DoNorth

A Blast to the Past: Prohibition in Plattsburgh

Back in the early 1920s, Ed Favreau used to drive along Plattsburgh’s Route 22 without his headlights on. He was safer in the darkness — or as safe as he’d get. Smuggling alcohol from the Canadian border to Plattsburgh was a dangerous journey during Prohibition. No one could see him in the pitch-black night, but he could still hear the gun shots in the distance. “All you could hear was ‘bang, bang’ in the air,” Favreau recalled these days in a video produced by Hometown Cable Network in 1994, three years before he died. Today, that same drive will lead you to scattered bars,…

Back in the early 1920s, Ed Favreau used to drive along Plattsburgh’s Route 22 without his headlights on. He was safer in the darkness — or as safe as he’d get. Smuggling alcohol from the Canadian border to Plattsburgh was a dangerous journey during Prohibition. No one could see him in the pitch-black night, but he could still hear the gun shots in the distance.

“All you could hear was ‘bang, bang’ in the air,” Favreau recalled these days in a video produced by Hometown Cable Network in 1994, three years before he died.

Today, that same drive will lead you to scattered bars, including Bobby’s Lounge and the Store Tavern. During Favreau’s times, alcohol was illegal. But a drive down Route 22, a part of smuggling routes collectively known as the Rum Road, sparks the memories of Prohibition. Favreau, a Mooers, New York, native, said nighttime was prime time for bootleggers. Often enough they didn’t even drive on a flattop road. Cornfields and dirt roads were where they’d find themselves.

“Sometimes you’d get to Plattsburgh in one day,” Favreau said. “Sometimes it would take you two days, three days.”

If they were caught, bootleggers would face heavy fines up to $2,000, but only 15 to 20 percent of northern rumrunners were caught, estimates Phillip Auer, a former border patrol officer. In 1924, $2,000 held the same buying power as $28,000 today. The folks who lived back in the 1930s would make only pennies a day, up to as much as $2 depending on their job, says Geri Favreau, Ed’s daughter-in-law and historian at Clinton County Historical Association.

Allan Everest wrote about this time in his book “Rum Across the Border.” In it, he describes men in their early 20s and 30s accounting for the majority of smuggled goods. They were paid either $50 a week, $10 a day, or a flat rate per trip or case of liquor.

“I used to get $25 bucks from the border to Plattsburgh, $25 bucks from Saratoga to Plattsburgh,” said Frank Monette, another now-deceased bootlegger of the era.

Monette said bootleggers would park their canopy-covered cars in an old barn located on present-day Margaret Street in downtown Plattsburgh. This was after they’d unload the liquor so the townspeople wouldn’t suspect anything.

But it was those people not into bootlegging who started a new trend. The Prohibition era was also the time when hard-liquor moonshine rose, Geri says.

“It was often called bathtub gin because people would use their bathtubs to make it,” Geri says. Moonshiners would bring their booze north to Canada because they could make more money selling it there.

Nowadays, visitors don’t have to jump into freezing waters to sneak in booze. They can walk right into a grocery store for that. But they can relish the memories of Ed and Monette by taking a drive down Route 22, imagining the nights they drove down that highway — living on the edge of the law.

Issue 4: Winter/Spring 2015

0 comments Show discussion Hide discussion

Add a comment

More in Northern Archives