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Columns

April 6, 2013

Oneontans voted for a 'dry' city in 1918

Imagine if a proposal was out there for Oneonta to become a “dry” town, free of alcohol sales or consumption in the present day, just as there was in 1918. The debate would probably be right up there with the same high intensity as the present-day issues of hydrofracking, a gas pipeline, a large housing complex on Blodgett Drive, gun control or gay marriage.

If all of these had been issues in 1918, we certainly wouldn’t have had much longer to debate them over a beer or favorite alcoholic drink at a downtown Oneonta watering hole after April 17 of that year. Many upstate New York cities went dry ahead of the national passage of the Volstead Act, or Prohibition in October 1919.

The debate in Oneonta was clearly much stronger on the side of the “drys.” Day after day in early April 1918, readers of The Oneonta Star read several commentaries from well-known people in the city in a feature called, “Why They Are For A Dry Oneonta.”

Dr. Percy I. Bugbee, then Principal of the Oneonta State Normal School wrote on Friday, April 5, “I believe that the welfare of Oneonta would be greatly enhanced if the waste resulting from the use of intoxicants were eliminated. I believe we would have better buildings, better streets, more prosperous stores, better schools, better churches. I believe we would have better clothed and better fed men, women and children.”

Owen C. Becker, Oneonta City Attorney wrote on Saturday, April 6, “I know of many men in this city, once looked upon as brilliant and promising citizens, whose lives have been blighted and whose wives and families are going through life with bowed heads and heavy hearts because these men fall victims to the liquor habit. If we continue to license liquor traffic in Oneonta, each generation must have its liquor-drinking recruits, its blighted and wasted lives.”

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