The Architecture of Prohibition: Public History in Rochester

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This afternoon I came across this article in the Democrat and Chronicle (in the always-intersting ‘Retrofitting Rochester’ section), about the history of a particular building in Rochester, NY, discussing its local role and larger historical significance. I immediately thought it would be a great topic to share in a blog post – it’s an excellent demonstration of the opportunity Public Historians have to bring their local communities into the historical fold, and boost interest in local history and architecture. Below is an excerpt from the article, check it out:

““Oh, Thirsty Ones! There’s 20,000 gallons here!” This shocking headline greeted readers of the Rochester Herald on August 29, 1920. Underneath those words ran the above picture of a warehouse at 162-164 Andrews Street. It was an “unassuming building,” according to the accompanying article, save for the fact that, inside its walls “is all of the apple and grape brandy in the world… [or] so it would seem at least in these bone dry days.”

The drought in Rochester came with the arrival of Prohibition. Brought into being as the Eighteenth Amendment, and enforced through the Volstead Act, Prohibition criminalized the production and sale of alcohol in the United States. The law took effect on January 16, 1920.

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Many reform-minded Rochesterians in favor of Prohibition viewed the act as the natural culmination of the temperance movement, a blow against the death, disease, and vice wrought by alcoholism. Yet, to the chagrin of city health officials, death by alcohol actually increased in the city due to the proliferation of hazardous, often poisonous, “homebrews” in a growing underground economy.

In an effort to crack down on such illicit production, federal agents conducted raids on suspected distributors and speakeasy establishments. Starting in the summer of 1920, a number of successful busts in Rochester necessitated storage facilities for seized and surrendered liquor.

The building on Andrews Street—in addition to furnishing office space for the Rochester Carting Company—became such a repository for distilled contraband. Special Internal Revenue Bonded Warehouse Number Five, as the location was called, held vast gallons of intoxicating spirits.”

Check out the location from above:

You can read the full article here. It’s a great example of the wealth of history to be found in Rochester. There is a narration of the article, read by a local historian. Also, the sliding feature on the image in the article is an awesome little example of the digital opportunities accessible to historians and history enthusiasts.

Further Reading:
IRS Warehouse History, Rochester
 Retrofitting Rochester

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