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| Red Hook, Brooklyn, Liquor "Dealers" Mid to Late 1800s|
My family were German and Norwegian immigrants who lived in Red Hook, Brooklyn circa 1882 to 1890. Both families subsequently moved to Hoboken, New Jersey where there was large German population and a fair number of Norwegian immigrants.
Until the relatively recent artist revival, Red Hook had a reputation as an unsavory place. How and when did Red Hook's tough reputation come about? What was Red Hook like in the 1880s and 1890s?
Red Hook in the 1860s, 1870s and 1880s.
In the 1860 and 1870s Red Hook was the home of sailors and "working class" laborers. It was also the home of small business men and local politicians. The population was predominately Irish and German (with as sprinkling of other nationalities, mostly northern Europeans: Scandinavians, Scotts, English). In the 1880 the neighborhood was embracing more Scandinavians and Italians, but its foreign born population was still predominantly Irish and German.
Both the working class AND the Irish and Germans had reputations as "drinkers". From its inception Red Hook was a port which meant that seamen from around the world stopped at its shores and visited its saloons, eateries and boarding houses.
Red Hook Liquor Dealers
The 1860 Census for Ward 12 indicates only 27 people who gave their occupation as liquor dealers. In 1860 there are 54 grocers and the later records show that many grocers also sold liquor. In May 1867 sixteen excise licenses (licenses to sell alcohol) were granted in the 12th Ward.
In Ward 12 in March 1870 124 liquor licences were granted. The majority of those receiving these licences were "retail liquor dealers". This number may be exaggerated and reflect duplication or just plain old misinformation. In any event, there was a large increase in the number of licenses granted between 1867 and 1870. Many of these licenses were granted to men and women who had other business in the neighborhood. Having a liquor licences appears to have been a lucrative business move.
The population of the 12th ward increased from about 11,107 to 18,360 between 1860 and 1870 - an increase of almost 65%.
There was a difference in the fee between those licensed to sell only beer and those licensed to sell "spirits". In 1875 there was a $75 annual fee to sell spirits and a $30 annual fee to sell lager beer. In 1875 there were 3,500 to 4,000 licensed liquor dealers in Brooklyn.
What were these establishments like? Some of the "retail liquor dealers" were also the proprietors of "grocery stores". Did this mean they had a "bar" or "saloon" next to their grocery store or did they sell by the bottle out of a store? Were they selling by the glass? by the bottle? whiskey? poteen? wine? and or beer?
Based on news reports some of these establishments did have a "bar" with the bartender on one side and the customers on the other side. Some saloons had barrels for seats. Some bars served lager beer and at least one served burbon. Many of the saloons/restaurants which served liquor had back rooms. Some had upstairs rooms.
Retail liquor dealers paid "excise" taxes. An excise tas was/is a tax paid on a specific good, in the case of Red Hook in the mid 1880 this meant more of less "liquor". The liquor dealers were members of associations. Many saloon owners, especially among the Irish and Germans, were minor elected officials. If the census is a true indication they frequently had servants and owned property.
Laborers, factory workers, dock workers, etc. worked 6 days a week. The only day they had off was Sunday. This was the only day a working man and his family could relax and perhaps go to a beer hall or bar.
Excise and Sunday laws mandated that establishments which sold alcohol had to be closed between midnight Saturday and midnight Sunday.
The Sunday "blue laws" changed over time. The Raines Law passed in March 1896, still prohibited the sale of alcoholic beverages on Sunday but made an exceptions for hotels - a place where one could get a bedroom and a meal. A "hotel" had to have at least ten rooms and serve at least sandwiches. Many Raines Law hotels were opened above saloons. Some of the sandwiches served in Raines Law hotels were composed of bread with a brick in between. These hotels contributed to prostitution making the moral situation worse instead of better.
My plan is to focus on the section of Red Hook that was in Ward 12 and is/was bounded by Hamilton avenue on the north, the Erie Basin on the south, Dwight street on the east and the East River on the west. I have included a few places not within these boundaries.
As a jumping off point I have used an 1886 map of Ward 12 which includes the above boundaries and an 1870 list of liquor dealers in Ward 12. The map shows buildings, some with addresses, and indicates whether they were of wood frame, brick or stone. The 1875 Census also listed the type of construction.
Red Hook Growth
The 1860 Census for Ward 12 (which was basically Red Hook) was taken in two sections:
In the 1880 Census Ward 12 was divided into 8 Election districts. There were 50 people listed on each page (more or less):
Question: Was there a 1st ED?
Increases between 1860, 1870 and 1880:
1860 liquor dealers = 27 versus 1870 = 124
Temperance is the virtue of being moderate in action, thought, and feeling. The word became attached to the "Temperance movement" which preached total abstinence from any type of alcohol.
Much of the population in Red Hook came from cultures where drinking was commonplace. The Irish were known for their love of whiskey. The Germans were big beer drinkers, even German children drank beer. The Scandinavians were also imbibers of beer. Sailors were notorious for being intoxicated while ashore. The drinking habits of the population of Red Hook were in conflict with a growing temperance movement in the United States in the mid to late 1800s.
In 1874 "lady crusader" were active across the county holding "Prayer Meetings" in front of saloons.
When the Norwegian Seamen's Mission was established in Red Hook in 1878 "the object was to give spiritual aid to these many wanderers and provide interventions against the many evils besetting strangers in this city and New York."
Scandinavians later established the Sailor's Temperance Hall on Hamilton Ave and the Bethesda mission on Woodhull street.
Temperance versus Indulgence
In 1866 Elizabeth Stackpole testified in a murder hearing:
"On Sunday evening the 15th my husband went to the temperance meeting and I went to Terry O'Neil's for a quart of ale".I found this very funny. But the Temperance Hall was used for meetings of all kinds including the 1884 MEETING OF LIQUOR DEALERS
"A meeting of the twelfth ward Liquor Dealers' Protective Association will be held in Temperance Hall, on Hamilton ave, at 3 o'clock for the purpose of perfecting their organization."
Temperance Hall, Hamilton Ave at Hicks 1865 - 1881, seating 1,500
Temperance Hall was a 94 feet by 22 feet Doric style brick building with brown trim build by James Ashfield and P. M. O'Brien. It consisted of two large rooms - one in the basement and the other on the main floor. There was a stage at the end of the main floor room. The building's insides were unadorned except for two paintings. A description written in 1867 of "two very excellent paintings" "representing in tragic contrast the home of the drunkard and that of the total abstainer." The painting on the left showed a middle aged drunkard, with "startling eyes and unkempt locks" with his wretched family, his wife and children, attired in rags, surrounding an empty table. The opposing image is of a well clad, handsome man and his family at a well ladened table. The suggestion being that abstinence makes one "happy, wealthy, younger, and better looking."
Temperance Hall was used for Fenian meetings in 1865, Land League meetings in 1881 to 1883. Many political meetings were held in Temperance Hall. Plays were presented. Lectures were given. In 1872 it was used to hold mass for the German Catholic population of South Brooklyn. It was also the home of worship for other dominations and sects. In 1880 it was the venue of a boxing exhibition by Mike Donovan, a middle weight champion. It was the site of numerous benefits and fairs. Temperances meetings were also held in the hall.
The Excise Laws
Ward twelve saloons and liquor stores were frequently found operating "full blast" in "flagrant violation" of the Sunday Excise laws.
Violations included serving liquor on Sundays and serving liquor to minors. No age limit is given but there is mention of selling liquor to 7 and 8 year olds. When I was 5 or six years old (circa 1950) my family lived in a small town on Long Island. My parents frequently sent my brother (then 7 or 8) and I across the street to the grocery store for beer. No problem.
A Red Hook Saloon
From various contemporary news articles some elements of the Red Hook Bar can be surmised.
A Red Hook Restaurant
In 1894 a customer came into as "small restaurant" at 155 Van Brunt. He ordered a hearty meal and "washed it down with a bottle of the best Milwaukee in the house" then started for the door without paying the bill. Two waiter tried to stop him. There was a scuffle and a knife was drawn. No one was seriously hurt. The "customer" was arrested on two charges of felonious assault.
Moonshine and Poteen
1869: An illicit still with a capacity of 100 gallons was raided at Conover near King. Several hogsheads of mash were destroyed. The apparatus and one barrel of whiskey were confiscated by the US marshalls.
1871: James Shannon, a Fire Department, employee, was sentenced to 18 months in prison at the Albany Prison and a $1,000 fine for running an illegal still in the 12th ward. Michael Donnely, a family man with a wife and small children, was convicted of the same offense. He was given the same sentence.
1873: Despite the report of an illegal still running in the 12th ward the officials were not able to locate it. The revenue department said there was a lot of illicit distilleries in the 12 ward and that ward was being constantly watched.
1874: August, The IRS uncovered an illicit still in South Brooklyn at 21st near 3rd Ave. One barrel of rum which had already been drawn off and 10,000 gallons of mash were seized. The IRS agents also seized a still and some molasses from the cellar of a blacksmiths shop at 106 Third street.
1876: April an illicit still neat Columbia and Nelson was raided and a quantity of mash destroyed by the US marshalls.
1876: In April an illicit still in "full operation" near Columbia and Huntington streets among the shanties of the twelfth ward was raided by the revenuers. They were greeted by "several hundred" men women and children who threw rocks and mud "and other missiles" at the government officers. The still had a capacity for 150 gallons and 40 gallons of rum were seized by the US marshalls. They also destroyed about 500 gallons of molasses mash.
1876: April The revenuers raided another illicit still near Hicks and Church streets in the 12th ward. In a one story shanty they found a still with a capacity of 200 gallons, in full operation. John Farrell was arrested. The US marshalls destroyed about 2,000 gallons of mash. The marshalls were guarded by the local police against the possible interference of the local residence.
An Alternative Source of Alcohol
In 1884 in response to stricter enforcement of the laws against selling liquor on Sundays some people were getting their liquor in drugs stores which were allowed to operate on Sundays.
Some Red Hook Druggist were:
Liquor Dealers and Local Politics
Several of the Red Hook liquor dealers were involved in local and state politics including Fred Black, Henry Finkeldey, Fred Graeff, Thomas Dawson, John Dempsey, John Curran, John Kelly, George Higgins, William Hoehn, James (Jimmy) Donovan (an alderman), Thomas (Tommy) Sheridan (an assemblyman) .
Coffey street is named for Michael J Coffey, a spike driver and a ship caulker who became a ward boss in the 12th Ward circa 1882. Being a ward boss was an avenue to riches. It was said to be worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. Among other things ward bosses controlled who got liquor licenses. Michael J Coffey was born in Ireland circa 1841. He became a Brooklyn alderman and then a member of the state assembly. The 1900 census listed him at 42 4th place with his wife Mary, children, Joseph, Florence, James, Marie and a servant. He was said to wear a waxed mustache, a diamont "front", shiny stove pipe hat and patent leather shoes.
Depperman[n]'s Store, 81 Ferris Street circa 1900. Courtesy Douglas Depperman, June 2013.
Leonhard Michel (1847-1926), Brewer
See Mikes Bottle Room for an image and some information on L Michel Brewing Co. and other wonderful images of old beer bottles.See R. W. Adams Lumber Yard, Atlantic Sugar Refinery - Santa Rosa Sugar Refinery - India Wharf and the India Wharf Brewing co.
In August 2013 Beth Mcloughlin invited me to "view this photo".
See Red Hook Streets
Life in Red Hook, Brooklyn in the mid to late 1880s
Retail in Red Hook
1870 Census Brooklyn Ward 12, Liquor stores and saloons
Red Hook Liquor Dealers
Red Hook Liquor Dealers - The Families
Balfe - Ball - Baumann - Behnken - Bell - Black - Boysen - Bray - Brickwedel - Callaghan - Carberry - Cassin - Cavanagh - Collimore - Collins - Coogan - Cordes - Curran - Daly - Dawson - Dempsey - Depperman - Devan - Dixon - Dockery - Donovan - Doran - Ehrichs - Fay - Finkeldey - Fitzgerald - Garahan - Gillen - Graef - Haack - Henry - Higgins, Hugh - Higgins, George - Hoehn - - Hoffman - Hughs - Hunold - Hussey - Judge - Kassenbrock - Keleher - Knoop - Krohler - Kuhn - Lamont - Lever - Little - Looney - Madigan - Mahnken - McAvanny - McGee - McGrath - McKenna - McQuade - Meyers - Molloy - Mooney - Moran - Mullady - Munsinger - Murray - Noble - O'Brien - O'Hara - Oberdieck - Powers - Ropke - Schmadeke - Schwanemann - Shea - Sheridan - Siebe - Simmons - Struve - Sullivan - Weinphal - Winkelman -
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Norwegians in Red Hook
Life in Red Hood, Brooklyn mid to late 1800s
Churches and other institutions in Red Hook
Industry in Red Hook mid to late 1800s
By 1920 the five houses between 3 and 9 Second Place were inhabited by Swedes and Norwegians:
Other Images of Brooklyn
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