One hundred years ago this week, Prohibition went into effect and the nation — theoretically — went dry.
Back in 1920, Riverhead (pop. 5,753) was a bit ahead of the curve. The town fathers in June 1918 banned the retail sale of packaged liquor in the town “during the period of the present war.” The ordinance was requested by the commander of Camp Upton, who apparently wanted to ensure the sobriety of his soldiers. That November, voters approved a proposition banning the sale of liquor everywhere but drug stores — it was still available by prescription to cure what ailed you.
But that wasn’t the first time Riverhead went (more or less) dry. Voters approved propositions banning liquor sales in 1846 and 1896, only to have those propositions overturned in subsequent votes.
The effort to ban booze in Riverhead was undoubtedly boosted by a prominent citizen’s involvement in the temperance movement. Riverhead had the first Suffolk County chapter of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union, established in 1878. Caroline Perkins Griffing, the wife of Timothy Griffing (water and electric company owner, attorney and county court judge) was very active in the union. Caroline Griffing would surely be dismayed by the proliferation of wineries, breweries and distilleries in Riverhead today — not to mention the number of establishments selling alcoholic beverages.
Prohibition was put into place by the 18th amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which took effect Jan. 17, 1920. It banned “the manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors” — though not their consumption. It remained in effect for nearly 14 years until its repeal by the 21st amendment on Dec. 5, 1933.
Of course, Prohibition didn’t really work. Bans on things rarely do. People drank as much after Prohibition as they did before. And plenty of folks drank during Prohibition, as speakeasies operated everywhere — even in pre-Prohibition “dry” Riverhead, even right on Main Street at the J.J. Sullivan Hotel. Riverhead even had a “malt shop,” located on Peconic Avenue, which advertised “a complete line of Grains, Cordials, Fruits, Syrups, Barrels, Crocks, Copperware, Syphons, Tubing, Glassware, Capping Machines, Etc.”
Coming up this week
Monday is a federal and state holiday, in observance of the birthday of the American civil rights leader, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Government offices, schools, banks and the stock exchange are closed. The post office is closed and there is no regular mail delivery.
There are plenty of events and things of interest going on in town this week. Check out the LOCAL events calendar. Here’s a sampling:
Tuesday evening there will be a fundraiser at Moustache Brewery for Ruby June Cotter and her parents. Ruby, now 7 months, was born with a heart condition and required a heart transplant, which she received just before Christmas. She’s a beautiful, living reminder of the importance of organ donations.
Speaking of donations, there’s a blood drive at Peconic Bay Medical Center Thursday. Give blood and save a life. Truth.
There’s a BR-ingo fundraiser for the Riverhead Community Awareness Program happening Saturday at the Riverhead Senior Center on Shade Tree Lane in Aquebogue.
Baiting Hollow Church is hosting a Chinese auction on Saturday.
Entertainment this week, in addition to lots of music at the wineries, includes a free Friday matinee at the library, where “The Irishman” is showing, Grammy-nominated singer Joan Osborne at The Suffolk Theater Friday night, followed by Broken Arrow: a tribute to Neil Young on Saturday night.
Public meetings this week:
Tuesday, Jan. 21
Town Board work session, Riverhead Town Hall, 10 a.m.
School board meeting, Riverhead High School, 7 p.m.
Wednesday, Jan. 22
Architectural Review Board, Riverhead Town Hall, 4 p.m.
Town Board meeting, Riverhead Town Hall, 6 p.m.
Thursday, Jan. 23
Traffic Safety Committee, Riverhead Town Hall, 8:30 a.m.
Town Board Work Session, Riverhead Town Hall, 10 a.m.
Parking District Advisory Committee, Riverhead Town Hall, 4 p.m.
Zoning Board of Appeals, Riverhead Town Hall, 6:30 p.m.
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