The Pacific Northwest Forum
Volume 1, Number 2, Pages 26-29
Joe Peterson is a social studies teacher at Issaquah High School. Impressed by a college mentor's exhortation that he should get his students to "do history rather than recite its countless revisions found in textbooks,...he developed a program for the study of local history. Using public records, newspapers, oral interviews and other resources, his students compile accounts of various aspects of Issaquah Valley history. These two articles are samples of the work done by students at Issaquah High School.
Prohibition and Bootlegging in Issaquah
By Bob Malmassari
During the 1890's and the early 1900's, Issaquah was a booming little mining and logging town. It took strong, willing men to work the mines and woods. The jobs were extremely long, hard, and dangerous, and the men who worked at the hard and dangerous jobs underground and in the woods drank a lot of whiskey, beer, and wine. Naturally, the free enterprise system provided places for them to buy and drink the liquor.
By 1920 things began to look sour for the mining town. After the war in 1918 the mines were opened for a few years, but in 1921 a strike closed them for good. National Prohibition (1920) coupled with a declining market for coal was slowly darkening the bars and taverns. It looked as if Issaquah was dying slowly like many of the other little mining towns that had popped up around King County.
Judging, however, from the number of stills which have been uncovered around in the hills and from the stories told by some of the old timers who recall that era, alcoholic consumption remained high. Prohibition violations were not the sole province of big city speak-easies or the Appalachian mountain regions. There must have been a great number of stills in and around Issaquah, for stories are told about how sugar was imported by the train carloads. (Sugar of course, was important in the making of shine and blackberry wine.) With hard times, it was not uncommon for unemployed men to turn their efforts to the manufacture and sale of the now forbidden liquor.
Meanwhile, the federal government took its task seriously, making arrests and securing convictions throughout the country. On the local Issaquah police records, the fees or fines for violations paid were small, not amounting to more than fifteen dollars. However, the federal courts or higher courts were for persons who were caught with a large amount of liquor or with a still in their presence. When the "feds" moved into Issaquah, things really began to drop off. The federal officers were extremely tough. Some men were sent to jail or prison, because of their violation of the Volstead Act.
Clark's Place, Issaquah, Early Twentieth Century
A local man we talked with who was a teenager during the prohibition era, told us that in one small part of town nineteen moon shiners and bootleggers could be found. While young boys enjoyed lifting the bottles from their hiding places (often called squirrel holes), all was not "cat and mouse" games. Our contact remembered a few people he knew who were imprisoned because of possession of liquor or stills.
Many of the stills in this area were small with a five or ten gallon capacity and thus were easy to transport. Stills were hidden almost everywhere, in walls of houses and behind false walls or floors. As late as 1932, the Issaquah Press reported a house fire in town which bared an active still and "50-75 gallons of 'shine" which was taken away by the crowd for Fourth of July use. People today who have bought old houses in the country around Issaquah to fix up and live in, have quite often found mash tanks and distillation piping in the house or in the woods nearby.
If the trees could talk, some very interesting stories about this period might unfold, for even today bootlegging and prohibition are topics still not openly discussed.
Some Early Laws or "Go to Heck!"
By Valerie Nye
Mill Near Issaquah
One of the fascinating aspects of reviewing the town's ordinance book is the discovery of some of Issaquah's early laws. Issaquah was known as Gilman before 1900. For example, it was (and still is, incidentally) against the law to swear at an individual within the city limits! While not all the prohibitions are noteworthy, a few, such as those reprinted below, provide us a glimpse of a by-gone era.
Ordinance VIII, Section I
Any person who shall assail another person with words, curses or epithets within the corporate limits of the town of Gilman shall be deemed guilty of a misdemeanor and on conviction shall be subjected to a fine in any sum not less than ($5.00) dollars or more than fifty ($50.00).
Several other early laws pertained to animal control.
Ordinance XL VII, Section III
The Marshall shall charge the owner of any impounded animal, horse or mule, the sum of two ($2.00) dollars for each impounded animal, he shall also charge the sum of fifty ($.50) cents for each day, or part of day that such animal be in the pound for the care and keeping of such animals. All such fees to be paid into the town treasurer. Passed June 21,1894.
An unattached horse or mule could bring a fine of no less than one ($1.00) dollar and no more than twenty-five ($25.00) dollars. And there were laws regulating where animals could go even when accompanied by the owner.
Ordinance XXIII, Section XXIII
Whoever shall ride, drive or lead any horse, mule, cow, or other animal upon any sidewalk of said Town, shall on conviction thereof be fined in any sum not exceeding twenty-five ($25.00) dollars. Passed January 23, 1893.
With the auto came speed regulations. The Issaquah city fathers deemed six miles an hour fast enough for the horseless carriage.
Ordinance XCIV, Section I
Whoever shall ride a motorcycle or drive an automobile through the streets and alleys within the limits of the town of Issaquah at a speed greater than six (6) miles an hour or who shall heedlessly ride or drive such machine so that such machine shall come in collision with any animal or vehicle or shall strike against any person shall on conviction thereof be fined not more than one hundred ($100.00) dollars or imprisoned not more than thirty (30) days or both fine and imprisonment. Passed June 6,1910.