TALE OF TAKOMA: Crazy quilt liquor laws

PHOTO: Beer suds flowing at last year’s Beerfest.

TALE OF TAKOMA • BY DIANA KOHN

In honor of the 2015 Beerfest, let’s take a look how we ended up with the crazy quilt of alcohol regulations we know today.

The early days of Takoma Park were colored by the fact that founder B.F. Gilbert was a long-standing teetotaler. His first enterprise was running a Temperance Cafe in downtown Washington DC. So it is not surprising that the deeds he issued in his sylvan suburb including this clause: “that no spirituous liquors shall be manufactured or sold on this premises.”

Gilbert covenants (1)

Early Takoma Park deeds, recorded in handwriting at the County offices, spelled out Gilbert’s strictures on alcohol.

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Founder B.F. GIlbert was a stanch temperance man and he brought that tone to Takoma Park with a clause in all land deeds mandating no sale of spiritous liquors. Photos courtesy Historic Takoma.

This sentiment was part of what attracted the the Seventh-day Adventists in 1904. They rejected the consumption of alcohol (as well as tobacco and caffeine) on religious grounds and their influence would be felt in town politics until the 1980s, when they shifted their headquarters out of Takoma Park further north.

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Ellen White, spiritual leader of the Seventh-day Adventists, approved the church’s move to Takoma Park, in part because the no-alcohol restrictions mirrored Adventist rejection of liquor. Photo courtesy Historic Takoma.

But by far the most significant factor in the state of all things alcoholic today dates to the aftermath of Prohibition.

December 5, 1933 marked the last day of the nation’s experiment with Prohibition. After 13 years of a chaotic, free-for-all black market the federal government faced the challenge of regulating the sale and distribution of these now legal commodities.

Maryland, which had never ratified Prohibition in the first place, took this a step further when in each county the authority to set up its own regulations through Liquor Control Boards. Most counties followed the simple model – licensing sales. Montgomery County, on the other hand, was one of five where the broader “control” model was adopted, requiring direct county involvement in liquor sales.

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E. Brooke Lee used his political influence in the post-Prohibition era to set up strict countywide liquor regulation, much of which remains in place today. Photo courtesy Historic Takoma.

According to George Griffin, Director of the Montgomery County Board of License Commissioners, the most influential man in our county in the early 1930s was E. Brooke Lee, Francis Preston Blair’s grandson. His interest in guiding the future development of the county prompted him to take on liquor control, much as he had when creating the unified Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission and the Maryland National Capital Parks and Planning. Under his watch, licenses for liquor were given only to respectable restaurants like Mrs. K’s Toll House (an early recipient) and sales would be through county-run stores.

These regulations did not apply in Prince George’s County, where the simpler licensing system meant that the eastern third of Takoma Park began to sprout liquor outlets and bars like the VFW Hall. And other options were available by stepping across the border into the DIstrict of Columbia.

In more recent decades, as part of the revitalization of Takoma Park, the City Council has pushed to expand options within Takoma Park. The newest addition is the just-approved license to the TPSS Co-op.

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Denizen’s brewpub in Silver Spring was able to open only after county liquor regulation revisions. Photo by Bill Brown.

Meanwhile, it is worth noting as we sample the array of craft beers at this Beerfest, that the explosion of the craft beer movement has prompted the County Department of Liquor Control to revise its regulations to encourage the licensing of breweries within the county. Six breweries have been given official approval, including a future option for Takoma’s own Republic restaurant.

About the Author

Diana Kohn
Diana Kohn is president of Historic Takoma, Inc., which is dedicated to preserving and celebrating the heritage of both Takoma Park MD and DC. Diana is co-author of Images of America: Takoma Park, a photo history of the town.

1 Comment on "TALE OF TAKOMA: Crazy quilt liquor laws"

  1. What a wonderful story. Diana’s stories about Takoma Park’s history are a real delight. I always look forward to them in the Voice, which should be applauded for having such great writing. This website has become my source of Takoma Park news, both past and present.

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