Temperance and Taverns - October 2013



If you've read some of my articles you will find that most of them are written because I have come across something that I've found interesting and it sparks some curiosity that I follow. This month's article is exactly what happened.

In looking through some historical material I came across the word "Temperance" and the word stood out to me. Now our older generation may immediately know what the word means, but the younger generation probably won't. So in this article we're going to explore the word "temperance" and see how it has had an effect on Greenfield.

The word Temperance means 1.) Moderation or self-restraint in action, statement, etc, self-control. 2.) Habitual moderation in the indulgence of natural appetite or passion, especially in the use of alcoholic liquors. 3.) Total abstinence from alcoholic liquors.

So there it is.....the word temperance has to do with the control of one's self-indulgence in alcohol. Now that might not seem all that exciting and I have to admit that I doubted I would uncover enough information to even write a decent article but as usual once you start digging there's more to it than once imagined.

Temperance or the control of alcohol, originated in the late 18th century. Before this, although there were diatribes published against drunkenness and excess, total abstinence from alcohol was very rarely advocated or practiced. There was also a concentration on hard spirits rather than on total abstinence from alcohol and on moral reform rather than legal measures against alcohol.

The organized Temperance movement started during the American Revolution in Connecticut, Virginia, and New York with farmers forming associations to ban whiskey distilling. This movement spreading to eight states advocating temperance rather than abstinence, taking positions on moral issues such as observance of the Sabbath.

The American Temperance Society was formed in 1826 and within the next decade more and more formed. The Catholic Temperance movement started in 1838, when the Irish priest Theobald Mathew established the Teetotal Abstinence Society. Sons of Temperance groups also began forming in the 1870's. All of these groups worked to rid citizens of alcohol all together rather than advocating moderation. This subject had extreme religious and political ties.

In the mid-1850's banning alcohol in America was done on a local level with the Maine Law being passed in 1851. These laws had a set back as both sides relied on alcohol sales to finance the Civil War and a number of states stopped prohibition. This was reversed during the post war period with the focused efforts of the fast expanding Anti-Saloon League on establishing dry states and dry counties.

During these post war periods temperance groups vowed to not hold meetings in bars or taverns. There was a movement to introduce temperance fountains across the United States so that people could have reliable safe drinking water rather than needing to go into a saloon. Who would have thought that public drinking fountains stemmed from wanting to keep me out of a saloon!

2013-10-3 2013-10-2
Temperance Fountain.

In 1893 the American Temperance University opened in Harriman, Tennessee. The university closed in 1908 but the schools Temperance Hall still stands and is listed on the National Registry of Historic Places. Today it houses Harriman city government offices.

Several other groups were formed. The United Kingdom Alliance, Woman's Christian Temperance Union, Scottish Prohibition Party and the Pioneer Total Abstinence Association just to name a few.

The movement slowly continued and at the end of WWI there was the successful passage of the 18th Amendment in the United States, introducing prohibition. Other countries followed. The movement started to wane from this point as prohibition was criticized as unhealthily distorting drinking habits, encouraging criminals, such as Al Capone and discouraging economic activity. The legislative tide largely moved away from prohibition with repeal in 1933 and the gradual realization of licensing laws throughout the mid and late twentieth century. Basically the government took the "if you can't beat join them" approach and realizing the income potential.

So how does all of this fit into Greenfield? There is no date that establishes when alcohol first came to Hancock County or Greenfield but I think it's safe to say that as soon as our pioneers inhabited this area that alcohol followed them.

Liquor traffic has always been a source of revenue to the county. In fact since May 5, 1828, it's been a chief argument for maintaining the traffic.

Two of this town's earliest pioneer, Samuel B. Jackson and Jeremiah Meek, were told to have supplied the "wants" of traveling community at their taverns and stables. Jackson's house was located at such a place at an area known as the "bottom", which would have been down on Brandywine Creek. It was on the south side of the road in the vicinity of the Riley Park Tire Store. Jeremiah Meek's house stood on the north side of the National Road about where the county jail now stands. There is no record of license being issued.

In reading a copy of an act from February 12, 1825, the only requirements at that time for establishing a tavern was that a petition with at least twenty-four signatures (later the number was reduced to twelve) of residence who certified that the applicant was of good moral character, that it would be to the benefit of travelers and conducive to the public good If such tavern should be opened, and that they believed it to be the bona fide intention of the applicant to keep a tavern for accommodations of travelers. The house had to have at least three apartments and a stable convenient of said house, with at least four good stalls. The applicant had to show further that he was the owner of at least two beds and bedding over and above what was needed for his family and that he had all other necessary furniture, etc.

John Braden was the first licensed tavern-keeper. He was located on Gooding Corner, Southwest corner of US 40 and State Road 9. James Hart, and Asa Gooding also established themselves in the same corner. Elijah Knight located a tavern on the third-floor of a wood framed building on the opposite corner, Northwest corner of US 40 and State Road 9. All of these were established prior to 1840. We could trace them till 1852, the date of the new constitution, at which time the license law for merchandising and tavern-keeping ceased. From then on we have no official records to instruct us, so we depend on witnesses.

The Goodings Tavern located on the Southwest corner of US 40 and State Rd. 9. Today the Keith J. McClarnon Government Building is located at this spot.


In 1852 the Legislature passed an act establishing the common pleas courts in the state, which took over all the business of the former probate courts and also had jurisdiction of some other matters. Under this act, the common pleas court became a part of a circuit composed of Rush, Decatur, Madison and Hancock counties. The county has two sets of books that cover the period of 1852 to 1873 and they incase all of the probate/common pleas cases.

The value of property in those days was not very high, and personal property was not very plentiful. Hence, in order to meet the current expenses of the county, other methods than the tax levy were resorted to. The law of the state permitted the board of commissioners to impose revenue upon licenses granted to sell groceries, merchandise, liquors, etc. Our county commissioners took advantage of this law and their first records contain a great number of orders. The first meeting of the board of county commissioners was held on April 7, 1828 and the first license was issued on May 5, 1828. One of the names mentioned was Joseph Chapman in 1828 for a license to retail spirituous and strong liquors, foreign and domestic groceries at his store in Greenfield. The fee was $5.00.

The license fees imposed upon the retail and tavern business carried from $5.00 to $15.00 for different years. The commissioner's records show that the county collected a large amount of money from this source during its early history.

Other names of persons establishing business where liquor was sold were James Parker in 1828, Morris Pierson, 1831, Asa Gooding , 1838, Joshua Stone, 1838, William Johnson, 1838, William Griffin, 1839, John Wilkinson, 1840, A.T. Hart and Lewis Burk, 1840.

The amount of travel through Greenfield established by the construction of the National Road caused a great many taverns or eating houses to be established. The taverns along this road were among the largest and most commodious houses of that day. In connection with the tavern the keeper ordinarily had a stable with a large yard in which the wagons and horses were kept.

Of the twenty taverns licensed in this county before 1841, all but six retailed liquor "by the small."

Drovers would often travel in groups transporting hogs, sheep, cattle etc, for market at Indianapolis or Cincinnati. Many tavern keepers were prepared to care for such droves by having pens and lots fenced near the tavern.

Taverns could always be identified by signs that were hung up. Ordinarily the simple word "Tavern," painted on a large board, announced this fact. Others displayed a brightly polished brass plate with a design of some kind engraved upon it. I'm always on the look-out for these plates at antique shops or auctions. Travelers always understood that this signified a tavern. The Guymon House, for instance, was advertised in the local papers for many years after the Civil War, "At the Sign of the Eagle."


The Guymon House on the South side of US 40. Today it's the parking lot for the Lincoln Pancake House.


Not all citizens sold liquor legally. There is no record of the combined opposition of the people to the sale of intoxicating liquors during the early years. The grand jury did frequently return indictments for such violations of the law. In one report of the grand jury dated February 17, 1849 showed ten indictments were returned against persons for "selling and giving liquor to a drunken man." Eight indictments were also returned against persons for "selling liquor without a license."

It is interesting to observe, in a copy of the Greenfield Reveille published in April 1845, a large part of one column was given to an argument against the liquor traffic. The article was prepared by G.N. Voss, an attorney of the Hancock Bar, and much of his argument was addressed to the "moderate drinker."

The Sons of Temperance made its way into Hancock County in the early 1850's. No records of the organization remain in existence but you can tell by thumbing through old newspapers that their seemed to be some enthusiasm in the area.

On March 5, 1859 an "Act relating to the sale of Spirituous Vinous, and Malt Liquors" was approved, which required special notice of the intention to apply for a license to sell. Provision was also made for remonstrating. This led to the beginning of the Temperance fight in Hancock County.

Beginning in June 1859 the fight for Greenfield to provide cleaner living and purer homes began. The books show several people applied for license but all but a few were denied. The terms for being denied were insufficient descriptions of the property or improper notices, but most were denied because of remonstrants.

The Hancock Democrat would list the names of the hundreds of people that would sign a remonstrant. One article wrote, "The citizens seem to be determined to wipe away the stigma or reproach brought on our town by the whisky leaders who cared more for the base use and advantages acquired through its instrumentality than for the fame and good order of society. The public sentiment of the town is so well known that no man who respects the will of its citizens or regards his own character will be apt to offend the public by petitioning for a license to sell spirituous liquors in Greenfield. Should such an attempt hereafter be made the character and fitness of the applicant will be well ventilated if we can correctly judge public sentiment."

The county was without a licenses saloon until December, 1865. At that time a license was granted to William G. Richie of Greenfield.

The July 4, 1867 addition of the Hancock Democrat wrote: "Let all the world know that in this county there is not a licensed liquor shop, nor has there been such for months past. The whisky power in this county fought long and hard for political ascendancy under an able and unscrupulous leadership, but all in vain. The good people, irrespective of party, can now congratulate each other that the name of Hancock County is no longer to be identified in the public mind with drunkenness and intemperance."

The Good Templars of this county organized several lodges in order to oppose the devil. They led all remonstrate efforts of those that applied for liquor licenses. In order to join you had to sign a pledge stating that you would abstain from partaking in alcohol beverages. I found it interesting but not all surprising that most of these groups and petitions were run by woman.

During this "dry" time, shop owners began to find other alternatives to draw in the public. Soda Water became popular. L. W. Gapen purchased a soda fountain. The newspaper advertised with the following: "it has become a daily dispensing this delightful and healthy beverage to delight crowds. Our 'devil' says it is the most elevating effervescent he has yet become acquainted with in his peregrinations." Don't you just love the way we use to talk?! I also find it interesting that we once called soft drinks "healthy" and now we ban them in places like New York City.

On March 3, 1874 a meeting was held at the Methodist Episcopal Church in Greenfield and a "Temperance Alliance" was organized. A pledge was also presented to attorneys encouraging them not to represent a person if they faced an alcohol related charge. Only two attorneys signed on.

This group continued to hold meetings and grew in attendance. They also began paying visits to current saloons and sellers to encourage them to stop. Most shop owners refused to stop selling outright but some agreed. Only if a list of names was supplied to them which would tell them who not to sell to. The Hancock Democrat reported several visits by the ladies of the Temperance Alliance. They would even take their knitting in and stayed all day. Reading Rooms were also established in places like the Guymon House, to encourage strenghting the mind rather than softening it with alcohol.

This push of temperance continued. In 1875 The Blue Ribbon Society formed and in 1877 the Red Ribbon Society was formed. Members would wear Red Ribbons to show their support for not partaking in alcohol, anti-profanity and anti-tobacco.

One saloon owner fought back by tying ribbons on every dog he could catch in town, making reference to what he thought of the members of the Blue and Red Society's.

In May of 1879 a large convention of Temperance was held at the court house in Greenfield. Several picnics were also held. Groups pushed for legal ordinances to be passed.

This fight of temperance grew to a very destructive level when on May 12, 1882 a billiard room in New Palestine, operated by John Walker, was blown up. The dynamite totally wrecked both buildings. Windows were broken in surrounding houses and the entire town was shaken by the explosion. No one was found guilty of the crime.

This explosion was almost so extreme that it marked the beginning of the end of the harassment of the temperance groups.

The temperance movement continued but extreme persuasion subsided over time. But there was still movement with the Woman's Christian Temperance Unions which met in April 1899. But during this time more and more liquor license were submitted and approved. In fact from January 1901 to June 1902, licenses were granted at the rate of almost two per month. With this new spike remonstrating picked back up again. In the spring of 1903, a Citizens Reform League organized in Greenfield. They used a "power of attorney," to do their dirty work.

Also during this time the state of Indiana passed several laws that protected citizens against the effects of alcohol. The Nicholson Law, the Moore law and the Search and Seizure laws were put into place. Several other county option laws were also put into place. Temperance movements continued to fight during the first part of 1900's through these laws. Groups like the Willow Horse Thief Detective Company No. 196 agreed to support temperance movements and pledge to lend their support in the protection of families against alcohol.

In 1908 Civic Leagues and Good Citizens Leagues also made temperance part of their group's efforts. Trouble started again. These groups refired the remonstration process to the point where they used force against poorer people in the city to sign the remonstration. Heated arguments would break out in the court hearing arguing the unfairness of these groups.

In September, 1908 county option laws reached Hancock County. Citizens reached the required amount of signatures to push to law to a vote. At the March 5, 1909 election all townships of the county voted either "wet" or "dry". Four thousand, four hundred and thirteen votes were cast in the elections, with the following results:

"Drys" majority.............1,295

All of the precincts in the county cast a majority of "dry" votes, with the exception of Brown, which had a "wet" majority of three, and Center, which had a "wet" majority of seven. As a result of this election, the county was "dry" for a period of two years.

At that time the county local option law was appealed. But that didn't stop the fight. In the March, 1911 election it was put to a vote once more. This time with the exception of the City of Greenfield the county voted "dry". Citizens still pushed Greenfield to become "dry". They tried once again at the May, 1914 elections and again the "wets" won the majority.

So that means that the entire county was "dry" with the exception of the City of Greenfield since 1909. So since the law couldn't be enforced at the ballot box local government decided to take control. On April 5, 1911 the Greenfield City Council passed a liquor ordinance that tightly restricted the sale and distribution of liquor within city limits. There were eleven sections to the ordinance. I found Section 3 to be amusing in that it detailed that a place of purchase for alcohol had to be on the first floor, facing the main road with clear, glass windows and doors that could not be obstructed. Basically if you wanted to have a drink you would be put on display for everyone to see.

Newspaper articles would describe how Mayor Meyers would randomly drop in on a social club meeting and raid the group of its contents and have the barrels stored in the court house until they could be busted open into the sewer and all the innocent little fish in Brandywine were made intoxicated.

Men of the town would take a "Jug Special", which was the nickname of a late night interurban car which would run citizens into Indianapolis and back to partake in alcohol.

It was finally time that the "wets" fought back and they did in May 1914. A very detailed statement published in the newspaper detailed all of the city's financials issue's. It basically showed that Greenfield had the very best of utility services, very best of law enforcement and fire protection. It also had other debt related to a recent Smallpox epidemic. Having high tax rates was not attractive to prospective residence. Empty store fronts would also not be attractive. The only way to cover these expenses was to raise taxes on property or collect them for the sale of alcohol.

In October, 1919 Congress passed the Volstead Act, the popular name for the National Prohibition Act, over President Woodrow Wilson's veto. Indiana passed the Wright "Bone Dry" Law which was pushed by the Anti-Saloon League in 1925 which made prohibition even stricter in Indiana. In basically made it illegal to process or use alcohol for medicinal purposes.

Prohibition in the United States focused only on the sales and distribution of alcohol. It was not illegal to drink it. Prohibition lasted until 1933 and it finally exposed the right and wrong of the issue. Bootlegging became widespread and organized crime took control of the distribution of alcohol. Distilleries and breweries in Canada, Mexico and Caribbean flourished as their products were either consumed by visiting Americans or illegally exported to the United States.

Indiana and Greenfield in particular played a role with the distribution lines and runners such as Al Capone. With our close proximity to Chicago and having major roads running through our community which could easily lead you into Kentucky and the hills of bootleggers it's easy to reason that some of our counties folklore of harboring such men in their travelers north and south could be true.

This debate on alcohol would continue until the end of prohibition which finally everyone began to work together in a way that not only allowed the communities to generate much needed revenue through liquor taxes but also keep the citizens safe. This has all led to the laws that we have on books today that restrict a drinking age of 18, laws against drinking and driving, laws that make it the responsibility of the bartender to cut-off patrons and laws that determined the percentage of alcohol content as well as many other laws.

The great failed social experiment and those times still fascinate us all.

It is also interesting to note that Greenfield from the end of prohibition till today still has never had very many drinking establishments. In future articles we'll explore the Gooding Tavern and the Guymon House in more detail. Both have a great history of their own.


Greg Roland

Greenfield Daily Reporter
Hancock Democrat
Richman History of Hancock County
Binford History of Hancock County

More Greenfield History

City Phone Directory

Mayor's Office - 317-477-4300
Clerk Treasurer - 317-477-4310
Utility Billing - 317-477-4330
Planning (Permits) - 317-477-4320
Street Department - 317-477-4380
Power and Light - 317-477-4370
Wastewater Department - 317-477-4360
Park Cemetery - 317-477-4387
Pothole Hotline - 317-325-1680
Parks and Recreation - 317-477-4340
Water Department - 317-477-4350
Animal Management - 317-477-4367