Historical society to present Prohibition program

Berlin Historical Society Museum reopens for the season next month with a spirited presentation exploring the 18th Amendment, adopted in 1920, and its ramifications. The free event will be held Friday, April 3, 6 to 8 p.m. at 305 Main St., Kensington.

Guest speakers are Dr. Francis Coan, Tunxis Community College history professor, and Stephen McGrath, adjunct history professor at Central Connecticut State University. Their program, “Taverns, Temperance, Teetotalers, and Tommy Guns: The Long History of Prohibition,” comes to town with rave reviews.

Refreshments will be served by 1920s-era personalities. Wine, beer and Avery’s soda will be offered.

Space is limited and a packed room is expected. To confirm a spot, call 860-828-5114. Leave a message with your name, phone number and the number of people attending.

Exhibits opening that evening include a floor-to-ceiling showcase for Berlin Tin, and an area highlighting “The Moore Family Painters & Philanthropists.” The museum, located in the old Peck Library, is open from 1 to 4 p.m. most Saturdays, April through December.

While the focus of the Prohibition program is not specifically on Berlin, we have anecdotal history on the subject, beginning with a local ministers’ temperance sermons.

The congregational church was often at odds with local tavern patrons. In Oct. 1848, a sermon delivered by the Reverend William Woodworth was said to have sparked retaliation. One night, unidentified suspects set the Worthington Meeting House ablaze.

Fortunately, a citizens bucket brigade quickly doused the flames. Although the organ was destroyed, and a massive chestnut beam charred, volunteers quickly erected a new south wall to cover the damage.

Throughout the latter 19th and early 20th century, women were lobbying not only for the right to vote, but for temperance. Having a spouse who drank to excess could destroy a family’s economic stability and lead to domestic abuse.

There was also the cultural clash with immigrants who were accustomed to imbibing.

Other stories tell of how local farm families were in the clandestine business of making apple brandy, hard cider and peach and elderberry wine. One of the largest stills in Connecticut was said to be in the Blue Hills area of Kensington.

The 18th Amendment failed to curtail all drinking, much to the chagrin of organizations such as the Total Abstinence and Benevolence Society. The group met in a beautiful hall on Main Street in Kensington where alcohol-free social events were enjoyed by parishioners of St. Paul’s Church.

After the original St. Paul’s on Main Street burned down, the parish hall building was sold to American Paper Goods Company, which continued to use the hall as a gathering place for employees, while keeping it alcohol-free. In fact, when the land was sold to Charles Biejewski and Joseph Zotter in 1947 to build a service station (now Rich’s Citgo), the deed stated that no alcohol could ever be sold on the site.

We also know that Brandy Lane was renamed Kensington Road because Marjorie Moore pressed for what she deemed was a more dignified name.

-- Submitted by Lorraine Stub, Berlin Historical Society

With local school, politics and coronavirus news being more important now than ever, please help our newsroom deliver the coverage you deserve. Please support Local news.

More From This Section