September 6th, 2016

ProhibitionOver 80 years after Prohibition ended it’s hard for us to imagine a world where bootleggers (the illegal production and sale of liquor) and speakeasies (illegal drinking spots) became a part of the ever-more inventive ways to obtain and consume alcohol. Still, Cecil County has its share of thrilling stories of moonshine and moonlit raids.

In the 1820s and ‘30s, the temperance movement attempted to get Americans to cut back (be temperate) with alcohol consumption. As the movement continued, the emphasis had shifted from moderation of alcohol to calling for outright government bans on all alcohol being made, transported, sold or consumed. At first, separate states started passing prohibition laws and Maine was the first state to pass one in 1846 and a number of other states had followed suit by the time the Civil War began in 1861.

In Cecil County, prohibition laws were on the books years before Congress started the process of enacting the 18th Amendment. The first arrest under the prohibition laws in Cecil County happened on September 1, 1903 when an Alfred Bender of Port Deposit was arrested for selling beer and whiskey.

In 1917, after the US entered World War I, President Woodrow Wilson instituted a temporary wartime ration prohibition in order to save grain for producing food. That same year, Congress submitted the 18th Amendment, which banned the manufacture, transportation and sale of intoxicating liquors, for state ratification. The amendment received the support of the necessary three-quarters of US states in just 11 months.

The three Delmarva state legislatures were early adopters. Virginia was the second state to ratify, followed by Maryland coming in sixth and Delaware being the ninth. The amendment was ratified on January 29, 1919 and the 18th Amendment went into effect a year later. In October 1919, Congress passed the National Prohibition Act, which provided guidelines for the enforcement of Prohibition. This is commonly called the Volstead Act, after Representative Andrew Volstead who championed it.

Displaying Eastern Shore independence, many coastal residents more or less ignored the new law. State’s Attorney Henry L. Constable stated that the prohibition situation in Cecil County was “worse than the average citizen dreamed of,” and he estimated there were, “600 rumrunners and bootleggers in the county,” in 1927. Cecil County’s Sheriff Logan in 1927 said, “The motto of this office is, ‘Let no moonshine on Cecil’s plains,” adding, “Even in the eight district where there ain’t no Ten Commandments.” (The Eight District was the general area of Conowingo and the Conowingo Dam project.)

During 1927, a number of large raids were made in Cecil County and among the largest of these was in the woods belonging to the Whitaker Iron Company at Principio Furnace. A total of six raids were made in Whitaker Woods with a still found in each raid, netting a total of 10,000 gallons of mash!

With the country mired in the Great Depression by 1932, creating jobs and revenue by legalizing the liquor industry was very appealing. FDR ran for president that year on a platform calling for Prohibition’s repeal and after his victory the 21st Amendment to the Constitution repealing Prohibition went into effect in 1933.

Want to know more? Join us for Pass the Rum: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition on Tuesday, September 13 at the Chesapeake City Branch Library. Call (410) 996-1134 to guarantee your spot.

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I Scream, You Scream…

August 22nd, 2016

Ice cream bookAugust seems like the perfect summer month to enjoy a sweet and cold treat like ice cream to combat the sweltering heat, but when did people first start eating this creamy dessert? Interestingly, the history of ice cream is filled with urban legends that can’t quite be proven, but each story contains at least a small bit of truth.

In the very beginning, the Romans and Persians would mix snow or chipped ice with mainly fruit or honey flavorings to create something like our water ices now. They would do this when the weather was hot and used the snow saved in Persian underground chambers known as ‘yakchal’ or taken from the snowfall that still remained at the top of the mountains.

Ice creamCream ice or ice cream seems to trace its origins back to China, although nobody can nail down the date. We do know that a frozen mixture of milk and rice was used in China around 200 BC and ice cream is mentioned being served at the Mogul court in the fourteenth century. Many believe that knowledge of ice cream could have spread overland along the Silk Road routes from China through the Middle East and into Italy, but the knowledge of how to freeze things by the combination of ice and salt was even more important.

Ice cream bookIce cream’s European debut was probably in Italy in the latter part of the seventeenth century. There are many stories surrounding the Italian duchess Catherina de’ Medici being credited with introducing ice cream to France when she married the Duke of Orleans. Ice cream and flavored ices were still the desserts for royalty and the rich up until the mid-eighteenth and nineteenth century, as access to an ice house and expensive ingredients such as sugar were needed. French-style ice cream is made with egg yolks, whereas the next step in the journey takes ice cream to the Americas where what we now know as Philadelphia-style ice cream is made with either no eggs or egg whites only.

Ice cream bookThe first known instance of ice cream being served in American occurred in Maryland in 1744, when Governor Thomas Bladen put it on his dessert table. It was May, and the frozen dessert astonished his guests. Thomas Jefferson himself helped to popularize ice cream in this country when he started having it served at the President’s House in Washington. One of only ten recipes surviving in Thomas Jefferson’s own hand is a vanilla ice cream recipe attributed to his French butler, Adrien Petit.


Ice cream bookThese days, ice cream is a beloved dessert in the US. The average American annually consumes about 22 pounds of ice cream and 10% of milk in the US goes towards making it. It’s been estimated that there have been over a 1,000 different ice cream flavors created, but the most popular flavors still tend to be chocolate and vanilla in polls…although some more creative flavors like cookies and cream and cookie dough also tend to lead the list.

No matter what flavor you choose, a cone or bowl of this cool treat will always be a sweet memory of summer.

What’s your favorite flavor?

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