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The history of the rum traffic, and of the free use of ardent spirits without criticism, except where the user was a sot or a drunkard, in this region once known as the Northwest Territory, dates back to the first appearance of white men among the aborigines. In the old bills and inventories and accounts for the Indian trade of a century ago, and in both French and English control, the article of "Rum" appears as prominently as pork and gunpowder and knives and tobacco. The Temperance history begins nearer to modern days. The pioneer farmers and mechanics and tradesmen seem to have had no thought of the need of temperance societies. But these came in a few years. The Rev. James Ballard began as early as 1838 to plead for total abstinence from intoxicating beverages, and the organization of temperance societies. These had  few members at first, but they were very much in earnest. At that time the idea of compelling abstinence by legislative enactment had taken root. "Moral suasion" was the favorite weapon for reform.

In the spring of 1842 was organized a temperance society called the Washingtonians, in the village, with liberal membership. Lucius Lyon was its President, George Martin and Charles H. Taylor Vice Presidents, John W. Peirce Recording Secretary, George M.Mills  Corresponding Secretary, and Benjamin Smith Treasurer. This association was kept up for some years, and generally at active work in the promotion of temperance; the simple formula being that of signing the pledge. In June of that year Truman H. Lyon, the landlord of the Exchange Hotel (Bridge Street House), had banished liquors from his bar, and kept a temperance house. Myron Hinsdill, in the National, had done so five years earlier.

In 1847 a Division of the Sons of Temperance was instituted, and had its lodge room in Irving Hall. It soon became popular, and its growth was rapid for two or three years. A second Division was formed, and the two had nearly a hundred members each. They fitted up a room in the Public Hall building on Canal street for their meetings, which they christened Sons of Temperance Hall. But internal dissensions occasioned the dissolution of these associations in 1850. That of the Sons of Temperance was the first secret society here in that special field of work.

Meanwhile there was the old-time general belief in the advisability of regulating the liquor traffic by legal restraint, regarding it  as a social vice whose evils could be lessened in that way. Tavern keepers "of good moral character" were licensed to sell spirituous liquors by town and village boards. The Trustees of the village of Grand Rapids in December, 1844, adopted  an ordinance fixing $25 per annum as the amount of license for ball alleys and gaming houses, and $20 per annum for selling liquors to be drank on the premises. This license system prevailed until 1850, when a clause in the State constitution forbade the granting of licenses to sell intoxicating liquors.


The "Maine Law" (prohibitory) was submitted to popular vote in June 1853, and was carried by a large majority. In this city the majority in its favor was 337; in the county 608. The Act contained the singular provision that if at the election the majority should vote "yes," it should take effect December 1, 1853; but if the majority should vote "no," then it should become a law March 1, 1870. There were many meetings held by its friends to devise ways  and means to enforce the law (at one time whiskey barrel heads were knocked in and the liquor ran down the gutters of Monroe street): but on February 1, 1854, it received a quietus by the failure of the State Supreme Court to hold it valid. It was re-enacted in its substantial features, and then sustained by the courts. But great difficulty was experienced in efforts for its enforcement in Grand Rapids. Its friends had a majority, as the voting had shown, and the leaders among them were active and zealous; nevertheless it was violated openly and defiantly, and in a short time it was found almost impossible to sustain prosecutions and secure convictions.

In 1858-59 there was a renewal of temperance effort here, in the secret society line. A lodge of Good Templars was organized, which held its sessions at the Masonic Hall in Commercial Block. The then novel feature of the initiation of ladies in such organizations, and their eligibility to office therein equally with members of the other sex, gave it a sudden popularity, and Piccolomini Lodge, No. 73, I. O. of G. T., flourished finely for a brief existence. At this period, however, there was not much aggressiveness in the temperance movement; there was a slow dying out of zeal, and when the War of the Rebellion came on, the excitement of military ardor turned all energies in another direction. During the twenty-five years following the adoption of the Constitution of 1850 there could be no legal licensing of the liquor traffic; and a stringent prohibitory law on the statute books; nevertheless, the sale of liquors was practically free or but slightly embarrassed in Grand Rapids within all that period.

The Good Templar organizations renewed their efforts and energies quickly after the close of the war of 1861-65. Early in 1866 branch lodges were established in nearly all the towns of Kent county and about. There were three lodges in this city in 1867, whose headquarters were at Good Templars' Hall, then on Canal street. Benjamin A. Harlan was Grand Worthy Chief  Templar for Kent County. J. D. Dilllenback, Warren C. Weatherly, Luman R. Atwater, George Gray, W. G. Beckwith, Sheldon Leavitt,  Mary Berkey, Nellie Cogshall, Seraph R. Stewart and Lucy E. Pearson were among the officers of these local institutions. June 11 and 12, 1867, the Grand River Valley Association of Good Templars held an enthusiastic session in this city at the Methodist Episcopal church, and adopted a  memorial praying for an express provision in the State Constitution prohibiting the granting of licenses for the sale of intoxicating beverages. This was addressed to the convention held that year for the purpose of  framing a new Constitution. February 7, 1868, there was public installation in Good Templars' Hall of the officers of Valley City Lodge No. 481, I. O. G. T., and George Gray, Past Worthy Chief Templar, delivered a stirring address in advocacy of legal prohibition, with stringent provisions for its enforcement. In the five or six following years, the agitation of this subject on the part of the workers in the prohibitory movement was constant and zealous.


To write down all the details of the Temperance and Prohibitory movements of the latest fifteen years would be but to recapitulate what is within the memory of most adults of the present day. A few salient points will suffice for the range that can be allotted in this History. In February and  March, 1873, there was a stirring revival of the temperance element. Population was increasing, and among twenty-five thousand people cases of drunkenness and crime were more frequent than when the town contained but one or two thousand. Beginning February 9,1873, there was a series of Sunday meetings, in Luce's Hall, at first filling it, but by the end of March thinning out to very feeble gatherings in point of numbers. It was resolved to raise a fund of $10,000 to be used in efforts for suppression of the traffic in liquors. But no fund was raised, and the culmination of the fervor appeared in the adoption of a memorial praying the Common Council to "interpose their official powers" to "limit and control, if not suppress, the sale of intoxicating drinks as a beverage." This was placed before the Council by a committee of women. The Ways and Means Committee of the Common Council considered it and made report in substance: That the granting of license to sell intoxicating drinks was forbidden by the State Constitution; that the manufacture and sale were prohibited by the law of 1855; that the law of 1871 provided a remedy for persons damaged by the sale; that the city charter forbade the granting of license and only gave to the Council a regulatory power; that in their opinion this city had less crime and preserved better order than any other of equal population in the State. Then there was a temporary lull in the temperance agitation.

Another revival, and what in the familiar language of the time was called the "Crusade of prayer," occurred in the spring of 1874. Announcement was made that ladies of the Christian Temperance associations would visit saloons, pray with the proprietors and exhort them to quit their business. Only in two or three instance was this programmme carried out. Eleven prominent clergymen of the city joined in signing a call recommending that the Christian men and women "devote a day to prayer and consultation in relation to intemperance and its kindred evils." In response to that a large gathering filled the Baptist church March 18, day and evening, at which prayers and short addresses were the chief features of the exercises. Such meetings were frequent during several weeks. The Prohibition Society held daily afternoon prayer meetings. The ladies of the Prohibition Society reported April 1 that the druggists of the city had signed a pledge not to sell intoxicating liquors except for mechanical or medicinal uses. June 22, 1874, a committee of ladies from the Prohibition Society visited the Common Council and personally presented an appeal to that body to enforce the laws in relation to the liquor traffic, and especially the Sunday laws, and those in regard to the hours of closing saloons at night.


In the early part of 1875 there were frequent meetings, marked by great earnestness and some excitement, in behalf of a movement to repeal the Prohibitory Law of 1855, and enact a stringent tax law in its stead. This was general throughout the State, and received the countenance of many who had been ultra Prohibitionists. They reasoned that inasmuch as Prohibition had failed, a tax law that could be enforced would be a great improvement. The effort succeeded, and the Liquor Tax Law took effect August 2,1875. It imposed an annual tax of $40 on retail dealers in beer; from $50 to $300 on brewers, according to amount of their manufacture; on retail dealers in spirituous liquors $150, and on wholesalers of spirits $300. There was some effort on the part of the dealers to modify its stringency by getting of the Common Council liberal provisions as to closing hours of saloons; but in this city the tax law went into operation without much friction. It effected a considerable reduction in the number of  saloons, and brought into the treasury from city saloon keepers $20,254.42 before the first day of January, 1876, at which time there were 185 saloons in the city. At the November election in 1876, the State constitution was amended by a popular vote, striking out the section which prohibited the passage of any law authorizing the grant of licenses for the sale of intoxicating liquors. In this city the vote was for striking out, 1,797; against, 377. In Kent county, 2,640 for; 1,310 against. In the State, 60,639 for, and 52,561 against.

The State Liquor Tax Law has been several times amended, each time in the direction of making it more stringent. The specific taxes imposed upon manufacturers and dealers have been largely increased. On some occasions dealers have tested the law in the courts, but in the main it has withstood their attacks, and has been reasonably well enforced. In 1877 it provided  that saloons should be closed on election days, and in 1879 it was further amended to require that they be closed on all holidays. On several occasions the latter provision has been disregarded in this city, as if by common consent, in Fourth of July celebrations, but as a rule it has been well obeyed, though causing probably more disaffection and annoyance among dealers than any other requirement of the law.

In 1873 the liquor dealers of the city formed a mutual protection association or league, of which Wm. Hake was President, D. M. Amberg Secretary and C. Kusterer Treasurer. August 2, 1877, sixteen liquor dealers of the city met at the Morton House and organized a society under the name of "Protective Order of Liquor Dealers" President, Wm. Hake; Secretary Sidney A. Hart; Treasurer, Samuel A. Walling. They announced action and vigilance for the benefit of their trade, and to ward against aggressive or unfriendly attacks, from whatever quarter they might come. They counseled obedience to the law, but deemed it harsh toward the traffic in liquors, and declared a purpose to labor in all legitimate ways to secure modifications in that behalf.

About this time, in the early part of 1877, came the Red Ribbon and the Blue Ribbon temperance reforms, which drew many recruits. And in some one or more of its phases, ever since, the temperance agitation has been kept active; especially so in the winter and spring months of nearly every year. The Good Templars and the Women's Christian Temperance Unions have been notably zealous. Are present the vitality and energy of prohibitory efforts seen committed to the hands of the women. Man may rule by physical strength, by force, by passion, or the sword, but, as Schiller has said:

"Woman commands with milder control
   She rules by enchantment the realms of the soul;
As she glances around, in the light of her smile
   The war of the passions is hushed for awhile,
   And Discord, content from its fury to cease,
   Reposes entranced on the pillow of Peace."

On some occasions boycotting of certain parties regarded as unfriendly to the "temperance, however, ascerbity of feeling has been kept within the control of reason. In July, 1884, a large number of members of temperance associations, gathered at a picnic, adopted a resolution to "boycott" certain firms and traders, for signing the petition of a saloon-keeper for a license. A little later, the Central Women's Christian Temperance Union rejected this resolution, and adopted another, which had been passed at the State convention of the Women's Christian Temperance Unions, to withhold their patronage from liquor dealers and their bondsmen, and from persons renting places where intoxicating drinks were sold. The discussions and reformatory efforts are some what spasmodic, yet they do not die out, and will probably continue to stir the hearts and exercise the minds of conscientious people for an indefinite period in the future.


Prior to 1887 the State laws relating to liquor ran in two distinct lines--two separate statutes, including a number of amendments--one providing for taxing the liquor traffic and the other providing for its police regulation. The Legislature of 1887 combined those two in a much more stringent act, providing for both tax and regulation, with severe penalties for the violation of the law. Some of its provisions have been contested in the courts, but in the main this law is well observed in Grand Rapids and its vicinity. It being upon the statute books, its provisions in detail need not be mentioned here. Another act affecting this immediate vicinity, passed at the same session, prohibits the sale of liquors within one mile of the Michigan Soldiers' Home, also the selling or furnishing of spirituous or malt liquors to any inmate of the Home, except for medicinal purposes, and except when such inmate is on furlough and away from the city of Grand Rapids. An amendment to the constitution, prohibiting the manufacture, gift or sale of spirituous, malt or vinous liquors, and abrogating the right pf property therein, was submitted to popular vote at the April election in 1887, on which the vote of Kent county was: Yes, 6,642; No, 10,997. In the city the vote was 2,181 for, and 7,057 against the amendment. It was defeated in the State by an adverse majority of 5,645 votes. A local option law passed by the Legislature of 1887 was pronounced unconstitutional by the State Supreme Court.


Through all the mutations of efforts for its restraint, the liquor traffic of the city appears to have thriven, and been much of the time as profitable to dealers, financially considered, as other trades and occupations. In the earlier days it was carried on in connection largely with other branches of mercantile business. Legislation has had the effect to make of it a separate and almost wholly distinct avocation. In the aggregate, for many years, a large amount of money has been invested in it. Under the present taxing system it pays large sums into the public treasury. It is vigorously policed and regulated, so that those engaged in are perhaps more closely under personal surveillance than are citizens in other occupations. In 1859, under the stress of the stringent prohibitory law of those days, with a population of less than 8,000, twenty-five saloons were reported in the city. In 1888, with a population probably eight times as large, the number was 115. In 1875 the City Directory enumerated twelve houses dealing in wines and liquors at wholesale. In 1888 the same authority recorded only seven wholesale houses of that character. A report by the Board of Trade also gave seven as the number, using capital to the amount of  $150,000, with a product of half a million dollars in 1887, and giving employment to forty men, including traveling agents.


John Pannell, English by nativity, came to Grand Rapids in 1836. He was the first brewer here. He erected a small brewing house on the east side of Kent street, about 250 feet north of Lyon, by the base of Prospect Hill, and over a brook which came round the north end of that elevation. There he began making English hop beer. The original brewery, and that creek, years ago disappeared. At first a barrel or two at a brewing was as much as Mr. Pannell could find market for, but in the course of eight or ten years he could brew in much larger quantities and with greater frequency. In 1847 he was making of it a fairly remunerative business. Then along came Christoph Kusterer, who had been reared a brewer in Germany, and began work west of the river, and soon afterward entered into partnership with Mr. Pannell. About 1849 Mr. Kusterer bought Mr. Pannell's stock in trade and manufacture, and removed the establishment to the corner of East Bridge and Ionia streets, were the Kusterer brewing works now stand. To Christoph Kusterer is accredited the first making of lager beer here; and the German experts at the business say it was not of a quality which they would boast of very much at the present day. But it found favor with those who had a taste for light malt liquors; and some of the older ones have been heard to wish that they could again sip the original beverage.

Next came along the brothers Gottlieb, Gustav and Christian Christ, and added another to the lager beer making establishments, and the use and demand for the article increased rapidly. And just here is  coincidence. Ague and fever--the old-fashioned, bone shaking kind--prevailed here very largely when those German beer makers came. In 1847 chills and shaking ague were terrors of malarially afflicted people, and sallow faces and feeble frames were familiar sights. In the eight years following came two experiences--a great growth in the habit of drinking lager beer, and the almost complete dying out of the shaking ague. It is not the province of the historian to moralize upon these facts, nor to attempt an explanation, but only to chronicle the coincidence.

Gottlieb Christ went into the Bridge Street House, and his brothers began work with Mr. Kusterer, but soon purchased property on Ottawa between Bridge and Hastings streets, where they erected brewery buildings and cellars, and established a large business. Their buildings were completely wiped out by the great fire of July 13, 1873, and they were never able to rally from that disaster sufficiently to restore their business. By that fire they suffered a loss of nearly $50,000. They began to rebuild, but a complication of difficulties beset and finally overcame them. Theirs was a leader among the beer making houses while it stood.

In 1859 there was a brewery, a good brick structure, at the southeast corner of Fountain and Ransom streets, operated by J. H. Roberts, but it did not remain there very long. The building a few years later was destroyed by fire.

Since 1850 the beer brewing business in Grand Rapids has grown to very great proportions. Twenty-five years later (1875) it had reached an average annual production of 16,000 barrels in this city; and in 1877 the value of the aggregate production was estimated at $600,000. With capital investments aggregating to upward of $400,000, it gives employment to about 160 men, including those engaged in handling the products. An effort was made some twelve years ago to establish the making on a large scale of ale and porter, but the measure of success was not flattering. Twenty years ago there were four large beer breweries in operation; at the present time their number has doubled.

The Kusterer Brewing Company's business was established in 1850 by Christoph Kusterer. he lost his life in the disaster that overtook the steamer Alpena in October, 1880. Afterward, in May, 1881, the Kusterer Brewing Company was incorporated. It has had a very steadily successful career. It employs an average of about thirty men, using a capital of $100,000, and its sales for 1887 amounted to $97,000. All the popular varieties of lager beer are manufactured by this company, and they ship largely to outside markets in addition to their home trade. Officers, 1888--President, Philip Kusterer; Vice President Adolph Leitelt; Secretary and Treasurer, Charles F. Kusterer. The company have a substantial brick factory, thoroughly equipped, occupying 100 feet front on Bridge and 140 on Ionia street.

The Michigan Brewery at the corner of West Bridge and Indiana streets, was founded by Peter Weirich in 1856, and managed by him until his death, upward of thirty years. It is now managed by the Peter Weirich Brewing Company (the members being heirs of the estate.) It has extensive cellar storage, and conducts a trade in bottled beer.

The Union Brewery at 87 South Division street, was established in 1862 by George Brandt--proprietors in 1888, George Brandt & Co., (Elizabeth B. Brandt, George W. Brandt and Julius R. Peterson). They have an investment of $35,000; output in 1887, $60,000; giving employment to about a dozen men. Beer bottling is also carried on by these brewers.

The Eagle Brewery at 50 Stocking street, was established in 1876, by Jacob Veit and Paul Rathman, its present proprietors. It employs from ten to twelve men, and uses a capital of $25,000.

Other breweries are those of Tusch Brothers on Grandville avenue; H. A. Britt, West Division street; John Gessler & Co., Page street, and Adolph Goetz, Broadway and West Leonard.


The sale of beer and wines and alcoholic liquors at retail is carried on in upward of a hundred places in this town, popularly called saloons. Whether or not such modern use of the word saloon may be properly regarded as an illustration of "the survival of the fittest," is a question which may not here be discussed. These saloons give support to some five hundred or more people. A few in the trade, favorably situated to catch or invite custom, make it very profitable; the great majority only moderately or not at all remunerative beyond eking out a living. Some dealers in the old business streets have followed their occupation nearly a quarter of a century. Among those of long standing are Jerome Trowbridge on Monroe above Ionia street, Christian Killinger on Crescent Avenue, and Charles Scheuffler on Canal street. Sales of lager beer by the glass have been very large for many years at the place of Peter Dressander, next the Arcade on Lyon street; also at the restaurant corner of Lyon and Kent, now kept by Henry Huber. At the corner of Ottawa and Bridge street, in a not very large building, a lively business in beer is done. At a number of these places kept by Germans, to see the lines of stalwart laboring men, a large proportion of them carrying dinner pails or baskets, stop and get an appetizer on the way home to supper, is a study for painter. They say it refreshes them wonderfully, when tired from a hard day's work. At the place of Julius Kleinwaechter, opposite the Bridge Street House, such a scene at the close of working hours is a familiar sight. With neighborly greetings and animated discussion of all topics--news, work, politics, morals, and region--some five minutes are spent, while they sip a glass of beer (for the German seldom pours it down in the Yankee fashion), taking also a small piece of rye bread and cheese, and then they move on to the home and family. And thus it is at many other similar houses. Possibly this brief and imperfect description may serve as a text for some writer of the coming century.


The retail traffic in wines and liquors has always been carried on chiefly in connection with that in beer and other lighter beverages. There never was a distillery of any note in this part of Michigan. Some thirty-five to forty years ago there were two or three small rectifying establishments in this town; but that business soon wilted under popular disfavor.  In the village days, and up to the time of the enactment of a prohibitory liquors by the barrel or in smaller quantities to suit customers; and in some stores, when whisky was but twenty-five cents a gallon, a cask of that or other liquor stood on tap at the rear, with a tumbler handy, and the patron making other purchases was invited to help himself to a drink. There were two or three small stores where liquor selling at wholesale was the principal business when the city was chartered and several years afterward. Under the operation of the Maine law that trade became temporarily merged with the drug traffic; but in a few years again came on in larger proportions than had been known before. L. H. Randall, Silas Durham & Co, William Haker and others were wholesaling extensively, not long after the close of the war. In 1874 the number of wholesale dealers had increased to upward of a dozen.

Under the operation of the stringent, high-tax law, which has superseded the Maine law, the number of wholesale liquor stores has decreased more than one-half. But the large factor in the mercantile business of the city; exceeding half a million dollars annually in the commercial value of the goods that they handle. Among the present wholesalers are D.M.Amberg, Pearl street; J.H.Colleton, Ellsworth Avenue; Wm. Hake, East Bridge Street; Kortlander Brothers, Canal; Kortlander & Grady, North Ionia, and A. Kennedy, North Waterloo. A newly established wholesale liquor house is that of Kortlander & Murphy in the Livingston block, 174  and 176 Fulton street. A number of retailers also carry heavy stocks of wines and liquors in bulk.

Document Source: Baxter, Albert, History of the City of Grand Rapids, New York and Grand Rapids: Munsell & Company, Publishers, 1891. (Name Index)
Location of Original: Various.
Transcriber: Barbara Jones
URL: http://kent.migenweb.net/baxter1891/23liquor.html
Created: 3 July 2000[an error occurred while processing this directive]