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home : columnists : columnists July 25, 2017

When Hamilton County went 'dry'

By Paula Dunn
From Time to Thyme

While scanning the old newspapers from the late 1800s and early 1900s, I've often noticed that the sale of alcoholic beverages was quite a hot button topic in those days.

It wasn't until I wrote the column on Syd's a few weeks ago, however, that I learned that Hamilton County was dry long before Prohibition. A special election held January 26,1909 decided the matter.

In that election, the "drys" defeated the "wets" by a large margin. The "wets" won only five precincts out of 43 in the entire county - two in Noblesville, two in Cicero and one in Arcadia.

Temperance forces were positively giddy over the results.

Three revivals were being held in Noblesville at the time and when the election returns were announced near the close of the services that night, church bells rang out throughout town.

Around two hundred people who'd been attending the gathering at the First Methodist Church, along with their minister and the evangelist, marched through town singing gospel hymns. They made a circuit around the courthouse square, stopping occasionally to shake people's hands and to serenade several saloons.

Noblesville's last two taverns closed their doors in October of that year. One of those belonged to Edward Sopher, whose saloon was in the building now occupied by Syd's, and the other was owned by (James) Edward Harrison.

Harrison's business has a particularly interesting history. The building was constructed in 1901 on what Harrison undoubtedly considered an ideal location - the corner of Court and Newman Streets, right behind the Wild Opera House. (It was very convenient for thirsty theater patrons.)

If those streets don't sound familiar, it's because they're really alleys. There was a law back then which specified that saloons had to face a public thoroughfare, so Harrison got the city council to give the two alleys street names in order to get around the law.

Newman Street actually appears in the 1907 city directory. It ran east and west, from Eighth Street to Tenth Street, between Conner Street and Maple Avenue.

(I need to stop here and make a correction. A few years ago when I wrote about the Wild Opera House, I referred to Newman Street as "Levinson Street" because that's what was in the Noblesville Daily Ledger article I used as a reference for that column. The article got the street's name wrong, so I did too.)

Curiously, Court Street isn't listed in the 1907 directory, but it would have been the north/south alley intersecting Newman Street. Today, it's the brick alley adjacent to Noblesville Main Street's Visitor Center, the site of many of their activities.

I'm not entirely sure how the city council came up with the name "Court Street," but I suspect "Newman Street" came from prominent Noblesville businessman Newman Levinson, whose home and dry goods store were both nearby. (That could explain the confusion with "Levinson Street.")

In 1903 when the Indiana Supreme Court issued the opinion that alleys weren't streets because they weren't big enough and lacked sidewalks, Harrison simply moved his building 132 feet to Eighth Street to comply with the law. It was the first brick building ever moved in Noblesville.

The last two saloons in Hamilton County to close their doors in 1909 were in Arcadia. One belonged to Lou Shank and the other to Thomas Barnes. Once they were gone, "Old King Alcohol's'" reign in Hamilton County was over- for a while, anyway.

Things didn't turn out quite like the temperance folks planned, however. In fact, this is a classic case of "be careful what you wish for." I'll get into that next week.

Paula Dunn's From Time to Thyme column appears each Friday in The Times. Contact her at younggardenerfriend@gmail.com

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