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Full text of "How a Northern Illinois Town Suddenly Became Dry"

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Mrs. Ursula Steward. 



HOW A NORTHERN ttLINOIS TOWN SUDDENLY 
BECAME DRY. 



By a. N. Beebe, Yorkville, III. 

Between two clear and silvery streams, the Big Rock and 
the Little Rock, each of which emptied its cool placid 
waters into Fox River southward, was situated an enter- 
prising little town, in its early history "Piano." Its 
founders were Cornelius Henning, Marcus Steward and 
John F. Hollister, the first one being an early pioneer from 
New York and the latter ones from Pennsylvania and 
Connecticut. 

Piano, so named, was the nucleus for future history and 
manifold destinies. Bom in the cradle of honorable pro- 
genitors, it could not consistently lower its aim to reach a 
higher station. Soon the aid of the siu^eyor and the 
officials was invoked and their efforts culminated in an 
embryo city. The selection of this chosen location was 
soon proven to be a wise one, as the newcomers sought them 
out and decided on camping there. 

As time wore on, business ventures soon developed. 
Dwellings were erected, business houses started, churches 
and school houses were soon underway, and every year 
some new and desirable feature was added. In 1854, by the 
ceaseless efforts of these promoters and their progeny, the 
great thoroughfare. The Chicago, Burlington and Quincy 
Railway was induced to extend its lines from Aurora 
through Mendota, and later on to Burlington and Quincy. 
The advent of the railway gave our new town a fresh start 
and was a potent influence in giving us an outlet for our 
products and was an inlet to all comers, as well as to ship- 
pers of merchandise. 

Naturally enough, the citizens of any enterprising town 
were ready to join hands in the betterment of its people 
and its institutions, and as the town lots began to sell and 

1 97 



198 

new settlers came in the better element decided that some 
plan be established by which saloons and grog shops could 
be kept out, ftdly realizing, as they did, that an ounce of 
prevention was worth a pound of cure ; that it would be far 
more desirable and much easier to prevent an evil of this 
kind than to eradicate it after once it had gained a foothold. 
For a time this policy was pursued and lived up to quite 
tenaciously, but as time wore on the town grew larger 
and those having to do with the sales and conveyancing of 
village lots became indifferent and careless, the anti-saloon 
clause which had been written in all conveyances began 
being omitted and finally ceased to be a feature in the sale 
of lots. 

It generally happens when an opportunity offers for the 
sale of the ardent, some one is ready to embrace it; and 
Piano was no exception. It was in the month of March, 
1858, and three saloons were in full blast to dispense liquid 
inspiration. The Illinois statutes at this time afforded no 
relief to prohibit the sale of intoxicating liquor, save to 
incorporated towns. The founders of the town had sought 
to continue the policy of restriction, but indifference and 
carelessness had overtaken the vigilant. Temperance 
societies were organized and all of the isms and fallacies of 
liquor-sellers' logic had been ground out and threshed out 
time and time again, and all to no purpose. The saloons 
still flourished and no license to pay. 

The temperance societies were becoming desperate. 
Mostly women, as they were, they felt deeply chagrined 
that there seemed to be no remedy in sight, and those peo- 
ple of easy virtue derisively scorned their sincere efforts. 

However, there came a time when human endurance 
ceased to be a virtue and trouble began to brew. Agita- 
tion had apparently borne no fruit. This band of so- 
called * 'fanatics** had discussed ways and means and proba- 
bilities and had pledged their faithfulness to each other. 
They had twenty-two members. Persuasive measures had 
utterly failed. On the 23d day of March, 1858, they 
assembled. Their leaders were Mrs. W. P. Boswell, an 




Mrs. Jane S. Henning. 



^W ^ m 







Mrs. S. E. Hollister. 



199 

eastern lady of high standing, educated and intelligent, 
resolute and firm, wife of the Railroad Agent; Mrs. Helen- 
day Beaver, wife of the Baptist minister and a woman of 
determination; Mrs. Ursula Steward, wife of one of the 
founders of the Town; Mrs. Cornelia Steward, wife of the 
late Congressman Hon. Lewis Steward; Mrs. Jane S. Hen- 
ning, wife of H. B. Henning, merchant in Piano; Mrs. S. E. 
HoUister, wife of another founder; Mrs. Anna Steward, 
merchant's wife; Mrs. Marinda Henning, wife of William 
T. Henning; Mrs. Mary A. Steward, wife of contracter and 
builder George H. Steward; Mrs. Fanny Tripp, lumber 
dealer's wife; Mrs. H. O. Doty, contractor's wife; Mrs. 
Susan Carver, Miss Sarah A. Favor, Mrs. Mary E. Wil- 
liams, Mrs. Polly Nobles, Mrs. Eunice Clark, Mrs. Sarah 
E. Henning, Mrs. C. A. Hough, Mrs. Sarah Parsons, Mrs. 
Deborah Berry, Mrs. Amanda Ryon, Miss Nellie Clark, 
Miss Hattie Ryon, Mrs. F. L. Sackett, Miss Eunice Swift, 
Mrs. Esther Kelly, mostly residents of the Town and its 
suburbs. 

The saloon-keepers mingled more or less with the mer- 
chants, officials, professional and business men of the Town, 
and they could hardly be expected to commence open war- 
fare against the grog dealers, and though the latter were 
debauching the youth and, to a large extent, absorbing the 
earnings of poor laboring men, yet the business men were 
slow and reluctant to prosecute. 

But these resolute women would no longer tolerate 
further delay and resolved to try more forcible means. 
Finally, on the 23d day of March, 1858, they met at their 
rendezvous and, armed with hatchets, hammers and 
various other weapons of destruction, marched boldly, but 
quietly to the leading dealer's place of business, one 
Stephen Winans'. They found him intrenched at the 
front door behind a gun and an axe. Parleying a moment, 
they sought a pledge from him to quit the traffic and were 
stubbornly refused ; whereupon a general smash of barrels, 
decanters, and bottles ensued. A promiscuous crowd was 
soon attracted to witness the spilling of the grog. When 



200 

the Winans* stock had been despoiled, the woman's bri- 
gade visited **Bill Smith." He was a little more demon- 
strative and tried a plan of bluff, but his assailants were not 
in the least intimidated by any threat and only indulged 
in derisive laughter at his discomfiture, and they were not 
long in inundating his saloon floor with mixed liquors, 
and poor **Biir' soon became meditative. 

The liquor spillers then called at Chambers* saloon; 
they here met more open objections and, as the women 
prepared an onslaught on his costly billiard tables, the ex- 
citement was at fever heat. Finally, better counsel pre- 
vailed and the ladies concluded there wotild be nothing 
gained by wanton destruction of property, so the billiard 
tables were spared. This finished the raid, and there was 
then not an available drink in town. It had very suddenly 
become a dry town and there were no beer wagons at large 
to replenish. Of course the feelings of the thirst vendors 
were as badly smashed as their barrels and bottles had 
been and they sought relief in law to retrieve their lost 
fortunes. Soon the woman's brigade was officially called 
on by the sheriff and as many of the women as the saloon 
men considered were financially responsible, were sum- 
moned to appear at the next term of the Circuit Court to 
be holden at Oswego. Some half a dozen of the responsi- 
ble men were also included and made parties to this suit. 

It must be admitted that it was not without some fear 
when the day approached for them to appear in Court. 
The anticipation of a trial in Court and the results which 
might ensue, did not occasion that bouyant spirit that was 
manifest on the day of the liquor spilling. Nevertheless, 
they had lost none of their determination to stand together 
and see it through. When the day came to attend Court, 
they went together to the county seat ; as they were near- 
ing the county seat, they met a delegation of prominent 
people headed by ,a brass band who escorted them to the 
Court house. 




Mrs. Mary A. Steward. 




Mrs. Anna Steward. 



201 

When the case of the Piano women was called by the 
Court, the presiding Judge very graciously informed them 
that as no one appeared against them, the suit was dis- 
missed and they were at liberty to go their way. The 
Oswego citizens then took these Piano liquor spillers to the 
best hotel, where a dinner was provided. And at their 
return to their homes, their people gave them a cheering 
ovation.