PROHIBITION COMES TO WAUKESHA, LISBON AND LANNON
Fred H. Keller
From the early settlers onward in Waukesha County and more particularly the Town of Lisbon there was always a need for alcoholic beverages. Lisbon did its part by being a hot bed of barley and hop growers to facilitate the beer production in the nearby City of Milwaukee. Barley and hops were major cash crops that were for the most part the key ingredients and key financial sales incentives to support the agrian society that emerged in Lisbon, in the period of 1836-1932.
Sussex, an unincorporated village had the Weaver family, led by James, and his sons, Richard and William the II, who profited so well that they are accorded the “millionaire” status; as hop and barley growers, and more particularly as hop middle men on a national scale.
Then there is James Templeton, initially a general store owner and post master in old Sussex (Maple and Main) who saw an opportunity in 1886 when the Wisconsin Central Railroad came thru Waukesha County, basically, north to south. It bisected Main St. one mile east of old Sussex. The opportunity was to build a huge elevator on this railroad a mile east of old Sussex. He became a broker in buying barley that he shipped by rail from his elevator to the beer industry, whether it was Milwaukee or Chicago. One year he shipped 125,000 bushes. The elevator was located south of Main St. and on the east side of the Wisconsin Central tracks.
Today, this is a flat grass and weed area about a block south, and adjacent to the current tracks. It lasted from 1886 to 1932 when it was torn down and disappeared forever.
Now this area was a new village in 1886, and it bore the name of “East Sussex” and “Buck Town”, named after a major local farm family that owned much of the adjacent land. However, besides the Templeton and Sons elevator, James also built a nearby general store. Next to it another group put up a huge lumber yard, and shortly there were two hotels/saloons, boarding houses.
Now Templeton had taken his old Sussex post mastership along with him to this boom town village, and the people in old Sussex were put out that they now had to walk a mile east to pick up their mail, or send some. They petitioned the US government that they wanted their post office back in old Sussex. There were protest and indignation meetings where tempers ran high between old Sussex and East Sussex, and the government recognized that they had a problem. So they said, “Sussex can have its post office back, but East Sussex with Templeton can continue its post office”, and thus there were two post offices, one mile apart. James Templeton, smarting from almost losing his post mastership decided that he would change the name of East Sussex to Templeton, Wis. and thus this village was born, with its own namesake post master. David Topping was now post master in Sussex, and James Templeton in Templeton.
In a way the Templeton post office became more important than the Sussex post office. It lasted until 1932. That was nearly 8 years after Sussex and Templeton had joined hands and separated away from the Town of Lisbon in September 1924.
Ironically the year 1924 and 1932 were very significant in other ways as James Templeton died in 1924, and the elevator was torn down the same year (1932) that the post office in Templetons General Store was closed down.
Now the mighty Prohibition of the production of alcoholic beverages in the US goes back to prior to the Civil War. The Civil War was a big instigator of like-minded people to start forming a third party in the US. The Civil War saw the time where the Republican Party, evolved from a variety of issues, most notably slavery. It was opposed by the Democrats, but by 1869 there was a thriving 3rd party, the Prohibition Party.
Its avowed center of its existence was to stop the production of all alcoholic beverages. It became a factor in local and national elections.
In the 1903 Wisconsin Blue Book the issue is stated that, “to the White House, a grip which compels the Chief Executive to consent that the law shall be nullified in support of the brewer” and continues “We charge upon President McKinley, who was elected to his high office by appeals to Christian sentiment and patriotism almost unprecedented and by a combination of moral influences never before seen in this country, that by his conspicuous example as a wind drinker host in the White House” etc. The Prohibition Party wanted this stopped.
Back in Lisbon, Thomas Weaver was a Prohibitionist, but he raised barley and hops for its production. One of the great agriculturists in Wisconsin and Lisbon, George McKerrow, was also a staunch promoter of the Prohibition creed.
The Prohibition Party got their act together…including in their ranks the Womens Christian Temperance Union and the Anti-Saloon in 1913 with a law against shipping booze to “dry states” and the skids were in place with a 1917 law, no mailing of alcoholic beverages. Quickly a national petition for Prohibition came forth, a proposed 18th Amendment to the Constitution.
Woodrow Wilson was president, and it concerned enough states to have groups push for Prohibition by constitutional means.
A hold over war time act (WWI) saw on July 1, 1919 that the production of alcoholic beverages was discontinued…prohibited, and against the law. The taverns and saloons closed in Lisbon, Sussex and Templeton.
The amendment received its 31 state endorsements, and became the law of the land on January 16, 1920.
The rest of Wilsons term, then Harding and Coolidge, followed by Hoover saw it the law of the land, but already there was a recognition that Prohibition was wrecking society which was demanding alcoholic beverages, and a 21st appealing amendment was successful to the new president F. D Roosevelt had given to him 36 states that wanted it repealed (21st Amendment), and thus Prohibition ended on December 5, 1933. Prohibition was over after 15 years.
Open again were Taylors Hotel (the Olde Templeton Inn), The Mammoth Spring Hotel (Tailgators), The Brook Hotel (where the Sussex Clock Tower is today), The William Smith Peace and Plenty Tavern, Whiskey Corners along with a collection of taverns in Lannon
Side Stories of Prohibition in Lisbon, 1919 to 1933
Note: This and the next story are similar to one printed “Prohibition in Sussex-Lisbon area, 1919-33”, posted June 12, 2014, Living Sussex Sun
By Fred H. Keller
Prohibition had its start in 1919-1920 in the United States, and it closed manufacturing and the sale of wine, beer, whiskey, gin and whatever had one half percent of alcohol in it. Thriving businesses in Sussex, Templeton, Whiskey Corners, Lake Five and Lannon were forced to go out of business to stop operating and turned to new endeavors as ice cream parlors, restaurants, barber-shops and even in one case a grocery store. However, there was a pent up demand for alcoholic drinks that found “under the table” ways to furnish this craving. There was a noticeable “home industry” of making wine and hard cider using what fruits were available, even to using wild and tame grapes, apples, plums, rhubarb and dandelions. Even cherries, pears and cranberries were used. Boucher Sugar was always important.
But then there is the Mehringer Brothers who got into the game, according to a story that Sonny Francis Mehringer tells.
In the barn, which still stands at W22619 Lisbon Rd. there is a silo and adjacent to the bottom, a silo room. By camouflage the Mehringer Brothers dug from this silo room out into the adjacent “hill” access to the upper barn floor, and installed a still to pro-duce “White Lightning”. Now the telltale feature of a still was the smoke and steam it produced. The Mehringer Brothers devised a smoke-vapor dispersing stack that went up into the loose barn hay mow where the vapor was caught by the hay filter and no one was the wiser. Product made; there was a ready market, and money was to be made… The Feds never discovered it.
Then there is the Mill Rd. Tower Hill access road that went east from Whiskey Corners where there was the his- hers, and ours family of the Hart-Semrow clan. According to the late Ray Semrow…he served in later years as a Sussex trustee, actually ran for Village President, and was the president of the very first Sussex Park Board, plus being an over 50 years Sussex Lions Club member and one time president…that he was a “Runner” in the family car to distribute the final product, “Booze” to tavern…most telling, to Butler…among other places, that was stashed under the car seats. Well one fine day the Waukesha Sheriff showed up at the Semrow-Hart Farm as he was an old friend of the family. Sheriff Alvin Redford was in a direct line relationship to the first settler in Lisbon, Thomas Redford.
Now Sheriff Redford talked to the Semrow-Hart family and said something like this according to Ray Semrow: “I have known you a long time, good honest people, and I know that you dont have a still on your property, but I just want you to know that sometime tomorrow that the Feds will raid your place, looking for one. But since you dont have one you dont have anything to worry about”.
The Semrow-Hart family took this in, and as the Sheriff left they quickly dismantled the operating still. “What to do with it?” So they came up with a plan. They went out to the back of the barn yard where there was a huge fresh cow manure pile. They dug a center hole, and buried the still, thinking the Feds would never look there.
The outcome…Feds came, searched the farm and homestead, and outside in the fields, pasture, woods and adjacent railroad tracks…found nothing. Everywhere but the depths of the manure pile…and went away stumped, defeated, never to return…but the Semrow-Hart family never went back into business,
alcoholic beverages for sale!
A third story is a booze convoy was moving thru Sussex and the Feds tried to intercept it. One soaped up touring car, ideal for booze moving and delivery, took off running at a great speed and recklessly daring, enticing the Feds to an all or nothing race to catch this big touring car. It went east thru Templeton and at the “Fish Hook” curve at what was then Hwy 74 at the Frank Pfeil Farm, the touring car lost the race, as it smashed into the front porch of the Pfeil home. The Feds had their man…He came groggily out of the smashed car into the house surrendering. They searched the car for the booze…finding nothing. No evidence…nothing…clean. They asked “Where is the booze…What booze…I dont have any…none…never touch the stuff”. Then they asked why he made such a big distraction for, a run from the Feds. He answered…”You figure it out!”
Actually he was in a decoy car…set to run if the Feds interfered….and he had done his job to lead the Feds away from the true booze carrying, non-descript cars…that actually were carry-ing the product.
Above: This postcard commemorated a 1926 auto accident at the Frank Pfeil farmhouse at Whiskey Corners. Supposedly, this was a rum runner trying to escape federal agents. Below: A crowd of Sussex, Lisbon and Lannon people are attracted to a booze runners crash into Frank Pfeils front porch at Hwy 74 and Town Line Rd. in 1926 during Labor Day week.
Rum running escape from the federals in 1926
Posted: Living Sussex Sun, Aug. 3, 2010
Recently the Sussex Lisbon-Area Historical Society acquired a photo of a crowd of onlookers that was taken during Labor Day in 1926. On the back side of the photo was this ownership information, “Mrs. Joseph Cullen Jr, Rt 2, Box 85, Menomonee Falls.” This is in the extended Lannon area.
What the photo shows is a smashed-up car that hit the Frank Pfeil farm house at the intersection of Highway 74 and Town Line Road. Today, this location is the Lied’s Nursery property.
One has to consider the history of this intersection prior to 1910 and after 1912.
Back prior to 1910, Sussex’s Main Street east from the old Templeton area did not take a bend to go around and under the then – unbuilt railroad overpass bridge that was the Northwestern Railroad (today Union Pacific). Sussex Main Street east was online to enter Mill Road (also known as Tower Hill Road) at Whiskey Corners. However, with the coming of the Northwestern a job was put in during 1910-12. It was originally a curve that one took to get under the railroad bridge and over the years there were many accidents there. A few years ago there was a massive re-aligning of this intersection with the addition the extra lanes plus stop lights to make the intersection safer and quicker to go through. However accidents still happened.
Meanwhile the railroad bridge structure itself has undergone a transformation as it became the traditional “graffiti bridge” for students of nearby Hamilton High School to tag with spray painted messages. A police-citizen crusade was launched recently to eliminate the vandalism.
Back to the 1926 Labor Day when Prohibition was big and Lisbon, Lannon and Sussex had their part in tweaking up alcohol for consumption. The story goes that the Frank Pfeil farmhouse on the curve was fairly near the intersection and over the years it had been struck three times. Pfeil, a Lisbon teamster and farmer, put up fence posts and planted trees to stop the crashes into his house but it was to no avail.
Now there was this character Frank Schleicher of Menomonee Falls who had a new 1926 Hudson automobile and the Federals were on to him and watching his every move because the Feds had figured out that he was the lead car in a convoy of booze runners and they began to follow him. He noticed their pursuit and sped up to about 70 mph through the Lisbon-Sussex area with the Feds in hot pursuit. They began to open fire and reportedly fired 25 shots with one grazing Schleicher’s ear. But away the Hudson went however, when it came to the curve on Highway 74 near Pfeil’s farm, his car could not make the proper maneuver and ended up in Pfeil’s front porch ending the chase.
The Feds were all over the scene and searched the Hudson for incriminating evidence and found not one ounce of alcohol or a gun. It was reported that they asked Schleicher why he made such a great effort to flee and his response was, “You figure it out.” The side story from others is that Schleicher was acting as a decoy to take the Feds away from the real booze convoy. But now the Feds had enough charges to arrest Schleicher and lock him up for about a year. Pfeil had no trouble getting paid for his repairs by the insurance company but the wiley Schleicher also got a settlement from his insurance company according to newspaper reports.
Meanwhile about the same time that Mrs. Joseph Cullen of Lannon took the crowd picture, Roy Stier of Sussex used a “post card” camera. This second photo is a close up of the Hudson in the front porch area of Pfeil’s house. Stier put this doodle on the back of the post card, “At speed of 72 miles per hour, around curves and see what it did to the machine, let alone the summer porch.”
WILLOW SPRINGS AND LANNON
Wednesday several places were raided for moonshine. Alvin Redford and Fred Bloodgood, a former principal of the Falls, now State prohibition officer, assisted by Mr. Asmuth and George Sheppe, both of Milwaukee did the work. They raided the farm of John Walter. They went through the buildings, none were locked, and no sign of occupancy. On opening the cellar door a ladder appeared. On descending the door sprang shut. In the cellar they found sixteen barrels mash, three stills, ten gallons moon, but no living person. On further search through the house they found A. R. Kundert resting in the parlor. They placed him under arrest. Mrs. Bertha Steber and Hy Enderson were also taken. Next they visited Alfred Hahns, where a small amount of moon was found. After bail was set at Waukesha, they went home to reappear and explain their actions.
Waukesha Daily Freeman July 26, 1923, page 2 of 6.