Historic Pelham

Presenting the rich history of Pelham, NY in Westchester County: current historical research, descriptions of how to research Pelham history online and genealogy discussions of Pelham families.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Pelham Speakeasies and Moonshiners - Prohibition in Pelham: The Feds Raid the Moreau Pharmacy in Pelham Manor in 1922

On January 16, 1919, Nebraska became the thirty-sixth state to ratify the Eighteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.  The Amendment provided that "[a]fter one year from the ratification of this article the manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors within, the importation thereof into, or the exportation thereof from the United States and all territory subject to the jurisdiction thereof for beverage purposes is hereby prohibited."

Congress implemented the Amendment by enacting The National Prohibition Act of 1919, also known as the Volstead Act.  Though President Woodrow Wilson exercised a veto against the Volstead Act, Congress overrode his veto on October 28, 1919.  The law became effective, along with the Eighteenth Amendment, on January 16, 1920.  Prohibition, labeled the "noble experiment" by Herbert Hoover, became the law of the land.

It was, however, a law meant to be broken.  The "noble experiment" became the "failed experiment."  Private bootleggers and speakeasies sprang up everywhere to meet the seemingly insatiable desire for alcoholic beverages.  Pelham had its share of bootleggers, moonshiners and speakeasies.  

Stills Discovered by Pelham Manor Police During Prohibition.
From the February 3, 1928 Issue of The Pelham Sun.

I have written before about Pelham during the Prohibition years.  See:  The Prohibition Era in Pelham, The Pelham Weekly, Vol. XIII, No. 25, June 18, 2004, p. 12, col. 2.  I also have written of Pelham's own experiments with imposing local prohibition on its citizens during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  See:

Thu., Feb. 07, 2008:  Village Elections in Pelham in 1900 - New York Athletic Club Members Campaign Against the Prohibition Ticket in Pelham Manor.  

Thu., Jan. 12, 2006:  The Beer Battle of 1933.

Thu., Aug. 11, 2005:  How Dry I Am: Pelham Goes Dry in the 1890s and Travers Island Is At the Center of a Storm.

During the Prohibition Era in Pelham, speakeasies arose to serve those who lived in Pelham and surrounding areas.  Perhaps the most famous was one said to have existed, of all places, in the remains of the "Little Red Church" - the original building of the Huguenot Memorial Church.  When the church congregation decided to build a new stone church building, the lovely old wooden church building was sold to a local developer named Arthur Cole for $1,000.  Mr. Cole reportedly purchased the building "without disclosing that he would move it across the street to offend the eyes of its former owners."  In his wonderful book purlished in 1996 entitled Pelham New York:  Memories of a Century After Incorporation, Tom Fenlon wrote of the Little Red Church building:

"There was a hollow at the Boston Post Road behind which no streets were laid out.  The hollow on the corner became in the late teens the resting place of the old red church.  But it became only a part of the building, which was erected there.  The building looked patched up at the level of the streets it faced.  Its foundations were high enough to afford an entrance to the space below the building at the rear.  The owner enticed several hopeful tenants to conduct various businesses there.  The . . . Eighteenth Amendment to the Constitution made Prohibition the law of the United States.  It was rumored that one venturer was using the lower level space in the building, to see whether alcoholic beverages could still be sold, surreptitiously.  The shop had an entrance which was unlikely to be found by anyone who did not know of its existence.  The business would be disclosed only to persons known to the seller.  Ordinary citizens, including the police, would have no reason to find their way around the building; there was no apparent entrance to what might be a cellar.  The rumor as to what might be bought there was not tested by anyone who made public what he or she was able to discover."

It turns out that the rumor of a speakeasy in the building known by most as the "Cole Apartment House" or simply "Cole's" was far more than a rumor.  A raid by federal agents in 1922 turned up a lot of illegal drugs, alcohol, bottles and labels to permit the bottling of the alcohol, and a lot more.  Below I have transcribed the text of an article that appeared in the local newspaper about the raid.

The Building Known as "Cole's" Which Was Raided by Federal Agents in 1922.

"Moreau Drug Store in Pelham Manor Raided by Federal Agents and Local Police; Much Liquor and Drugs Found; Druggist Jailed
Place Has Been Under Close Surveillance for Some Time Past - Raid Made on Tuesday Night and Proprietor Arrested Charged with Violation of Harrison Act Which Prohibits the Trafficking In Drugs Without a Federal License Which Moreau Had Not - Bail Fixed At $3,000.

Harry L. Moreau, who conducts a drug store in Pelham Manor in the Cole Apartment House on Boston Post Road, was arrested on Tuesday night following a raid made on his store by Federal Inspector J. A. Boon of the Narcotic Squad.  He was formally charged with being in illicit possession of drugs in violation of the Harrison Act.  After being lodged in Pelham Manor jail over night he was taken to New York Wednesday morning, formally arraigned before Commissioner Hitchcock and committed to the Tombs to await the action of the Federal authorities.  Up to a late hour bail set at $3,000 had not been procured for him.

Federal Prohibition Officers Van Tassel and Garson, of New York, following closely on the trail of the narcotic squad, conducted a search of the rooms over the store occupied by Moreau as living quarters, and on Wednesday afternoon took possession of fifteen quart bottles of whiskey of assorted labels, several quart bottles of gin, two demijohns of rye whiskey each of five-gallon capacity, eight pint bottles of assorted flavoring extracts and a quantity of denatured alcohol, with the usual accompaniment of fake labels and bottle caps.  The stuff was loaded into an automobile and taken to New York.

The raid came about as the result of complaints lodged against Moreau by residents of Pelham Manor.  He has long been suspected of trafficking in drugs and liquor, and as a consequence has been under close surveillance of Federal men for some time past.  Tuesday afternoon while Moreau was away from the store for awhile the trap was set and the capture made about six o'clock.

For several weeks past a close record has been kept by Federal service men of all who visited Moreau's drug store or the rooms occupied by him above the store.  Names and addresses of customers are in possession of the Federal authorities.  The numbers on license plates of automobile patrons were also checked up carefully and showed that Moreau's patronage extended as far as Hastings-on-the Hudson, according to police information.  

On Tuesday afternoon Federal Narcotic Inspector Joseph A. Boon arrived on the scene and sought co-operation of Police Chief Gargan.  The two officers searched the drug store and found heroin and codeine, together with thirty-one doctors' prescriptions.  Moreau was arrested.  He has no Federal license for handling drugs, although he has a state pharmacist's license.  Inspector Boon at once took possession of the premises and kept the place padlocked.  Chief Gargan placed an officer on guard outside.  The work was carried out so quietly and effectively that few were aware of the proceedings.

Moreau appeared stunned at the suddenness of it all, and when placed under arrest, said:  'You're not really going to put me in jail, are you?'  'Yes,' responded Chief Gargan,, 'and in case you don't like the Pelham Manor jail we're going to take you down to New York in the morning where they'll probably put you in the Tombs.  We've been after you for a long time.'

The stock of drugs carried by Moreau was a minor matter compared to his liquor business.  After Moreau had been safely lodged in jail the officers continued their search to the rooms over the store.  There are four other tenants in the building, three private families and a real estate firm, beside the two rooms occupied by Moreau on the second floor.

The rooms were indescribably dirty.  The first room contained an organ, (Moreau is an accomplished musician) two small tables, a chair and three pictures on the wall.  One was a cheap colored enlarged photo of Moreau, the second a similar picture of his mother, and the third a large painting of a nude woman.  On the shelf under one table was a Bible and prayerbook [sic].  On the floor immediately on entering were eight quarts of whiskey.  Empty bottles of all sorts and sizes littered the floor of the room and closet.  On the table near the door was a stock drug store bottle labeled 'spirits of nitre.'

The bedroom was a similar untidy mess of dirty clothing and bottles.  On the window ledge stood four bottles of Gordon gin.  Three big square boxes each holding a five-gallon demijohn stood near the window.  Two contained liquor.  Three other oblong wooden cases each containing three gallon bottles apiece stood near the bed.  All around was littered dirty empty whiskey bottles.  On a chair were a number of bronze caps for bottles.  In the closet of the room the door of which was locked and which it was necessary to take off its hinges to get into, a row of smaller bottles stood on the shelf.  There was molasses flavor, Ryeol flavor for Scotch whiskey, juniper flavor, grape flavor for making 'Dago red' - all the materials for manufacturing the various varieties of hootch in demand today.  Federal agents were notified and took possession of the liquor.

Moreau has been conducting a liquor traffic in a very bold way lately.  Investigations showed that a bathroom situated in another part of the Cole building situated in another part of the Cole building had been used to wash the empty bottles in [sic].

According to the story of one well acquainted with Moreau's method of procedure, customers for liquor would call at the drug store and be taken upstairs to Moreau's private rooms where the liquor was turned over and payment made.

Police are searching for Moreau's roommate and several other men who were members of the gang which operated from Moreau's.  One of them is a well known drug addict who is stated to have acted as go-between for the disposal of liquor manufactured in the building.  Local customers of the bootlegger will be questioned by the police in an effort to round up the remaining members of the Moreau gang.

Moreau has shown evidence of abundant prosperity financially.  He recently purchased an expensive automobile and is known to have loaned a confederate five hundred dollars.  His tenancy of the Cole building expires April 1st and he was preparing to remove to a new location on Third street, Mount Vernon, near Columbus avenue.  He has a mother and sister who reside in New York.  Some years ago he conducted business in the store near Pelham Manor railway station where his conduct was such that G. H. Kerr, owner of the property, forced him to vacate the premises.  He then removed to his present location in the Cole building.  

There have been many expressions of satisfaction among residents of Pelham Manor over the closing up of the drug store and the arrest of its proprietor.

'That's the best thing accomplished in the Manor for many a long day,' said a village official on Wednesday." 

Source:   Moreau Drug Store in Pelham Manor Raided by Federal Agents and Local Police; Much Liquor and Drugs Found; Druggist Jailed, The Pelham Sun, Vol. XII, No. 3, Mar. 17, 1922, p. 1, col. 5.  

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