, sale; Peter Sach, 102 West Hughitt, sale; Joe Caduto, 104 East Hughitt, sale; George Gay, 112 West Hughitt, sale; Joseph Waites, 104 West Hughitt, possession.

“The raids were made in connection with the arrest of five bartenders at various soft drink saloons of the city. Injunctions looking for the padlocking of the buildings in which liquor was found will be sought in federal court, Mr. Grove announced, making a total of 16 padlock injunctions sought for Iron Mountain buildings as a result of raids here within a week.

“The first raid was a week ago, when 19 persons were arrested and descriptions of 14 buildings taken, to be used in padlock proceedings.

“Padlock injunctions will be asked for the buildings at 104 East Hughitt, the latter occupied by Ed Van Damme’s restaurant.

“The raiding party was armed with search warrants obtained after agents had purchased liquor at the various places and struck its first blow at about 7 o’clock.

“The party, made up of federal agents, United States deputy marshals and state police, arrived here in automobiles, making the trip from Marquette by way of Escanaba, over which route some of them returned this afternoon. Others were to accompany prisoners to Escanaba, while one or two were to accompany the consignment of seized liquor to Marquette by train.

“Law enforcement in Iron Mountain, so far as the Volstead act is concerned, is a joke, in the opinion of Mr. Grove, who is federal prohibition enforcement chief for the northern Michigan district. He stated that there have not been more than a dozen liquor law arrests in Iron Mountain by city police in the past five or six years. Willingness of the police to co-operate with him and his men in making raids and arrests here has not been forthcoming, Mr. Grove declared, despite the fact that scores of alleged ‘soft’ drink parlors are in operation here.

“Responsibility for conditions here does not rest primarily with the federal enforcement group, Mr. Grove declared, but lies almost entirely with the local administration. As city executive, he declared, it is the duty of the mayor to instruct the chief of police that a clean-up is in order.

“Blame for local conditions rests first with the city officials, then come county officials and, finally, he declared, federal agents, who should, but who in few case are asked to, co-operate with local authorities.

“Nineteen arrests were made here last week by Mr. Grove’s forces making a total of 24 arrests for Volstead law violation within a week. Iron Mountain was ‘dry’ this morning, his agents reported, but they realize it will be running ‘wide open’ as soon as they leave the city.

“‘It will take a whole lot of “pecking away” to clean up Iron Mountain,’ Mr. Grove said, ‘in view of the apparent failure of local authorities to make arrests. Surely they must know of conditions here. We hear of them at Marquette and are more than ready at all time to act immediately upon ‘tips’ given us by reliable sources.'”

Read the rest of this story on the Dickinson County Library’s website at This 33-page installment of Menominee Range Memories contains a multitude of additional articles of events regarding prohibition between 1921 and 1925, as well as four historic photographs: the Milwaukee Saloon, 100 East Hughitt St., Iron Mountain; the Central House, 106 East B St., Iron Mountain; Louis Cristanelli’s Saloon, 1009 Railroad St., Norway; Peter DeDecker’s Saloon, Seventh Ave., Norway.

New installments will be added to the library’s website and on the library’s local history research computer.