History and images have been compiled from various sources including, among others, the 1987 National Register of Historic Places, Stack & Beasley's 1902 Sketches of Monroe and Union County, Union County Public Library (Patricia Poland, Genealogy & Local History Librarian), the Heritage Room Photo Collection, North Carolina Map Collection, Rootsweb - An Ancestry.com Community and Ancestry.com family histories.

Control of the Liquor Traffic

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By J.E. Clark
Sketches of Monroe and Union County
Stack & Beasley 1902

The Monroe dispensary is one of the public institutions of the town, and, as such, requires a place in the town and county’s write-up. It may be said at the beginning that there is to be an election on the question in September, and the people of the county are to pass finally upon the question as to whether they desire the dispensary continue or discontinued.

One of the greatest of the many problems which confront this growing nation, quivering with the repressed energy of youth and meeting and answering great questions almost before more deliberate countries realize their existence, is that of the control of the liquor traffic. From the great fights in New York City, where the liquor power is felt in all its might, down to the rural community which is nominally “dry” by legislative enactment, none are free from the disturbing question.

While Greater New York is struggling with the alternative of surrendering to the bar-keepers entirely or enforcing an inadequate and unpopular law against Sunday selling, hundreds of rural communities are invaded with impudent peddlers who operate without license and in defiance of law. From the first it has been a recognized principle that the strong arm of the law must in some form or other take cognizance of the traffic.

So far the attitude of the law has been one of three forms: prohibition, the saloon system, or what, for want of a better name, are called dispensaries. The latter plan is the one adopted by Monroe. This one dispensary is the only place in Union county in which liquor may be legally sold. Other towns have prohibition and it is safe to say that saloons are permanently banished from the town and county. This is a very important consideration to home-seekers. Our system is considered by many to be the best possible control of the liquor traffic at present obtainable. A few statements of fact in regard to this institution may not be uninteresting in this connection:

Up to and including the year 1897, the town of Monroe had, always three, and sometimes five saloons. In that year the Legislature established the dispensary, to go into effect January 1st, 1898, and Messrs. John J. Crow, O.W. Biggers and Geo. S. Lee, three of our very best citizens, were named as commissioners to establish and maintain a dispensary. These gentlemen did as directed by the law, and appointed Mr. W.R. Marsh manager, and Mr. W.H. Austin clerk. All of these gentlemen have given unselfish service, and only one of them, Mr. Lee, has severed his official connection, and that only because he was elected to another office. Mr. R.H. Haines, of Monroe township, was appointed in Mr. Lee’s place. The profits of this business have been distributed from year to year according to law as follows:

FOR THE YEAR 1898
To the City of Monroe………………….....     $1,118.10
To the Public Schools of the County……       1,118.10
Total………………………………………...     $2,236.20

FOR THE YEAR 1899
To the City of Monroe…………………….      $1,355.31
To the Public Schools of the County……       1,355.31
To the Chain Gang Fund…………………          796.65
Total………………………………………..      $3,507.27

FOR THE YEAR 1900
To the City of Monroe……………………….   $1,500.00
To the Public Schools of the County………    1,500.00
To the Chain Gang…………………………..    1,500.00
Total…………………………………………..   $4,500.00

FOR THE YEAR 1901
To the City of Monroe……………………….   $1,606,63
To the Public Schools of the County……..     1,601.63
To the Chain Gang………………………….     1,601.63
To the Graded Schools…………………….      1,195.11
Total…………………………………………..   $6,000.00

           Total amount distributed for public purposes in four years - $16,243.43

Under the old system of licensing saloons, not half of this amount could possibly have been collected in taxes for the purposes of law and order and education, while there is no question that the saloons would have sold much more liquor in a much more harmful manner. The dispensary idea rests upon the proposition that as long as liquor is made and sold in contiguous territory, some men will have it by either lawful or unlawful means, and that it is best for the community that they be lawful, and that instead of letting the profits of an unavoidable business go into the hands of law-breakers and fugitives from justice, they should go to the educational fund and towards the maintenance of order.

The two great points in favor of our way of controlling the liquor traffic are:

1st. It tends to lessen the drink habit. It does this by preventing social drinking and treating. All liquors sold in corked vessels, which are not allowed to be opened on the premises. Thus there are no mixed drinks, no fancy drinks, and none of those blandishments which entice young men to acquire the drink habit. The dispensary says to the man who drinks liquor, “You may have your liquor, but there shall go with it none of those seductive influences which tempt other men to become drinkers.”

2nd. It takes the profits of the business from private hands and devotes them to public good. It is a notorious fact that saloon men spend large parts of their profits in spreading their business, giving free drinks and fighting opposition. An officer of a liquor dealer’s association said in a public address to saloon-keepers, “Nickels and dimes spent in free drinks to young men will reap a rich harvest in dollars from future customers.” The dispensary sows no seed to produce drunkards.

It may be noticed that the dispensary profits have increased from year to year. This is due to the fact that opposition to this method had been gradually dying away, and that illegal sales in all parts of the county have become less and less each year, and those consumer who formerly, through prejudice or for other reasons, bought no liquor from the dispensary now buy there.

In spite of the prejudice and the sternest opposition, the dispensary has worked its way. The results are that there is no more orderly town to be found than Monroe. An arrest for drunkenness is a comparative rarity, and where formerly crowds of half drunken loafers gathered in mobs about the bars and on street corners, the streets are clear and as orderly as a lady’s parlor. These views are expressed as those of the writer of this article and have been formed after careful and deliberate observation. Monroe can confidently offer to home-seekers a town free from the saloon danger, where their boys are not enticed to become drunkards, and where there is the least possible danger from the great evils of the liquor traffic.

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