Booze comes to Cushing by Russ Hanson
When the first saloon opened in Cushing in 1904 it stirred up a lot of controversy. Roy Hennings, better known as Dr. Squirt, was the Cushing Columnist to the Polk County Ledger, Standard Press and Luck Enterprise newspapers at the time. He gives a weekly account of what was happening in Cushing and in June picked up the saloon issue.
We get a picture of Cushing in Doc’s January 1904 column: “The Cushing feed, lath and planing mill, Peter L. Peterson (Handy Peter) owner, ground during the month of January 90,325 pounds of oats into feed. If Cushing had a railroad it would soon be a business center. In addition to the feed-mill the citizens of Cushing can boast of three grocery stores; one furniture store; one confectionery and millenary store combined; one hardware store; a blacksmith shop and a harness shop and last but not least, a creamery all managed by some of the best business men of the century. “
Doc didn’t mention that Cushing also had a Methodist and Lutheran Church; the Cushing Tigers baseball team and the Cushing Band. Two schools were nearby with Lanesdale a mile or so northeast and the Cushing school a mile west. Above Johnson’s grocery store was a hall for dances and events (this building is north of the north bar). The furniture shop was the Askov Bros. who did embalming and sold coffins as a sideline. “The Cushing furniture merchant has a good line of coffins and he guarantees that if you once try one of his coffins you will never use any other,” wrote Dr. Squirt. The Cushing Post Office had been running since 1870, and a stage carrying mail freight and passengers came through town regularly.However, there was no saloon.
Local townships or villages could issue liquor licenses if they chose to. The issue was contentious in the period leading up to the 18th amendment prohibiting all liquor sales in the U.S. from 1920 to 1933. The temperance movement was very vocal and led through local churches, especially the Lutherans. Sterling Township records show the following: “May 7, 1904 Granted license to N. (Nathan) Cohen for the sale of liquor in the town of Sterling for May and June 1904 the sum of fifty dollars and two hundred and seventy five dollars for the one year beginning July 1 1904 the above sale of liquor to be conducted on the following described premises on lot fifty feet by 100 feet in the NE corner of NE 1/4 of SE 1/4 Sect 36, T36 R19 signed by two township board members: T. F. Monty, John Johnson.” A liquor license was also given to G. W. Bigley of Wolf Creek on July 19, 1904. The two liquor license provided a huge extra income for the township, more than half of the township budget.
In Doc’s May column we read the following: “Mr. ____ fifty some odd years of age and the owner of a farm one half mile out of town and worth $3,500 and money enough to keep him in luxury the rest of his life, has leased lot to the Sheeny saloon keeper for the paltry consideration of $75. The public sentiment is strongly against having a saloon there. The Cushing people think too much of their honor to build the saloon, so the Hebrew had to get a man from the barrens to build it. “ Mr. ____ was Mortimer Havens who lived where the Lundgren Marshland farms are, one-half mile south of town. No one closer to Cushing would let Nathan Cohen, a Jewish peddler, build a saloon on their property or sell him any land. The small lot was on the very northeast corner of the 80 acres along Hwy. 87 where Lundgren’s land ends. Those of you who remember the old baseball field—it was just south of it along the road. There is no sign of any foundation there now. Doc was like most of the people 100 years ago in that he was prejudiced against Jewish people, thus the term “Sheeny” and “Hebrew.”
He was very outspoken in his opposition to liquor sales and the saloon and for the next year, often telling about the problems the saloon was creating in Cushing. Most people say that Doc didn’t drink, but a lot of the people he hung around with did drink, and a few people thought Doc wasn’t any better than the rest of them. However, he certainly spoke out against liquor sales.
In 1904, Cushing extended south to Handy Pete’s feedmill/sawmill (about where Louie’s Garage is now) as most of the area further south was in the marsh. South of town a short distance was a creek draining from the marsh that later became the Big Ditch with the 1912 drainage project. Doc who had nicknames for everyone and every place, started calling the saloon corner Hell’s Half Acre and the creek was “Whiskey Creek” as it was near the saloon. We will read a few of Doc’s columns.
April 1904: “Handy Pete’s feed, lath and planing mill burned everything to the ground (it was rebuilt all new within the year). A certain young man with a poetical turn of mind recently informed me that he had just written a spring poem of sixty stanzas and asked me how much he ought to get for it. Well, I am not much of a judge of poetry, but I think that six months on the rock pile would be sufficient.”
June 1904: “One night last week a couple of young gentlemen went down to Hell’s Half Acre, got drunk and went over to Alfred Peterson, who lives across the road from the saloon to visit Alfred’s sister. Finally one of them men became disorderly and Alfred ordered him to leave the place, he refused to go and when Alfred was going to force him to go, he tore Alfred’s shirt and bit his hand. That’s what comes of granting license and still there are a few raving lunatics in Cushing that say a saloon is alright.”
Next column: “Last Friday night there was a wild time across Whiskey Creek at the saloon. The noise was terrible and one bloody fight is reported. Next morning the deputy sheriff of St. Croix Falls came to Cushing and searched a number of barns in town in search of an outlaw whom he could not find. The officer has been after the outlaw for the last months, and the night that the officer was after him is reported having slept in the woods behind the saloon, but the people that own the woods don’t care whether outlaws sleep therein or not as long as they do not gnaw the bark off the trees. The charge against the man at large is being drunk and disorderly and carrying concealed weapons.”
July: “Last Friday and Saturday nights the carousing around the saloon was frightful. People in town could not sleep on account of the noise. The citizens of Cushing are going to put in a plea for protection. A marshal is needed badly and a jail is needed just as bad. By the time the county builds a jail and hires a marshal, the license money won’t amount to nothing, so what is the use of granting licenses at all. There are so many fights around the saloon I fear the Ledger has not space enough to print them all.”
August: “A saloon disturbance occurred at Cushing, Monday evening, and warrants were issued for the arrest of Martin Lundy, Harry Emery and Axel Danielson. Danielson was arrested and let off with a fine of one dollar. Emery is said to have gone to Eveleth. As a result of this trouble Nate Cohen, the saloon keeper, was brought here Thursday, for trial for selling to a minor. The case was continued to next Tuesday.”
Later July: “Highway men broke into the saloon and according to the man that sells the firewater and brimstone, the stole either $13, $62, $75, or $100, and a box of cigars. At the last report the saloon keeper was rattled and did not know how much he had lost. Evidently the robbery was committed by amateurs. The citizens of Cushing earnestly hope that the next time robbers come that they will be professionals and blow that accursed place off the earth. “
“August 8th, a couple of men got drunk and broke the slot machine at Hell’s Half acre, all to pieces.” October 1904, “It is rumored that Nathan Cohen has sold the saloon to a certain party of Grantsburg.”
In February of 1905 a petition was sent to the Sterling Town Board requesting that referendum vote be held at the annual township meeting on whether liquor licenses should be issued. In April, the township vote was for license 78; against license 91. July 7, 1905 verbal application was made to Town Board to run a pool table in connection with a confectionery store in the vicinity of Cushing. With liquor voted down, possibly the saloon was converted to a pool hall.
In 1906, Mortimer Havens sold his land to S. C. Pomeroy. About this time Henry Sornson records that he helped move the saloon building north across the creek into Cushing and placed it between the Askov building and Handy Pete’s mill, where it became a meat market in 1907, a harness shop, and possibly other businesses before being remodeled and becoming the Bank of Cushing in 1914.
A concrete vault was added to the south and a house connected to the east end. It finally burned after about 80 years and was torn down.
Here is Henry Sornson’s version of the story: “The old bank building was built down here about one-half mile south. That was Mort Haven’s corner then. They called that the Hell’s Half Acre. Frank Anderson bought that from Hymie Cohen, a Jew, who had built it (for a saloon). He sold it to Bonneville and he run it a while. He sold it to Charlie Anderson who moved it up here for a meat market. And he built the house onto what is now the old bank. He was doing a meat market there for a while. I guess it didn’t pay out too well so he sold it. I think his brother-in-law had it for a while. Then they took the meat market over to Ole Gullickson’s store. Then Johnson got it and then Theresa Gullickson. Then they sold it to H. D. Baker. Then it was turned into a bank. That was our first bank. It was quite a town then!