New Year’s Eve 1919 in Davenport, Iowa was a “dry” one. Iowa passed a state prohibition law on January 1, 1916 (one of three states) that included making the production or sale of alcohol in the state illegal. Alcohol was allowed in private homes as long as it was purchased by one individual and not a group. Homeowners were also not allowed to pour drinks for their guests or stand at a bar-like structure in their home when a drink was poured.
One of the problems with stocking your home with hard-to-come-by alcohol was the occasional robbery by those who might be looking for spirited refreshments to celebrate the holiday season. Colonel G. Watson French suffered this fate, as did a few others in the area.
Iowa was soon to be joined by every state in the nation, for on January 16, 1920, the entire United States would become “dry” under the 18th Amendment.
But on December 31, 1919 many Davenport residents could still travel across the river into Illinois for some “wet” refreshments.
What might one do if you chose to stay in Davenport to celebrate New Year’s Eve 1919? There were several options.
For those looking for a more reflective evening, many churches held evening services or church socials.
Local theaters showed the latest popular movies featuring the greatest stars of the day, such as Douglas Fairbanks in “When the Clouds Roll By,” Dorothy Phillips in “The Right to Happiness,” and Wyndham Standing with Lucy Colton in “The Miracle of Love.”
If you desired live theater, you were in luck: Vaudeville acts filled local establishments such as the Columbia Theater. You could reserve your seats to see Ben Linn the singing humorist, Manning & Hall that Klever Komedy Kouple, and on New Year’s Day, Will J. Ward and his Five Symphony Girls. With only two shows on New Year’s Eve it was recommended to make reservations early.
And there were many choices for dancing all night to a live orchestra or band! The popular Coliseum Ball Room was open for dancing from the afternoon until 3:00 a.m. Crowds of 2000 plus people were common at this establishment.
The Commercial Club not only had dancing, but a Vaudeville show and late dinner for those who made reservations. The private Outing Club held a banquet and dancing for members. The Turner Society held its annual Sylvester Ball at Central Turner Hall with two orchestras in two halls playing for dancers from 8:00 p.m. until 5:00 a.m.
The Haynes’ Dancing School was only open until 1:00 a.m., but a five-piece orchestra would provide wonderful music for those interested. You could also sign up for dance classes if you felt you must keep up with the latest dance styles.
For those who preferred a quiet night in, but did not have access to professionally-made alcohol (perhaps stolen as in the case of Colonel French?), there were other drink options , too. Home brews and stills were not uncommon in Iowa since prohibition had taken effect in 1916. One just had to be careful when sharing the instructions, ingredients, or final product.
There was even a “dry” substitute for beer you could buy from the Rock Island Brewing Company.
The Davenport Democrat and Leader reported some interesting facts right before New Year’s Eve on how the citizens of Davenport were fairing under the “dry” laws:
If you preferred a sweeter drink on your night in, advertisements suggested you might purchase some Green River soda. Like prohibition, this drink was created in Iowa (Davenport) in 1916.
If January 1, 1920 found you still in the mood to celebrate, there were many options for dining out. Dempsey’s Cafe provided a holiday meal for only $1.00; there was also the Cafeteria at the Y.W.C.A.
On the higher end, the Hotel Black Hawk presented a special menu at $2.00 per plate. You certainly might find something to tempt your interest and fit your budget.
The 1910’s were filled with incredible events we still remember today, including the sinking of the Titanic, the Spanish Influenza, the First World War, and Prohibition in Iowa. One can only imagine what Davenporters were thinking at the turn of the New Year: National Prohibition was only days away, the local community was still adjusting to the return of soldiers from overseas, and the many issues that remained following the Great War had yet to be settled.
(posted by Amy D.)