2004-01-09 / Columnists

Historical Views of the Rockaways

From The Rockaway MuseumDedicated To The Memory Of Leon S. Locke
Prohibition and Rum-Running in Rockaway
by Emil Lucev, Curator
Historical Views of the Rockaways From The Rockaway Museum by Emil Lucev, Curator Dedicated To The Memory Of Leon S. Locke Prohibition and Rum-Running in Rockaway

Historical Views
of the Rockaways
From The Rockaway Museum
Dedicated To The Memory Of Leon S. Locke
Prohibition and Rum-Running in Rockaway

In 1919, while a great number of American men and boys were still in uniform, and still in Europe, the so-called "drys" won out and caused the Volstead Act to be passed and become the law of the land.

The passage of this act ushered in the era of prohibition (1919-1933) when the manufacture and sale of alcoholic beverages was forbidden in the United States. This irked all the veterans of the Great War, who felt that they were wronged while they were overseas. They came home to soft drinks, tap water and fruit juice!

The liquid libations that they had developed a taste for were denied to them by law and this caused the rise of the law-breaking bootlegger or smuggler who illegally brought booze and beer into dry America. Some built secret liquor stills and beer brewery – but most employed trucks, boats and airplanes to slake the thirst of dry Americans – to cure their dehydration.

It has been said that Broad Channel (and the two other bay colonies of the Raunt and Goose Creek) was the Mecca of local bootleggers who met and closed their deals at certain hotels at these places, which were only accessible by boat or train. All of these meeting places were built on wooden piling, driven into the marshes and waterways and were reached by catwalks from the Bay Railroad trestle stations and each other.

In case of a raid by the police, a quick get-away was easily facilitated by prepared law-breakers.

One such hotel is shown today in Historical Views, and was described as the "bootlegging capitol or our Jamaica Bay." It was aptly called the Hotel Enterprise, which was located off the northeast end of the Broad Channel Station. The complex shown began as Parson’s Hotel and Fishing Station in 1881. In 1892 it was known as Dorman’s Atlantic Hotel and Fishing Station. Another name later ascribed for the place was Lindstrom’s. The first names found associated with proprietorship of the enterprise were Mess’rs, August Vogel, and Edward Bollerman, in 1893.

During prohibition, Broad Channel was known as Little Cuba.

In today’s photo, the LIRR trestle is shown heading to the Raunt, where some buildings are readily seen. Goose Creek is above the Raunt and cannot be seen. The Broad Channel station is to the left and not shown in this photo. The wooden walks to the enterprise complex all come from the station platform. The marsh shown circles Goose Pond on the north end of Broad Channel.

Unfortunately, the booze smugglers kept no records of their dealing for their lucrative business…and newspapers told of booze raids locally – as well as U.S. Coast Guard interceptions of some booze boats. The Enterprise was raided once, and some illegal beer was confiscated by the authorities along with 1500 bottles of liquor.

I’ve been told that most raids were set-ups to show that something was being done by local police, and that local police protected or guarded local landings by rum boats, with a few cases going to the local precincts. That’s how unpopular prohibition was to all imbibers of alcohol.

I once got a grand tour of a sleek boat that was used as a rum-runner during the prohibition years. It looked as if it could go 100 knots an hour to outrun a Coast Guard cutter. And, as expected, no ship’s log was available to tell of the rum-running adventure. Are there any old-timers in Wave-land to enlighten us?

The Wave reported that a railroad freight car full of beer was found on a siding by the Broad Channel railroad station, and that pilots stationed at Fort Tilden and the Rockaway Naval Air Station were accused of smuggling booze in their planes.

Rockaway Point and Arverne were the favored landing places for large rum-running operations which were done at night. Other reports of smuggling entailed darkened vessels of all types coming up to the long docks along the bayside or the Rockaways. These docks were full of fishing and yacht clubs that had trap-doors in their floors for special deliveries.

One such boat was seized at Beach 97 Street, on the bay, with 400 cases of Scotch Whiskey. I wonder how much was turned in as evidence? At the same time a carload of beer was seized on Beach 102 Street.

The Coast Guard intercepted a few slow rum-runners in "rum row", a name given to the waters around Long Island…and fired on the faster booze boats. Only one was reported to have been hit by gunfire.

One boat company out on Long Island built fast boats for the Coast Guard and even faster ones for bootleggers. The Coast Guard boats could do 26 knots at top speed, while the rum-runners made 30 knots loaded.

In 1932, bootlegger radios were seized by local police. It seems as though the smugglers of hootch were really doing a modern communications thing, to stay a step or two ahead of the authorities.

Despite all the law enforcement by federal, state, city and local lawmen, the Volstead Act, which ushered in prohibition, lasting from 1920 to 1933, did little to stop bootlegging and small distillery operations here. Bathtub gin was brewed in private homes, and winemaking in homes was well above the limits on how much could be made.

Speakeasy’s were all over the Rockaways during prohibition years. This was the name for private drinking clubs which sprang up, and were often raided by police to keep the "drys" happy.

Prohibition was repealed in early 1933 due to a bill sponsored by local congressman William F. Brunner Sr. of Rockaway Beach. In a short time the Rockaway’s places got "wetter" than they were during the Volstead Act years.

World War One veterans were happy now. Most felt that the "drys" got the no alcohol law passed because they were not there to vote on it.

The Boats used for rum-running now became sleek pleasure boats. There were often well-built power boats about 50 feet in length and valued at about $1800 in the 1930’s. I wonder if any are still around?

All the structures shown in today’s Historical Views are long gone…the victims of fire, storm and bay railroad improvements. Only the memories of the past recall the Hotel Enterprise and the prohibition era. Can anyone out there in Wave-land supply us with a run down of a booze run in the old days, or perhaps a photo or two of a bootleggers rum-running boat?

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