Lancaster Intelligencer Journal June 2001

Prohibition Tours Explore the Not-So-Dry ‘20s-Era Lancaster

By David Griffith

For Bill Hall, a ride in the car to Rawlinsville often meant his father, Albert "Halley" Hall, needed to stock up.

"He used to always take one of us along, because the revenue guys would look in the car and see a kid and say, ‘Oh, he’s OK,’" said Hall as he took a walking tour Sunday of Lancaster’s famous places from the days of Prohibition.

Born in 1922, Hall grew up on Cabbage Hill and remembers those days well.

Hall said his father used to buy pure alcohol from a guy in Rawlinsville, bring it back to an old hotel on the corner of St. Joseph and New Dorwart streets and turn it into whiskey, gin and other libations that were banned but available everywhere you turned.

"It was a bar and dining room, and (it) even had some slot machines," Hall said of the hotel, which also served as the family’s home.

Speak-easies often just a living room converted into a gathering place for people from the neighborhood, were a place to stop and get a drink, even though alcohol was illegal under the 18th Amendment.

"In the area known as Cabbage Hill, there was one on every other corner," said Hall, whose firsthand experiences enhanced the tour guides’ stories.

Volunteer guides dressed in period garb shared different points of view from the days of Prohibitiion—from a member of the Women’s Christian Tempereance Union to the police chief who suspected a book dealer on Water Street of dealing in more than the latest novel.

Lancaster was a lively town during Prohibition, a time remembered by many as the days of gangsters and corruption that spread through the ranks of police, judges and politicians. Mayoral candidates built their platforms on the controversial law.

"Prohibition never stopped the drinks from flowing," said tour guide Suzanne Moore. "All the Who’s Who in Lancaster had access to beer. Some of the stuff that went on is just amazing. It all adds color- and truth- to the story."

Sunday’s tour began with the Sprenger Brewery catacombs and ended at Phelan’s Furniture Store, where beer allegeldy flowed downhill through fire hoses from a brewery on the hill at the top of West King Street, a few blocks west.

This is the 25th year for Historic Lancaster Wlaking Tour Inc., a nonprofit group that organized tours for the city.

To celebrate its first quarter-century, the group is hosting themed tours each month through October. The tours began in April with a trip around Cabbage Hill, went to "The Ladies of Orange Street" in May and continue in July with Revolutionary War re-enactors in Lancaster Square.

In August, the tour will commemorate the works of noted architect C. Emlen Urban, who designed the Watt & Shand building. September will feature the African-American experience in Lancaster, and ghost tours will round out the year’s events.

Related Articles

Bentz, Adam T. “Raids and Responsibility: Prohibition Enforcement and Evasion in the 1920s Lehigh Valley and the Unlikely Administration of Bethlehem Reform Mayor Robert Pfeifle.” M.A. History Thesis. Lehigh University. April, 2006.

Kurtz, Peter and McDermott, John aka “Beer and Booze Bros.” “Diving into the history and the hangover of Prohibition in Philadelphia.” KYW Radio Special Centennial of Prohibition Series. January 2020.

Wagner, Rich. “Max Hassel, the 'Beer Baron' of Reading, PA.” E.C.B.A. the KEG, Winter 2019.

Wagner, Rich. “Remembering Dry Philadelphia: from the Volstead Act to Repeal.” Mid-Atlantic Brewing News. April/May, 2006.

Wagner, Rich. “Repeal in Philadelphia: What We Drank Back in the Day.” Mid-Atlantic Brewing News. April/May 2008.