Milton Under “Local Option” – 1903-18

By Muriel Bristol | December 5, 2021

Continued from Milton Under “Semi-Prohibition” – 1855-02

In January 1902, Republican ex-Governor David H. Goodell (1834-1915) more or less “broke” the “semi-prohibition” status quo of nearly fifty years, by striking down its “Healey System” enforcement regime.

Goodell, DH - BG020123EX-GOV. DAVID H. GOODELL. One Of the Main Movers in New Hampshire, for Closing 700 Saloons. … Everybody in the state is familiar with Mr. Goodell’s latest move, which has made New Hampshire a “dry” state. Last spring a club, composed of New Hampshire newspaper men, had a banquet at a Manchester hotel. An officer of the club had secured some wine for the occasion, but the police raided the house during the banquet and seized the liquor, arresting the proprietor on a charge of keeping liquor for sale. This raid raised a storm in all the state papers. It was claimed that there were many places in that city which were carrying on the sale of liquor, and that such places or their proprietors were not being molested by the police. Ex-Gov Goodell took advantage of the indignation worked up against the system, which was virtually a license system in a prohibitory state, and brought a petition before Judge Robert J. Peaslee of the superior court for a writ of mandamus, asking the court to order the police commissioners of the city of Manchester to enforce the prohibitory law. The commissioners made answer by claiming that the city marshal and the county solicitor should be made a party to the case, as a portion of their answer, and also denied that they had the power to order the saloons closed. The judge denied the petition so far as it referred to the commissioners, but issued a writ of mandamus that the city marshal of Manchester prosecute the liquor dealers, and instructed the county solicitor that he should attend to his duties in the matter. The order was followed by the closing of the saloons throughout the entire state. Ex-Gov. Goodell claims that 700 saloons have been closed, a result of the hearing before Judge Peaslee. Mr. Goodell is now engaged in combating the movement which is springing up all over the state in favor of a license law. He warns the prohibitory party not to be asleep over this new movement. He has the aid of the anti-saloon league in fighting the license sentiment (Boston Globe, January 23, 1902).

Despite ex-Gov. Goodell’s best efforts to combat a proposed replacement license law system – he had hoped instead for a strictly-enforced total prohibition – the NH legislature passed instead a local option license law in March 1903.

NEW HAMPSHIRE FOR LICENSE. House Passes Measure Providing for Local Option in Towns and Cities by a Large Majority. Concord, N.H., March 20 – The House of Representatives adjourned at 12:32 this morning after finally passing a license measure providing for local option in both cities and towns of the State. The final vote was 218 to 84. The measure was passed practically as reported by the majority of the liquor law committee, yesterday, the only amendment of consequence adopted providing for local option in both cities and towns. The bill if passed by the Senate and approved by the Governor will take effect May 1, 1903, and the license vote will be taken the second Tuesday in May. The Prohibitionists advocates filibustered for six hours (Fall River Daily Evening News (Fall River, MA), March 20, 1903).

LICENSE LAW PASSED. New Hampshire Senate Votes for House Measure 15 to 5. Concord, N.H., March 26 – The license law sent up by the House of Representatives was passed as amended during the day by the Senate at 9 o’clock, last night, the vote standing yes, 15; no, 5; one pair and two senators absent and not voting (Fall River Daily Evening News (Fall River, MA), March 26, 1903).

New Hampshire Abandons Prohibition. For more than fifty years New Hampshire has had statutory prohibition, being the second State in the Union to enact such a law. During this whole half-century there has never been a time now when the opponents of the law stood the slightest chance of repealing it. It was upheld by the dominant party and by the vast majority of the people of the State. Ten years ago when a motion was made in the Legislature for its repeal it was not supported by a baker’s dozen. The law was enforced in those communities – and they were many – where its enforcement was backed by sufficient local influence. It was violated in others, under an illegal system of license by periodical fines. Road-houses of the vilest character were planted in the country districts without any regulation whatever. In most of the cities, particularly Manchester, Nashua, Dover and Portsmouth, the saloon business was carried on openly. The “Healey System” of periodical fines regulated the traffic in Manchester. But former Governor Goodell petitioned for and secured from Judge Peaslee, January 1, 1902, a mandatory order that the saloons be closed. This mandamus proved to be the downfall not only of the Healey system, but of the prohibitory law. For several weeks the saloons were actually out of business, but, under the pretext of selling soft drinks and “no per cent.” beer, they gradually resumed a thriving trade. New saloons, freed from illegal regulation, sprang up where no saloons had been. The prohibitionists accused the police of conniving at all this on the I-told-you-so principle. So the last state was worse than the first, and the demand for repeal rose to irresistible proportions. A local option Legislature was elected and a Judiciary Committee appointed, composed chiefly of men inclined to carry the reaction to its furthest possible limit. They reported a virtually straight license bill. A board of three State License Commissioners, with vast discretionary powers, was to be appointed by the Governor, to whom they were to report. For instance, licenses for hotels were to be anywhere from $25 to $1,000 in the discretion of the Commission, and though the towns were given the nominal right of local option, the License Commission was empowered to license liquor-selling at hotel bars, railroad restaurants and club houses, even in “no license” towns. Furthermore, license was to be forced on all the cities at once – even those in which no saloon now exists – without the privilege of voting on the subject for nearly four years. A tremendous protest arose from every section of the State, from all the newspapers except two or three party organs, and from Roman Catholic priests and ministers of every denomination. A two-hour mass-meeting of protest was held in Legislative Hall the night before the vote on the bill. With amendments providing for immediate local option in towns and cities, removing the worst features of the hotel provision, increasing the maximum license to $1,200, and diminishing the discretionary powers of the Commission, the bill finally passed by a vote of 218 to 84, and New Hampshire passes out of the prohibitory column (Outlook Publishing, 1903).

NEW HAMPSHIRE UNIVERSALIST CONVENTION, 1903. “We express our earnest disapproval of the so-called “license law” enacted by the last legislature of New Hampshire, believing that the legal sanction, by this state, direct or indirect, should never be given to the traffic in intoxicating liquor for beverage purposes, which has been, and will be wherever it is maintained, the most prolific cause of human suffering, misery and crime” (National Temperance Society, 1903).

When given the opportunity, at the special statewide referendum held Tuesday, May 12, 1903, Milton voted for “No License,” i.e., it voted to remain a “Dry” town by a vote of 127 (56.2%) to 99 (43.8%). The neighboring towns of Wakefield and Farmington, as well as the city of Rochester, all went “License,” i.e., they voted to become “Wet,” while neighboring Middleton chose also to remain “Dry” (NH General Court, 1912).

'Wet' vs 'Dry'TUESDAY’S ELECTION. Returns from nearly every town show that a majority of nearly 9,000 favor license and in the license column is found every city, while of the towns many of which were looked upon as strongly wedded to prohibition will in the future legalize the traffic. Of the 204 towns reported, 131 are for no license by a majority of 6027, while 60 are for license by a majority of 3607. The smaller towns as a whole have voted no license, while the larger towns are divided in such a manner as to make future comparisons about all that could be desired. While the experiment of license will be tried in Milford, Pembroke, Tilton, Derry, Pittsfield, Whitefield, Claremont, Hillsborough, Newmarket, Lebanon, Plymouth, Haverhill and Newport, a considerable number of towns in about the same class, as Exeter, Littleton, Lancaster, Lisbon, Colebrook, Peterborough, Antrim, Weare, Goffstown and Hanover have voted no. In many places the contest was a hot one and the surprises were the rule rather than the exception (Farmington News, May 15, 1903).

PROHIBITION. New Hampshire’s prohibition statute of 1855 was repealed early in 1903, and local option was adopted. Six of its eleven cities and 183 of its 224 towns are “dry.” License fee according to population not to exceed $1,200 (Wright, 1903).

Milton’s NH State liquor licenses for 1903 were held by Fred M. Chamberlain, whose Phœnix House had a license (Class 1); Charles L. Bodwell, whose Milton Hotel had a license (Class 1); and Charles D. Fox, whose Central House, at Milton Mills, had a license (Class 1). Such licenses would permit liquor sales to hotel guests only. James Herbert Willey had a license at Main & Silver streets (Class 5) (NH License Commissioners, 1904). Such a license would permit sales by a druggist for select purposes.

Even in a “License” town, such as in the following instance in neighboring Farmington, NH, it was possible for an individual to be placed involuntarily upon a “Dry List.” (This mechanism might be thought comparable with modern “Red Flag” laws).

LOCAL. The licensed liquor dealers in town have been notified that there is a “dry list” (Farmington News, November 20, 1903).

MANY PROTESTS. New Hampshire Dry List Not Very Popular. Likely to Be a Contested Point Before Legislature. Opinions Differ as to the Good Accomplished. New Hampshire’s famous black-list or dry-list system has attracted wide notice and is likely to be one of the most hotly contested points raised before the legislature when the question of amendments to the license law comes before that body this winter. The peculiar working of the system and the undefined manner in which the subject was left by the framers of the law must excite discussion, but the most expert observer would find it a difficult task to discover whether the system has been conducive to reform or the opposite. It is stated that many of the persons whose names have been placed on the black list have become indignant and refused to patronize the saloons, even through the medium of a third party. On the other hand, some who have had their names posted have been just as anxious to use their wits to defeat the law and have found expedients for getting liquor despite the instructions of the officers, and it is a serious question if their determination to do the thing that the license law declares they shall not do has not led them to use more liquor than under the old state of affairs. At least these are the views that the officials take of the situation. The dry list system of New Hampshire is a provision in the law which allows certain officials or the relatives or guardians of persons habitually addicted to the use of intoxicating liquors to give written notice to licensed saloonkeepers not to sell any liquor to the person named. In cities the notice is generally given by the city marshal, and in towns by the selectmen, though relatives may give the notice or a justice of the peace may exercise similar power. But the most peculiar feature of the law is that, while the legislature evidently intended that the notices constituting a dry list should apply to persons having acquired the liquor drinking habit, yet a loophole is left whereby any person may be posted on the famous blacklist. Even ministers may find their names on the list, though they never enter a saloon or touch intoxicating liquor (Boston Globe, August 21, 1904).

License Votes 1903-14

Eighteen months after the initial vote, in the first biennial license vote of Tuesday, November 8, 1904, Milton flipped and voted this time for “License,” i.e., they voted to become “Wet,” by a vote of 174 (64.0%) to 98 (36.0%). Neighboring Farmington (and Rochester) remained “Wet,” and Middleton remained “Dry.” Wakefield flipped to “No License,” i.e., it became “Dry” (NH General Court, 1912).

Herman C. Dyer of Milton died on the railroad tracks in Rochester, NH, December 3, 1904, aged thirty-five years, ten months. He visited several saloons there and hit his head and died when he jumped or fell from a moving train. (See Milton in the News – 1904).

Milton’s NH State liquor licenses for 1905-06 were held by Fred M. Chamberlain, whose Phœnix House had two licenses (Class 1 and Class 3); Harry C. Grover, whose Milton Hotel had two licenses (Class 1 and Class 3); John H. Lord, whose Central House, at Milton Mills, had two licenses (Class 1 and Class 3); Charles H. Bodwell, [whose Milton Hotel] had a license on Main Street (Class 3); and James H. Willey, had a license at Main & Silver streets (Class 5) (NH License Commissioners, 1906). James H. Willey kept his drug store on Main Street, at its corner with Silver Street.

A Class 1 license authorized one “To sell of liquor of any kind to be drunk on the [hotel] premises, to be issued only to innholders.” Hotels in a no-license town might sell liquor to hotel guests only, and might not keep a bar or barroom. A Class 3 license authorized one “To sell liquor of any kind not to be drunk the premises.” A Class 5 license was intended for “For retail druggists and apothecaries to sell liquor of any kind for medicinal, mechanical, chemical and sacramental purposes only, and for dealers in hardware, paints and decorating materials to sell alcohol for mechanical and chemical uses only, the same to be sold in accordance with the provisions of this act. Any druggist, not a registered pharmacist, who shall have been continually in active business as a druggist from January 1, 1903, and who employs a registered pharmacist, shall be entitled to a license in his own under this sub-division, provided he be otherwise qualified.”

Edwin J. Nutter of Milton died at  the Strafford County Farm in Dover, NH, September 7, 1905. He had reportedly spent several days drinking in Rochester, NH, and had decided to walk home to Milton along the train tracks on the night of September 6, 1905. He was struck by an ice train en route and suffered a fractured skull. When finally found, by another trackwalker, he was treated in Rochester, NH, before being brought to Dover, NH (NH Railroad Commissioners, 1905).

Haynar Whiskey - FN051006
It apparently remained possible to simply order one’s whiskey through the mail from out-of-state suppliers, as “U.S. Senators, Foreign Ambassadors, Bankers, Business and Professional men” purportedly did (Advertisement Published in Farmington News, October 6, 1905).

Interesting News. … A Dover case, the decision of which will affect every city and town in the state where the license law is in operation, has been sent up to the supreme court on a question of law. It is the state versus Asam Niles, and Horace Langdon, who were indicted for delivering liquor to persons on the dry list in that city. Their defense is that they were not personally notified not to supply the persons named in the dry list. The question the supreme court is asked to decide is whether posting a dry list in the drinking places and returning a certified copy of it to the city clerk is sufficient warning to all persons, or whether personal notice must be served on each individual to make the regulation effective (Farmington News, October 6, 1905).

Two years after the last vote, in the second biennial license vote of Tuesday, November 6, 1906, Milton flipped back to “No License,” i.e., it voted to become again “Dry,” by a vote of 176 (50.6%) to 172 (49.4%). Neighboring Farmington remained “Wet,” and Middleton and Wakefield remained “Dry.” Rochester flipped to “No License,” i.e., it became “Dry” (NH General Court, 1912).

NEW HAMPSHIRE. … In 1906, when next the whole state voted, six cities and 193 towns voted no-license (Anti-Saloon League, 1920).

Milton’s NH State liquor licenses for 1906-07 were held by Fred M. Chamberlain, whose Hotel Chamberlain had two licenses (Class 1 and Class 3); Harry C. Grover, whose Milton Hotel had two licenses (Class 1 and Class 3); John H. Lord, whose Central House, at Milton Mills, had two licenses (Class 1 and Class 3); Eugene W. Emerson had a license on Main Street (Class 5); and James H. Willey, had a license at 44 Main Street (Class 5) (NH License Commissioners, 1906). (Eugene W. Emerson (1856-1927) kept a drug store at 44 Main Street, in Milton Mills; and James H. Willey (1875-1946) kept a drug store on Main Street, at its corner with Silver Street, in Milton Three-Ponds).

MORE LICENSES IN DOVER. Dover bottlers are not feeling any too well over the fact that some additional wholesale dealers will be in business there after May 1, making six wholesalers in all in that city. Owing to Rochester being on the dry list beginning next month, bottling firms from that city will be located in Dover (Portsmouth Herald, April 27, 1907).

Two years later, in the third biennial license vote of Tuesday, November 3, 1908, Milton flipped back to “License,” i.e., it voted to become again “Wet,” by a vote of 209 (54.1%) to 177 (45.9%). Neighboring Farmington flipped to “Dry,” while Middleton, Wakefield (and Rochester) remained “Dry” (NH General Court, 1912).

Of our neighboring towns all chose to be dry save Milton, where the license privilege was granted by 30 votes. New Durham crushed the would-be imbibers by a vote of 112 to 19, and Middleton polled 41 noes against 25 ayes. The straight ticket was very popular in Middleton, and Quinby received 47 votes, while Carr had to be content with 33. In New Durham, conditions were reversed, Carr receiving 87 votes and Quinby 73. Milton went republican, but elected a democrat representative (Farmington News, November 6, 1908).

The Woman’s Christian Temperance Union (W.C.T.U.) of neighboring Farmington, NH, expressed their sympathy, and forgiveness, for Milton’s “License” choice.

W.C.T.U. Meeting. … The W.C.T.U. of Farmington feels the deepest sympathy for the citizens of our neighboring town, Milton, who have voted to turn their fair town with its shops and unsurpassed high school over to the experiment of license. Of such voters it might truly be said, God forgive them for they know not what they do (Farmington News, November 13, 1908).

From the following, it would seem that the “Dry List” was revised or updated periodically.

DAY OF REJOICING AT DOVER. Dry List in That City Comes Down Today Which Means Freedom for the Charter Members. Today the dry list which has been posted in Dover for a year comes down and if there is not posted another, holding the taboo on the thirsty breed, they can be as independent as a millionaire over the brass rail and before the mirror, providing they have the necessary. To many of the anti-water wagon delegation in this city, as well as Dover, the dry list is simply a matter of a little inconvenience and life will never be shortened by extreme thirst (Portsmouth Herald, February 26, 1909).

Sheriff’s officers were afoot in South Milton raiding an unlicensed location in June 1909.

MILTON. Officers were called on to raid a house at the south end Friday night (Farmington News, June 11, 1909).

A trio of Sheriff’s deputies and a Milton policeman raided a South Milton worker’s tenement on Tuesday, December 21, 1909. They seized a quantity of beer and arrested an Italian immigrant worker whose name they simply could not understand. (See also Milton in the News – 1909 and Milton in the News – 1910).

ASL - Vote Mother or SaloonNEW HAMPSHIRE. … In 1909, a law was enacted by the Legislature prohibiting license holders shipping liquors from any part of the state into no-license cities and towns. This law is known as the Preston amendment (Anti-Saloon League, 1920).

DOVER DRY LIST. Dover police are posting the famous dry list which carries thirty-four names, to be kept in the minds of bartenders and drug clerks (Portsmouth Herald, June 2, 1910).

In the fourth biennial license vote of Tuesday, November 8, 1910, Milton flipped back to “No License,” i.e., it voted to become again “Dry,” by a vote of 241 (63.8%) to 137 (36.2%). Neighboring Farmington, Middleton, Rochester, and Wakefield remained “Dry” (NH General Court, 1912).

In 1910, seven cities and 23 towns voted for license, and four cities and 201 towns voted against license. Two cities and 12 towns changed from dry to wet, and 14 towns changed from wet to dry (Anti-Saloon League, 1920).

Milton’s NH State liquor licenses for 1911-12 and 1912-13 were held by Eugene W. Emerson, who had a license at 44 Main Street (Class 5); and James Herbert Willey, who had a license at the corner of Main and Silver streets (Class 5), in Milton (NH License Commissioners, 1906, 1912, 1914). Both men were druggists.

NEW HAMPSHIRE. … In 1911 and 1913 the organized liquor interests made most strenuous efforts to have this law repealed, but were defeated. They also tried to make it possible to get lighter penalties in case of violations. These efforts also failed (Anti-Saloon League, 1920).

In the fifth biennial license vote of Tuesday, November 5, 1912, Milton remained “No License,” i.e., it voted to stay “Dry,” by a vote of 209 (59.7%) to 141 (40.3%). Neighboring Farmington, Middleton, Wakefield (and Rochester) remained “Dry” (NH Excise Commissioners, 1916).

In 1912, November 5, all the towns voted. Twenty-one voted for license and 203 voted against license. Eleven towns changed from license to no license eight towns changed from no license to license. None of the cities voted in 1912. The total license vote in the towns in 1912 was 14,518, while the total no-license vote was 27,875 (Anti-Saloon League, 1920).

THE HERALD HEARS. … That the dry list is out at Dover. That there are fifty-five on the card that are disqualified for the stuff that comes over the brass rail. That seven females are among the few that have been tabooed. That no dry list will check the game when the thirsty brood want the goods (Portsmouth Herald, February 8, 1913).

In the sixth biennial license vote of Tuesday, November 3, 1914, Milton remained “No License,” i.e., it voted to stay “Dry,” by a vote of 327 (71.9%) to 128 (28.1%). Neighboring Farmington, Middleton, remained “Dry,” while Rochester and Wakefield went “Wet” (NH Excise Commissioners, 1916).

In 1914, every city and town voted on the question of license or no-license. The total license vote was 32,776, the no-license vote 40,439, giving a majority of 7,663, the largest no-license majority ever given. One city and four towns changed from no-license to license and five towns changed from license to no-license. In November 1916, every town voted, but not the cities. Seventeen towns voted license; 207 towns no-license (Anti-Saloon League, 1920).

THE HERALD HEARS. … That the dry list of this [Portsmouth] city seems to be a thing of the past (Portsmouth Herald, March 10, 1914).

In the Legislature of 1915 the liquor interests introduced several bills to weaken the license law, but under the pressure for the repeal of the license law, they withdrew those bills and concentrated on retaining the license law which effort succeeded (Anti-Saloon League, 1920).

THE HERALD HEARS. … That a Dover man was fined $25 and costs for purchasing beer for another man who was on the dry list (Portsmouth Herald, November 25, 1915).

In the seventh and last biennial license vote of Tuesday, November 7, 1916, Milton remained “No License,” i.e., it voted to stay “Dry,” by a margin of 65 votes. 

Local. The election at Milton left that town still snugly within the republican column, while no-license triumphed by a 65 vote margin. Dr. M.A.H. Hart, a resident of that town and republican candidate for senator from the twentieth district, was defeated by the democratic aspirant, Dr. Bates of Rochester, by 40 votes. There was a record turn-out of voters (Farmington News, November 10, 1916).

Milton’s Dr. M.A.H. Hart (1861-1949) had run for the NH State Senate on both the Republican and Prohibition tickets.

The U.S. Congress declared war on Germany, April 9, 1917. Many States, including New Hampshire, passed prohibitory laws as a “wartime measure.”

NEW HAMPSHIRE SENATE PASSES PROHIBITION BILL. CONCORD, N.H., April 11. A bill to prohibit the sale of intoxicating liquors for beverage purposes was passed today by the State Senate, 14 to 9. If approved by the Governor the law will become effective May 1, 1918. The House already had passed the measure, and a Senate amendment, designed to send it back, was defeated (Boston Globe, April 11, 1917).

Milton was a “No License” or “Dry” town in the years 1903-04, 1907-09, and 1911-18, a period of eleven years; and a “License” or “Wet” town in the years 1905-06 and 1909-10, a period of only four years.

Most of Milton and Milton Mill’s larger hotels – Riverside House, Centennial House, Miltonia House, Phoenix House, and the Milton Hotel – seem to have gone out of business during this Local License period, as the town see-sawed between “License” and “No License.” (Milton Mills’ Central House survived into the 1920s). These hotels would be replaced for a time by smaller boarding houses, especially summer boarding houses.

On May 1, 1918, Milton passed next under the Statewide “war prohibition” of 1918-19.

War Poster - NonessentialState-wide prohibition went into effect May 1 in a number of commonwealths, including New Hampshire, while in local option states many cities and towns returned to the legalized sale of liquor after longer or shorter periods of abstention. If the “Nation-widers” have their way all sorts of things will be done away with in the near future and states, cities and towns will have nothing to say about it. And if it comes it will be the greatest experiment in the regulation of the morals of the people ever undertaken in this or any other country (Portsmouth Herald, May 4, 1918).

NEW HAMPSHIRE. New Hampshire is [in 1920] under both state and Federal Prohibition, the state prohibitory law having been enacted in April, 1917, and having gone into effect May 1, 1918. Prior to May 1, 1918, the state was under local option (Anti-Saloon League, 1920).

On January 17, 1920, the United States, including Milton and the rest of New Hampshire, passed under the post-war Federal prohibition of 1920-32.

NEW HAMPSHIRE. … New Hampshire ratified the National Prohibition Amendment to the federal constitution by a vote of 19 to 4 in the Senate on January 15, 1919, and a vote of 221 to 131 in the House of Representatives on the same day. New Hampshire thus became the thirty-fifth state to ratify (Anti-Saloon League, 1920).

Five years of Prohibition have had, at least, this one benign effect: they have completely disposed of all the favorite arguments of the Prohibitionists. None of the great boons and usufructs that were to follow the passage of the Eighteenth Amendment has come to pass. There is not less drunkenness in the Republic, but more. There is not less crime, but more. There is not less insanity, but more. The cost of government is not smaller, but vastly greater. Respect for law has not increased, but diminished. – H.L. Mencken (1925)


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Author: Muriel Bristol

"Lady drinking tea"

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