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History: Local: Community Organizations

 Sussex Prohibition Club

W. C. T. U. 

Transcribed by Michael R. Reilly

Updated 04/01/2014

A temperance lecture will be given at the Town Hall, Sussex, on Wednesday evening, Feb. 15th, under the direction of the W. C. T. U. Waukesha Freeman, Thursday, February 9, 1888 [Note: The Woman's Christian Temperance Union (W. C. T. U.) was organized in 1874 by women who were concerned about the problems alcohol was causing their families and society. The members chose total abstinence from all alcohol as their life style and protection of the home as their watchword.]

Rev. J. H. Bowker lectures on Prohibition at North Lisbon, on the evening of the 27th, and at Sussex on the 28th. Waukesha Freeman, Thursday, March 22, 1888

Temperance - Mrs. Eva C. Brown, of Whitewater, will be with the W. C. T. U., of Lisbon, on Tuesday, May 8th. She will give a chalk-talk to the children at 4 o'clock P.M., and a Gospel Temperance Lecture at 7 P.M. Be sure and let the children come and don't forget to come yourself. Lisbon W. C. T. U. Waukesha Freeman, Thursday, April 26, 1888

Prohibition County Convention - There will be a Prohibition Party Convention for Waukesha county held at the Court House, in the village of Waukesha, on Friday, the 18th of May, 1888, at two o'clock P.M., for the purpose of electing nineteen delegates to attend the State Convention, which meets at Madison, May 23rd. Each town, village, and city will be entitled to five delegates to said Convention for each representative in the County Board. Dated April 19th, 1888; William Bone, Chairman of County Committee. Waukesha Freeman, Thursday, April 26, 1888

The Prohibition Club will discuss the Woman's Suffrage question at their next meeting, Monday evening, May 14th, and will have a full literary programme, in which ladies are to take a prominent part. Waukesha Freeman, Thursday, May 10, 1888.

The I. O. G. T. and W. C. T. U. have decided to build a temperance hall 24x46 and will commence its erection at once.  [Note - International Organization of Good Templars is an organization of men and women of all ages who promote the ideals of temperance, peace and brotherhood.]

The officers of the Prohibition Club are as follows: G. McKerrow, President; A. Ridley, Vice-President; T. E. Turner, Secretary and Chas. Will, Treasurer. Chas. Wills is to represent the club at the state convention at Madison. Waukesha Freeman, Thursday, May 17, 1888.

The debate at the Town Hall on the question, "Resolved that Woman Suffrage should be made a plank in the party platforms," was decided in favor of the negative. Waukesha Freeman, Thursday, May 24, 1888.


Temperance But Not Prohibition The Debate at Sussex is Won by the Moderate Men The long anticipated debate at Sussex, as to whether prohibition is the most effective means of furthering temperance, took place last night at the Hall, and attracted a very large audience - many more than could be accommodated. Four long hours did the battle rage - Geo. McKerrow leading the affirmative and supported by Chas. Will and the Rev. Turner, and Frank W. Harland serving as captain to the negative, with Sam Breese and James A. McKenzie as lieutenants. Messrs. Welch, McGill and Rodgers, all of Sussex, acted as judges, and their decision stood two to one in favor of the non-prohibitionists. The losers however magnanimously gave a vote of thanks to the visiting gentleman who carried off the honors. 

Lisbon - The debate at the Town Hall on the 19th did not turn out to be prohibition against anti-prohibition, but simply a comparing of prohibition and moral suasion. The moral suasion debaters received two votes of the committee and the prohibitionists one vote, and that vote of a Republication. 

W. H. Edwards has a patent clothes broom which contains a bottle. Will is prepared for a prohibition law. Waukesha Freeman, Thursday, July 26, 1888.

James T. Weaver, Lisbon, running for Waukesha County Treasurer, on the Prohibition Party ticket. Waukesha Freeman, October 11, 1890.

Charles H. Will, Sussex running for county Treasurer on Prohibition ticket. Waukesha Freeman, September 22, 1892. 

C. G. Daniels will open an ice cream parlor in the building known as the old Boots' saloon. Waukesha Freeman, May 31, 1906

Arraigned on Charge of Selling Moonshine William White, Waukesha, appeared in municipal court Monday on a charge of selling liquor in the town of Lisbon. It was alleged by the complaintant, John P. Stier, county supervisor of Sussex, that the defendant was peddling moonshine in that township. The case was postponed until Feb. 23, and bail was fixed in the sum of $500. Waukesha Freeman, February 17, 1921.



Fred H. Keller

From the early settlers onward in Waukesha County and more particularly the Town of Lisbon there was always a need for alcoholic beverages. Lisbon did its part by being a hot bed of barley and hop growers to facilitate the beer production in the nearby City of Milwaukee. Barley and hops were major cash crops that were for the most part the key ingredients and key financial sales incentives to support the agrian society that emerged in Lisbon, in the period of 1836-1932.

Sussex, an unincorporated village had the Weaver family, led by James, and his sons, Richard and William the II, who profit-ed so well that they are accorded the "millionaire" status; as hop and barley growers, and more particularly as hop middle men on a national scale.

Then there is James Templeton, initially a general store owner and post master in old Sussex (Maple and Main) who saw an opportunity in 1886 when the Wisconsin Central Railroad came thru Waukesha County, basically, north to south. It bisected Main St. one mile east of old Sussex. The opportunity was to build a huge elevator on this railroad a mile east of old Sussex. He became a broker in buying barley that he shipped by rail from his elevator to the beer industry, whether it was Milwau-kee or Chicago. One year he shipped 125,000 bushes. The elevator was located south of Main St. and on the east side of the Wisconsin Central tracks.

Today, this is a flat grass and weed area about a block south, and adjacent to the current tracks. It lasted from 1886 to 1932 when it was torn down and disappeared forever.

Now this area was a new village in 1886, and it bore the name of "East Sussex" and "Buck Town", named after a major local farm family that owned much of the adjacent land. However, besides the Templeton and Sons elevator, James also built a nearby general store. Next to it another group put up a huge lumber yard, and shortly there were two hotels/saloons, board-ing houses.

Now Templeton had taken his old Sussex post mastership along with him to this boom town village, and the people in old Sus-sex were put out that they now had to walk a mile east to pick up their mail, or send some. They petitioned the US govern-ment that they wanted their post office back in old Sussex. There were protest and indignation meetings where tempers ran high between old Sussex and East Sussex, and the government recognized that they had a problem. So they said, "Sussex can have its post office back, but ĎEast Sussexí with Templeton can continue its post office", and thus there were two post offices, one mile apart. James Templeton, smarting from almost losing his post mastership decided that he would change the name of East Sussex to Templeton, Wis. and thus this village was born, with its own namesake post master. David Topping was now post master in Sussex, and James Templeton in Templeton.

In a way the Templeton post office became more important than the Sussex post office. It lasted until 1932. That was nearly 8 years after Sussex and Templeton had joined hands and separated away from the Town of Lisbon in September 1924.

Ironically the year 1924 and 1932 were very significant in other ways as James Templeton died in 1924, and the elevator was torn down the same year (1932) that the post office in Tem-pletonís General Store was closed down.

Now the mighty Prohibition of the production of alcoholic bev-erages in the US goes back to prior to the Civil War. The Civil War was a big instigator of like-minded people to start forming a third party in the US. The Civil War saw the time where the Republican Party, evolved from a variety of issues, most nota-bly slavery. It was opposed by the Democrats, but by 1869 there was a thriving 3rd party, the Prohibition Party.

Its avowed center of its existence was to stop the production of all alcoholic beverages. It became a factor in local and national elections.

In the 1903 Wisconsin Blue Book the issue is stated that, "to the White House, a grip which compels the Chief Executive to consent that the law shall be nullified in support of the brewer" and continues "We charge upon President McKinley, who was elected to his high office by appeals to Christian sentiment and patriotism almost unprecedented and by a combination of moral influences never before seen in this country, that by his con-spicuous example as a wind drinker host in the White House" etc. The Prohibition Party wanted this stopped.

Back in Lisbon, Thomas Weaver was a Prohibitionist, but he raised barley and hops for its production. One of the great agri-culturists in Wisconsin and Lisbon, George McKerrow, was also a staunch promoter of the Prohibition creed.

The Prohibition Party got their act together...including in their ranks the Womenís Christian Temperance Union and the Anti-Saloon in 1913 with a law against shipping booze to "dry states" and the skids were in place with a 1917 law, no mailing of alcoholic beverages. Quickly a national petition for Prohibi-tion came forth, a proposed 18th Amendment to the Constitu-tion.

Woodrow Wilson was president, and it concerned enough states to have groups push for Prohibition by constitutional means.

A hold over war time act (WWI) saw on July 1, 1919 that the production of alcoholic beverages was discontin-ued...prohibited, and against the law. The taverns and saloons closed in Lisbon, Sussex and Templeton.

The amendment received its 31 state endorsements, and became the law of the land on January 16, 1920.

The rest of Wilsonís term, then Harding and Coolidge, fol-lowed by Hoover saw it the law of the land, but already there was a recognition that Prohibition was wrecking society which was demanding alcoholic beverages, and a 21st appealing amendment was successful to the new president F.D Roosevelt had given to him 36 states that wanted it repealed (21st Amend-ment), and thus Prohibition ended on December 5, 1933. Pro-hibition was over after 15 years.

Open again were Taylorís Hotel (the Olde Templeton Inn), The Mammoth Spring Hotel (Tailgators), The Brook Hotel (where the Sussex Clock Tower is today), The William Smith Peace and Plenty Tavern, Whiskey Corners along with a collection of taverns in Lannon.

Side Stories of Prohibition in Lisbon, 1919 to 1933

By Fred H. Keller

Prohibition had its start in 1919-1920 in the United States, and it closed manufacturing and the sale of wine, beer, whiskey, gin and whatever had one half percent of alcohol in it. Thriving busi-nesses in Sussex, Tempeton, Whiskey Corners, Lake Five and Lannon were forced to go out of business to stop operating and turned to new endeavors as ice cream parlors, restaurants, barber-shops and even in one case a grocery store. However, there was a pent up demand for alcoholic drinks that found "under the ta-ble" ways to furnish this craving. There was a noticeable "home industry" of making wine and hard cider using what fruits were available, even to using wild and tame grapes, apples, plums, rhubarb and dandelions. Even cherries, pears and cranberries were used. Boucher Sugar was always important.

But then there is the Mehringer Brothers who got into the game, according to a story that Sonny Francis Mehringer tells.

In the barn, which still stands at W22619 Lisbon Rd. there is a silo and adjacent to the bottom, a silo room. By camouflage the Mehringer Brothers dug from this silo room out into the adjacent "hill" access to the upper barn floor, and installed a still to pro-duce "White Lightning". Now the telltale feature of a still was the smoke and steam it produced. The Mehringer Brothers de-vised a smoke-vapor dispersing stack that went up into the loose barn hay mow where the vapor was caught by the hay filter and no one was the wiser. Product made; there was a ready market, and money was to be made... The Feds never discovered it.

Then there is the Mill Rd. Tower Hill access road that went east from Whiskey Corners where there was the his- hers, and ours family of the Hart-Semrow clan. According to the late Ray Sem-row...he served in later years as a Sussex trustee, actually ran for Village President, and was the president of the very first Sussex Park Board, plus being an over 50 years Sussex Lions Club mem-ber and one time president...that he was a "Runner" in the family car to distribute the final product, "Booze" to tavern...most tell-ing, to Butler...among other places, that was stashed under the car seats. Well one fine day the Waukesha Sheriff showed up at the Semrow-Hart Farm as he was an old friend of the family. Sheriff Alvin Redford was in a direct line relationship to the first settler in Lisbon, Thomas Redford.

Now Sheriff Redford talked to the Semrow-Hart family and said something like this according to Ray Semrow: "I have known you a long time, good honest people, and I know that you donít have a still on your property, but I just want you to know that sometime tomorrow that the Fedís will raid your place, looking for one. But since you donít have one you donít have anything to worry about".

The Semrow-Hart family took this in, and as the Sheriff left they quickly dismantled the operating still. "What to do with it?" So they came up with a plan. They went out to the back of the barn yard where there was a huge fresh cow manure pile. They dug a center hole, and buried the still, thinking the Fedís would never look there.

The outcome...Fedís came, searched the farm and homestead, and outside in the fields, pasture, woods and adjacent railroad tracks...found nothing. Everywhere but the depths of the manure pile...and went away stumped, defeated, never to return...but the Semrow-Hart family never went back into business, alcoholic beverages for sale!

A third story is a booze convoy was moving thru Sussex and the Feds tried to intercept it. One soaped up touring car, ideal for booze moving and delivery, took off running at a great speed and recklessly daring, enticing the Feds to an all or nothing race to catch this big touring car. It went east thru Templeton and at the "Fish Hook" curve at what was then Hwy 74 at the Frank Pfeil Farm, the touring car lost the race, as it smashed into the front porch of the Pfeil home. The Feds had their man...He came grog-gily out of the smashed car into the house surrendering. They searched the car for the booze...finding nothing. No evi-dence...nothing...clean. They asked "Where is the booze...What booze...I donít have any...none...never touch the stuff". Then they asked why he made such a big distraction for, a run from the Feds. He answered..."You figure it out!"

Actually he was in a decoy car...set to run if the Feds interfered....and he had done his job to lead the Feds away from the true booze carrying, non-descript cars...that actually were carry-ing the product.

Above: This postcard commemorated a 1926 auto accident at the Frank Pfeil farmhouse at Whiskey Corners. Supposedly, this was a rum runner trying to escape federal agents. Below: A crowd of Sussex, Lisbon and Lannon people are attracted to a booze runnerís crash into Frank Pfeilís front porch at Hwy 74 and Town Line Rd. in 1926 during Labor Day week.



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