1954-liquor-license

This is the first license to sell liquor for the City of Litchfield’s Municipal Liquor Store, dated 1954.

The sale and consumption of intoxicating liquor has had an interesting history since Litchfield was created.

Drinking was grudgingly tolerated by the town and the government, and citizens took many actions to regulate the sale and use of alcohol. The News Ledger gave notice in the July 22, 1875, issue that, “Persons coming to this place and getting intoxicated are respectfully requested to leave town before dusk or not smoke around where there is a liability of fire.”

By May 1895, Litchfield liquor licenses had increased to $750. In the early years of the 20th century, Litchfield had 15 to 20 liquor licenses for a population of 2,700. Compare this to our current population of 6,700 and seven licenses.

On Sunday Feb. 5, 1911, The Anti-Saloon League statewide field day was observed in Litchfield with representatives speaking at various churches during regular services.

“Don’t fail to attend these meetings and hear a logical discussion of the greatest moral issue in Minnesota today.”

Saturday March 25, 1911, Litchfield Saturday Review headline: “Saloon men are fighting each other.”

“Hell has broken loose.”

A complaint was brought to the city council by John Gaasterland, owner of one of the two saloons whose licenses were revoked shortly before the holidays for selling liquor to minors. The council acted, and on Tuesday, March 21, 1911, the remaining six saloon owners were put under arrest.

In Gaasterland’s complaint to the council, “he felt he was being made a scapegoat for the saloons in Litchfield, that the other saloon keepers were equally guilty with him and that all the guilty should be punished alike.” After Gaasterland’s license was revoked (some weeks before the holidays), “he was instrumental in securing affidavits from minors to the effect that they had been habitually served liquor in other saloons than Gaasterland’s.” It was decided that there will be no more “rushing the can.” This was a local phrase for minors who would go into a bar with a bucket, fill up it up with beer, go to work sites and sell beer to the workers on their lunch breaks.

Under a newspaper headline, “Some liquor evidence the council had,” the article listed multiple affidavits from minors. The minors were identified as “Affiant, age 19” not revealing the names of the minors.

“During the fall of 1910, Affiant purchased intoxicating liquors, consisting of beer, in a saloon operated by Mr. Nelson, also in the saloon operated by Mr. Erickson, also in the saloon operated by Mr. Peifer and in the saloon operated by Mr. Hankey,” the article stated.

On Monday April 6, 1914, by a 46 vote margin, Litchfield became a dry town. Litchfield Saturday Review reported April 11, 1914, “The unexpected occasionally happens. As a matter of fact, Litchfield has been dry since Saturday evening when the doors of the six dispensaries were closed for the night. They were closed Sunday as a matter of course. They were closed on Monday because it was election day and have been closed since because that was the will of the people expressed Monday. The wets were quite confident of the outcome, and the drys scarcely hoped to overcome the majority of 124 recorded a year ago in favor of license. There was a large voter turn out, probably the largest recorded at a village election for some time. There was only one contest so far as offices were concerned and that was for recorder. The main, and practically the only issue, was the question of license.”

But, on Armistice Day, there was much “flammable liquid” being consumed with dancing in the streets until 2 a.m.

Leading up to prohibition, often called the Nobel Experiment, the 18th Amendment to the United States Constitution was adopted in 1920. The “dry” crusaders, or drys, were led by groups such as the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union.

During prohibition it was common in the area for bootleggers, including some women, and people running speakeasies, some being run out of private homes, to get arrested. It was said that one woman got arrested annually, paid the $100 fine and returned to bootlegging for the rest of the year.

Prohibition was repealed in March 1933 by an action of Congress. They gave the states the right to decide. Minnesota voted in January 1934 to allow cities and counties to decide. Each municipality desiring to have beer parlors had to adopt ordinances, and “the ideas as to what should be in the ordinances were sometimes strange, alarming and amazing.” In 1934 and 1935, the Litchfield Council heard requests for liquor licenses, hours of sale, locations and even where beer could be sold at dances.

The Litchfield Review on Friday Feb. 1, 1935, reported, “Village authorities hold house cleaning.”

“Litchfield was set agog last Friday morning when it was learned that a raid on slot machine operators and illicit liquor dealers had been made the night before,” the article stated. “Six slot machine operators and four illicit liquor dealers were arrested and charged. There was a scurrying to get undiscovered slot machines out of the way and under cover.”

Beer had returned to Meeker County after the repeal of prohibition. Meeker County had voted dry previous to that amendment. After the repeal a new vote was required to authorize the sale of liquor. Petitions were submitted to the County Auditor, and on June 30, 1947, the county voted dry. Then, April 13, 1953, a vote to allow legal sale of intoxicating liquor was held and passed in favor of the wets with a three to one margin.

Litchfield City Council passed a vote on Jan. 7, 1954, to open a Municipal Liquor Store, and the mayor vetoed it. The next day a special meeting was called, and the ordinance was passed by a unanimous vote of the council. Plans were made to set up the liquor store, and Paul Olson was appointed manager. The staff at the Litchfield Liquor Store provided a photo of the first liquor license issued by the state in 1954.

Past, and current members of the Litchfield Heritage Preservation Commission (HPC) contributed to this article. The HPC would like to thank the staff at the Meeker County Historical Society for their assistance.