Bottoms up

Local History by Ron Patch. Ron Patch is a Chester native, Chester Historical Society president, and a lifelong antiques dealer. He can be reached at 802-374-0119 or email

Below is a 1903 Bellows Falls Times newspaper clipping I found in a scrapbook kept by Mary Harris. My brother-in-law Louie Lasonde was born in the early 1930s. Louie grew up in Bellows Falls. Louie told me many stories about the North Walpole lads coming to Bellows Falls to drink.

1903 Bellows Falls Times, Big Increase in Drunks
1903 Bellows Falls Times. Photo provided by Chester Historical Society

“BIG INCREASE IN DRUNKS. Thirteen Arrests Last Week – The Same Story All Over The State

“The drunk business in Bellows Falls reached high water mark last week when there were 13 arrested and fined. In addition to the four reported last week there were the following: For disturbing the peace, James Tully, Elbridge Connors, A.A. Smith, Joe Roby, James Gordon and Mike Davis; for being intoxicated, Charles Root, Thomas McNeal and John Collins. In each case the offender was fined $5 and costs. John Collins was unable to pay his fine and was taken to Woodstock county jail as repairs are now being made on the jail at Newfane. Gordon and Davis were unable to settle and were taken to Rutland. It will be noticed that these arrests were made on two different charges, disturbing the peace and being intoxicated. In all cases the parties were drunk, but the man who is arrested for being intoxicated is supposed to be a little drunker than the man who disturbs the peace. It is a matter of degree only and this degree depends on the judgement of the officer making the arrest and the justice who makes out the papers. Where a man is fined for intoxication the fine goes to the town treasury and where for disturbing the peace into the treasury of the village corporation. If a man charged with intoxication cannot pay his fine he is taken to the county jail. The man who disturbs the peace and cannot settle goes to the house of correction in Rutland.

“Last week’s record was a big one but was not quite as bad as it seemed at first sight. Quite a majority of those arrested were tramps and floaters. Bellows Falls is the only place in the vicinity where liquor is being sold legally, North Walpole being shut up, and the thirsty find their way to this side of the river in good numbers. No one, however, who kept a close watch can doubt that many more were arrested were somewhat under the influence of liquor while on the streets and yet escaped arrest. By and by after the remaining licenses have been granted and the saloons are again in operation in North Walpole and the liquor traffic has assumed a normal condition it will be a better time, however, to judge the practical workings of the license law.

“It was the same story all over the state. In every place where there is a license, probably without a single exception, there has been a marked increase in drunkenness and arrests. Whether this is to be the normal condition is a question. The advocates of license still insist that the present law will both reduce the quantity of liquor sold and the amount of intoxication. During the month of May there were 65 arrests for intoxication in the city of Burlington and there were 108 prisoners at the Chittenden county jail, 84 having been arrested for being drunk. During May of last year there were but 19 arrests and but seven of those for drunkenness. Speaking of the condition in the county jail the Burlington Free Press says: ‘They have been packed in like sardines in a box and it is an impossibility to preserve sanitary arrangements under such conditions. As a large proportion of those arrested for intoxication serve the alternative sentence of 10 days in jail while a few get 20 days, the condition grows worse instead of better and it only a matter of days when it will be absolutely necessary to find quarters for the prisoners if the record of the past month is continued. The increase in arrests does not indicate that everyone who has been drunk has been arrested for such is not the case. Every night and every day men have been seen staggering about the streets and unless they make some disturbance they are allowed to pursue their way. It has been so serious that women have complained that they were afraid to be on the streets unaccompanied in the evening. If every man had been arrested who ought to have been the jail would have been wholly inadequate.’”

  This week’s old saying an old man told me years ago: “When I was young I tried to drink Canada dry.”

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