Events that shaped us 

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PO Box 4508
Davenport, IA 52808

Spencer Bros. Disposal
New Windsor, IL

Mane Designs
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Quad-Cities Graduate Studies Center
639 38 St
Rock Island, IL 61201

Taylor Freezers 1885 Earhart Dr
Sandwich IL 60548

Milan Surplus
I-280 Exit 15
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Metro MRI
550 15 Ave
Moline, IL 61265

Halligan-McCabe-DeVries Funeral Home Inc.
614 Main St
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Ward Chiropractic
1802 W Locust St
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Cannon Precision Manufacturing
PO Box 289
4th and Washington St
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Associated Environmental Management Services Inc
PO Box 586
1701 13 St
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Edward Jones
1632 5th Avenue
Moline, IL 61265

Downtown Davenport Association
102 S. Harrison St.
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Donald J. McNeil, D.D.S.
1030 41st Street
Moline, IL 61265

Valley Dental Center
Dr. Margarida R. Laub
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Sylvan Learning Center
1035 Lincoln Road
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Marycrest International University
1607 W 12 St
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St. Ambrose University
518 W Locust
Davenport, IA 52804

Palmer College of Chiropractic
1000 Brady St
Davenport, IA 52803

Augustana College
639 38 St
Rock Island, IL 61201

H & R Block
1715 W Locust St
Davenport, IA 52804

E & J
200 24 Ave
Rock Island, IL 61201

American Institute of Commerce
1801 E Kimberly Rd
Davenport, IA 52807

Rock Island County Farm Bureau
1601 52 Ave
Moline, IL 61265

Hempel Pipe and Supply
951 S Rolff St
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McGladrey & Pullen, LLP
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220 North Main St Suite 900
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McGladrey & Pullen, LLP
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Moline, IL 61265

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John Deere Pavilion
1400 River Dr
Moline, IL 61265

John Deere Store
1300 River Drive Suite 100
Moline, IL 61265

Birdsell Chiropractic
1201 5th Ave
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2484 53 St
Bettendorf, IA 52722

17th St and 5th Ave
Moline, IL 61265

2132 E 11 St
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1422 5th Ave
Moline, IL 61265

Teske Pet & Garden Center
2432 16 St
Moline, IL 61265

Teske Pet & Garden Center
2395 Spruce Hills Dr
Bettendorf, IA 52722

Liquor-brewing was popular in Quad-Cities homes

By Lisa Mohr, Dispatch/Argus Staff writer

Click here for larger view.
Photo courtesy of Glenn Troxel.
Patrons of Bettendorf's Boston Saloon line up for this pre-prohibition photograph. After 1920, establishments like this went underground or ceased selling alcohol.
With one fell swoop of the legislative pen, a vibrant young nation emerging as a world power became a hotbed of crime and insobriety. National Prohibition, euphemistically called the Great Drought, fell like a shroud over the United States on Jan. 20, 1920, triggering the lawless and anything goes pace of the Roaring Twenties.

The Quad-Cities fell right in line with the national trend. Buying or making bootleg whiskey became a regular part of day to day life and many households in the area took up the arts of beer brewing and wine making.

Quad-Citians living within five miles of The Rock Island Arsenal, however, saw an earlier prohibition.

As early as 1918, when the United States entered into World War I, bars, saloons and taverns within five miles of the Arsenal were shut down, because of a federal government ruling that alcohol could not be served within five miles of a government war facility.

For that two-year interval, sale of intoxicants took place in ``gallon shops,'' where alcohol was sold in large quantities outside the five-mile limit. A great many were found along Coaltown Road and the liquor sold there was distilled back in the old abandoned mine shafts. Stills were also a common commodity on Big Island.

But it was just the calm before the storm. During the '20s and early 1930s, it was estimated that every other household in Rock Island, Moline and East Moline had wine fermenting or beer brewing in a root cellar.

Despite the infamy of such organized crime legends as Al Capone and Quad-Cities crime lord John Looney, the nation's raging thirst was mostly quenched by the last great cottage industry. Home production of beer, wine and whiskey became the biggest commodity of its time.

If the average household didn't have a its own wine- or beermaker, the neighborhood bootlegger could easily fill the gap.

``There was a crock of beer in everyone's kitchen,'' remembers one Quad-Cities woman who asked not to be identified. She grew up on an East Moline farm at what is now 3rd Street and Crosstown Road. ``My mother made beer -- `homebrew' they called it. No one sold that. Company would come and you'd offer them a glass of beer like you would a cup of coffee.''

Her father began bootlegging as soon as Prohibition became law.

``My father didn't actually farm -- he leased out the land to other farmers. He made whiskey. Several people were making liquor along 3rd Street. I never felt any disgrace because of it. It was a way of life. East Moline had a lot of Belgians, and they drank beer like the Italians or Spaniards drank wine. If anyone got caught, they went to Peoria (site of federal court) or someplace like that. But nobody thought anything of it.

``My father didn't make whiskey in the house. He dug out the side of a hill and made a big cave in there. There was no ventilation so it really did smell in there. But I don't think the odor was really a problem. It was far back from the road so no one knew it was there.

``You had to be careful getting supplies. There were times we had to go to different places. Why would anyone need 100 pounds of sugar? Or grain? They had people out watching for things like that. Yeast was sold by the pound and we would buy six to eight pounds at a time. Dad would send my brother and I down to where the Belgian grocery stores on 13th Street and 15th Avenue. We would buy the yeast and go home different ways -- like we would go all the way up 13th Street hill past St. Mary's -- just so no one would follow us.

``In spring Mother would send us up the hills to where Short Hills (Country Club) is now, and we would pick the first dandelions of the year for dandelion wine. I remember that was real good.

``Other people on 3rd Street included the Don King farm. Their land was all flat so they couldn't dig a cave. They made whiskey in one-half of the chicken coop. And back up from the hill was Johnny Weaver's place -- it was a real big farm with a great big barn. Johnny built a new hog pen in the north end of the barn -- concrete -- with a basement where he distilled whiskey. The odor from the hogs would mask the smell. Johnny Weaver was the big kingpin. Everyone else were small-timers.''

John Weaver began making whiskey on his farm along the Moline/East Moline border as soon as Prohibition became law. But he soon found the popularity of his product made him too noticeable to the authorities, so he and his wife, Elsie, moved to land they bought on the Rock River at the bottom of 60th Street.

There they built a house and a restaurant that would open up for big banquets. Poplar Grove, as the restaurant is still called, was known for its catfish and chicken dinner -- Elsie Weaver would kill and cook up as many as 100 live chickens for one of their feasts. The rest of the time the gates to the property were closed.

``My grandparents came down to the river because things got too hot up at the farm off 23rd Avenue,'' said John Bernard, grandson of John and Elsie Weaver. ``This area was very much the country then. The site was perfect for whiskey making. They could throw the mash in the river and no one could smell the whiskey cooking in the still.

``Those were horse-and-buggy days, so people in the country were very isolated. The farm closest to us was the Sinns farm, and my grandmother was a Sinns so there was no problem with the neighbors. There were no boats on the Rock in those days except for occasional barges. People fished from the shore. It was perfect.

``My grandfather kept trotlines on the river baited for catfish, and off a few of the lines he'd tie jugs of whiskey. The whiskey was positioned over the rocks so if the law ever came down, he could just pull the line and they'd crash and break on the rocks.''

Small-business owners in town also met the challenge of satisfying the area's insatiable thirst. In the late 1920s and early '30s, Lee Mohr, who later opened Lee's Liquors in Rock Island, owned a tobacco shop in downtown Rock Island called The Smoker, at 1603 2nd Ave. The front of the store had a counter and soda fountain where lunch was served; cigars, pouches of tobacco and newspapers were sold in the back of the store.

``And we sold liquor out the back door, up on the second floor,'' remembers Leo Mohr of Rock Island, Lee's oldest son. They mixed ``Irish whiskey'' in the rooms upstairs from the store and Leo, then in his mid-teens, would make the runs for supplies.

``First I would go to Beardsley's Specialty. They sold malt extracts, fountain syrups, ciders -- things like that -- and there I'd buy pint bottles and some bourbon extract. Then I'd go to the drugstore on 2nd Avenue and 17th Street -- Bengston's it was -- where I'd get a glass jug of straight alcohol. Last was Huesing Bottling Works, which was then on 14th Street down by the railroad tracks, that sold distilled water.

``Upstairs from the Smoker we had a five-gallon glass jug where we first mixed the alcohol and extract and then added the water until the color looked right. Then we used a rubber hose to siphon the whiskey into pint jars. I can remember the chief detective from the Rock Island Police force, his name was Gus something, standing in the alley behind the Smoker, yelling up the back stairway for his pint of whiskey. He came by every day.''

Leo spent summers with his maternal grandfather, George Gross, who owned a farm at what is now the north end of Saukie Golf Course in Rock Island.

``Grandpa's farm ran all the way from 43rd Street on the north end of Saukie to the Moline border and the Willard Velie property (now Wildwood). He had orchards with apples, pears, peaches, which all went to wine, and seven rows of grapes, which were wine grapes, not the kind you could eat. He also had all kinds of berries which were made into wine, too. And he kept a horse, a couple of cows and chickens.''

The rest of the land was a truck farm dedicated to growing all kinds of vegetables. ``Grandpa had a vegetable route which he would send me on with a horse and wagon, starting when I was about 10 or 11 years old. He'd pack his bottles of wine on the bottom of the wagon and put the boxes of vegetables over them. He had a good business.

``One day I was making a delivery over on 20th Street and I walked up to the house carrying the vegetable basket with the wine in it. When I returned to the wagon, I found that the horse had died. I didn't know what to do -- the bottom of the wagon was full of booze and I couldn't pull it. I couldn't call the police for help.''

He managed to get word to his grandfather out on the farm, who came to the rescue with his car, hitching the wagon to the back bumper and pulling it home. ``I can't remember what we did with the horse.''

In 1933, Prohibition was repealed and the 13-year drought ended. Despite bread lines and millions in unemployment, the nation set to celebrating like never before.

Months before Repeal, prudent bootleggers began getting out of the liquor racket and putting their money into real estate. Big brewers began getting out of real estate and putting their money back into the beer business.

In the Quad-Cities, many former bootleggers were the first in line to obtain legal liquor licenses. It was back to business as usual.

Copyright 1999, Moline Dispatch Publishing Co.