Today we continue our Prohibition in Greece story with a look at the speakeasies that dotted the town.
Clinton N. Howard
Clinton N. Howard was a powerful, passionate, and persuasive advocate against alcohol. He was called the “Little Giant” (he was only five feet tall) and the “Apostle of Prohibition.” Widely known as a brilliant orator, it was said that between 1901 and 1920 when the 18th amendment was passed, he had addressed more people than any other living individual. He visited almost every town and city in the nation. He gave more than 3500 sermons just in the Rochester area alone.
Howard damned Latta Road as “the Highway to Hell” because of the number of speakeasies along its length. Once Prohibition went into effect, Howard was a constant watchman to see that it was enforced. He disguised himself (sometimes as a woman) and went into places to obtain evidence the law was being violated in more than 300 cases. During the first week of April 1921 alone, a disguised Howard (he looked like a derelict), along with two US Secret Service agents. visited 138 bars and was served whiskey at 137. He did so to prove his claim that the Rochester area was openly flouting the law and that local police were doing little or nothing to enforce it.
But the beach resorts and hotels that catered to the tourists and summer vacationers were going to continue to give their clientele what it wanted, law or no law.
Grand View Beach Hotel
Anthony Kleinhans built the Grand View Beach Hotel circa 1882 at 2200 Edgemere Drive (today Old Edgemere Drive). Joseph Rossenbach, Sr. took over and then was succeeded by his son, Joseph Rossenbach, Jr. who was a proprietor during Prohibition. Newspapers referred to the Grand View Beach Hotel as an “exclusive lakeshore nightclub.” Thousands of dollars had been spent to transform the wooden building, which faced the lake, into an attractive resort. It was “one of the most exclusive of the lakeside night clubs…having long been popular with merrymakers who seek recreation at the midnight hour.” Right from the earliest days of Prohibition, the Hotel was a favorite target of dry agents.
But the year 1930 was extraordinary; in August three raids were made on the Hotel in quick succession. The raids marked the first time within the memory of any of the Rochester agents that a place had been visited two nights in succession. When the agents staged their surprise raid on the afternoon of Wednesday, August 6, four barrels of beer, immersed in the cool waters of Lake Ontario which flowed through a cellaret under the bar room were found.
The warrant used in the raid on the night of August 7 was executed in Buffalo on a complaint of two special agents, who reported they had made several “buys” of liquor at the Hotel on Wednesday night, scarcely two hours after the first raid. Agents swarmed into the crowded barroom just as the evening’s gaiety was getting underway. Catching a glimpse of the raiders approaching the door, Harry Lames, the bartender, began smashing every bottle within reach. The tinkling glass spurred the agents to greater speed. One started to leap over the bar shouting threats. Lames desisted in his efforts to destroy the evidence.
Although the agents did not enter the crowded dining room of the Grand View Beach Hotel on August 7, “news of the raid spread quickly and in a moment the place was in an uproar. Glasses were emptied surreptitiously under the tables or tossed into handy flowerpots. Agents reported several cuspidors in the barroom were filled to overflowing with liquid smelling strangely like alcohol as worried customers stood awkwardly nearby with empty glasses in hand.” On August 9, in the third raid in four days, State Troopers seized liquor samples in a midnight raid on the luckless hotel once again. Ultimately, the Grand View Beach Hotel Bar was ordered padlocked for six months in October 1930.
Sea Glades Hotel/Bar/Restaurant
The Sea Glades hotel/bar/restaurant located at 788 Edgemere Drive was known by various names over the years, Outlet Cottage, Lake View, The Breakers, Surf Club, and Edgewater, but during the height of the Prohibition era, it was called Sea Glades. The proprietor, Ward Vaughn, was considered the most genial of hosts and a “highly personable character.” At the Sea Glades, Vaughn had a “class trade” who liked to spend freely and stay late. It became Vaughn’s custom to invite his customers to the darkened porch of the Sea Glades to watch the cases of whiskey and bags of ale as they were “imported” from Canada from a boat idling just beyond the sandbar. He figured it proved his claim that his product was “right off the boat.” The rumrunners, however, didn’t like so many witnesses, so they shifted to a nearby cove and loaded the liquor into an automobile, and then delivered it to Sea Glades. Vaughn, reluctant to give up his nighttime drama, just substituted his own employees offloading empty wooden cases from a boat borrowed from a friend, his customers none the wiser about the charade.
Mike Conroy Boxing Career
An immigrant from Watervliet, Oost-Vlaanderen, Belgium whose real name was Clement J. Versluys, Conroy made his professional boxing debut on May 31, 1920; and during his ten-year career, with 57 bouts he won 34, 22 of them were KOs, Lost 19, 8 of them were KOs., and 4 Draws. The remaining matches for Mike Conroy’s carrier were before he turned pro which put his record at 31 Wins, 22 of them were KOs, and 2 were either losses or draws before he went pro which puts his overall wins at 65 wins of his 79 bouts, 42 of them by knockouts (KOs). He also won several heavyweight titles here in New York State and on December 13, 1924, Mike Conroy won his match in Havana, Cuba against Antolin Fierro the match was planned to be a 10-round match but by the 5th round, Mike had successfully Knocked out Antolin Fierro and took home the Cuban Heavyweight title to Greece, New York. He was a sparring partner of Gene Tunney during the five years leading up to Tunney’s defeating “Battling Jack Dempsey” (Henry Peaks) for the heavyweight crown. Conroy also fought exhibitions with Jack Dempsey. Dempsey and Tunney were the two leading boxers of the Prohibition era.
Mike Conroy Stats from BoxRec.com and according to BoxRec.com the stats they have for Mike Conroy’s professional debut. any Fights listed in his record before that date of this fight, in record published in THE RING, were amateur affairs.
Clement J. Versluys
Rochester, New York, USA
Watervliet, Oost-Vlaanderen, Belgium
Mike Conroy’s Professional Boxing Stats
Pine Tree Inn
Mike Conroy’s Pine Tree Inn, located at 1225 Ridge Road West at the terminal of Mount Read Blvd, was formerly the home of the Lay family, one of the early settler families in Greece. The name comes from the pine trees which used to surround the apple orchards. It was converted to a tavern-hotel around the turn of the 20th century and was purchased by Conroy in December 1928. The congenial Conroy, known as the Bull of Ridge Road, didn’t let the Volstead Act get in the way of his turning the Pine Tree Inn into a local hotspot. His establishment was raided by dry agents in August 1929 and in May 1930 and padlocked in December 1932. Conroy’s inn straddled “the line between the town of Greece and the city of Rochester,” and his lawyers used that quirk to beat convictions. If the warrant said the property was in Greece, the lawyer produced a paper, such as a gas bill, saying it was in the city and vice versa. In due course, agents learned to make out warrants both ways.
Domino Inn / Cosmo Club
As we told you in Snapshot 24, the hotel at Latta and North Greece roads had many names during its 108-year history. It was the Domino Inn and Cosmo Inn during Prohibition. In August 1922, private detectives caught proprietors Harry Wilson and Lewis Dustin serving highballs, cider, and whiskey. Wilson and Dustin were ordered to appear in court to show cause why they should not be removed from maintaining their property. On April 16, 1926, the Domino Inn was raided by a squad of federal agents; they confiscated a pint of gin and proprietor Lewis Dustin again had to answer for it in court. Under new ownership with a new name, the Cosmo Club, the inn was again a target for dry agents in 1932 when proprietor Ray Keck (who previously owned a restaurant at the intersection of Latta Road and Long Pond Road) was arrested for possession of two half barrels of beer and a small quantity of liquor.
T.W. Beatty & Son. Island Cottage Hotel
Beatty’s Island Cottage Hotel, at 953 Edgemere Drive near Island Cottage, was a lakeshore landmark built by Thomas Beatty in 1891 shortly after the opening of the Charlotte Manitou rail line. It soon became the spot to go for summer outings and picnics. Raymond Beatty took over the operation of the hotel in 1917. It was nearly destroyed in a fire in 1932. Ray Beatty and Walter Riddell, the bartender, were arrested after a raid on July 23, 1932, when seven half-barrels of beer, 330 gallons of cider, and assorted liquors were impounded. Riddell was arrested and fined again in May 1933 just months before the law’s repeal.
Reardon’s Inn / Braddock Bay Grill
Reardon’s Inn, later the Braddock’s Bay Hotel, was located at 372 Manitou Road. William and Jane Reardon owned and operated Reardon’s Inn. Jane Reardon was arrested on August 13, 1931, for possessing two half barrels of beer, two gallons of cider, two ounces of whisky, and two ounces of gin. She pleaded guilty in September and was fined $100.00. Today it is the Braddock Bay Grill.
Grove House, located at 187 Long Pond Road was established at least as early as 1880. It was considered a roadhouse compared to more upscale speakeasies.
The arrests made during raids were for comparatively little alcohol; there was “some beer, wine and cider” on August 28, 1929; 16 one-gallon jugs of cider on November 29, 1929; and a mere two gallons of cider and one barrel of beer in August 1931.
The bar was padlocked for several months in 1932.
Grove House’s alcohol was supplied by the Staud Brothers. According to Dwight Bliss, George Staud told him that they kidnapped a federal agent, who infiltrated the Staud organization and held him in the basement of Grove House where they threatened him with a “one-way ride to Lake Ontario.” The agent managed to escape, but possibly still in fear of the Stauds, requested a transfer to Detroit where he thought he’d be safer.
After Prohibition, George and Eddie Staud operated the restaurant at Grove House.
After the Staud brothers, Fred Rotunno owned it for a bit before it became Barnard’s Grove you can read more on the Grove house from Fred Rotunno and Edmond Uschold interview that was done by George Caswell and Edwin Spelman on August 10, 1977.
Today, it’s Barnard’s Grove Restaurant.
Explore the Prohibition and Speakeasies Exhibit – Ongoing
To learn more about the Prohibition Era in Greece visit the Greece Historical Society and Museum at 595 Long Pond Road, where Rumrunners, Speakeasies, and Bathtub Gin is an ongoing exhibit. The Museum’s hours are Sundays, 1:30-4 pm, March through December.
Below is a custom map created by members of the society that shows all the locations of the speakeasies.
On the Map Below the Reardon’s Inn is actually supposed to be marked on the John Mose 4 acres lot and not on F.H. Straub land
Today we are exploring the wild and lawless days of Prohibition.
In 1909, a vote to make Greece a “dry” town was narrowly defeated. The agricultural interests of the town clashed with the beach resorts and tourist attractions that catered to a clientele that drank. One newspaper account said, “The grudge of the farmers was that their hired help deserted as soon as they got a month’s pay and bathed in the alcoholic delights of Charlotte and Ontario Beach.” On the other side of the debate were the many town residents of Irish, German, and Italian descent for whom wine and spirits were an everyday part of their culture.
By the time Congress took up the question of national prohibition, 33 of the 48 states were already dry. When Congress sent the eighteenth amendment to the states for ratification, where it needed three-fourths approval, they allowed a generous seven years for its passage, but in just 13 months enough states said yes to the amendment. Drinking liquor was never illegal. People were allowed to drink intoxicating liquor in their own homes or in the home of a friend when they were a bona fide guest. And it was legal to make or consume wine or cider in the home. Buying and selling it was illegal; people were not allowed to carry a hip flask or give or receive a bottle of liquor as a gift.
Exempted from the law was the use of alcohol in lawful industries, for religious practices such as communion wine, and for scientific and medicinal purposes. Intoxicating liquor could be obtained via a doctor’s prescription; the rate of sales for medicinal alcohol went up 400%.
The poem to the right says it all; ordinary people, probably law-abiding citizens before 1920, were defying the law. And many were living in the town of Greece.
Rumrunners were smuggling liquor from Canada by sea and bootleggers carried it over the roads. With eight miles of shoreline and roads leading to downtown Rochester and points west and east, Greece was a hotbed of prohibition defiance.
Some of these prohibition slang were used during the era of prohibition and speakeasies
*got to see someone about a dog –going out to buy bootleg whiskey
*needle beer –filling a syringe with pure alcohol and piercing the cork on a bottle of “near beer”
*whisper sister, ladylegger –female proprietor of a speakeasy
*white lightning –whiskey
*giggle water –alcoholic beverage
*hooch, bathtub gin –illegal moonshine
*cutting –making counterfeit liquor by mixing it with artificial ingredients to simulate the real thing
*set-up –ginger ale or soda served by speakeasies, to which customers added their own liquor from hip flasks
Canadian Ben Kerr, the self-styled “King of the Rum Runners,” was one of the most successful of the rum smugglers. He made regular trips to the beaches from Greece east to Pultneyville; he refused to land on American shores, customers had to row out to his boat, he frequently changed his drop days, and he wouldn’t travel under a full moon, preferring dark, foggy, or hazy nights. There are used copies available on Amazon via Thriftbooks or you can get it on the kindle https://smile.amazon.com/Whisky-Ice-Canadas-Daring-Rumrunner/dp/1550022490 you can preview the book here on the right.
As of this post there is 1 new copy and 11 used copies available on Amazon
Preview of The Saga of Ben Kerr
Preview of Berine you’re a Bootlegger
Joan Winghart Wilcox Sullivan wrote about her father, Bernie Winghart, her paternal uncle, Ernie, and her aunt, Mamye (who was a Schaller); they were known as the Bootlegging Trio. As of this post, there are 5 new and 2 used paperback copies available on Amazon and it is also available to read on the Kindle. Check out the preview of the book on the left.
Andrew Wiedenmann was born on November 15, 1865, to Michael and Anna (Merdler) Wiedenmann who had eleven children together. His father Michael Wiedenmann was a cooper and worked in that trade just like Tom Toal we talked about in a previous snapshot. Anna (Merdler) Wiedenmann survived until May 1909. Three of the Wiedenmann children served in three different parts of the City of Rochester Government, William served on Detective Force; Frederick was an Attorney of the city and a member of the City Council representing the 15th ward for thirty-two years, and Andrew featured in the picture to the right, his other brother George Wiedenmann died in 1905 and was a Profession Baseball Player for the Detriot Ball Club. Anna and Edward died young. His sisters included Katherine, Julia, Minnie, and Anna (Wiedenmann) Kugler.
Andrew Wiedenmann was Collector of the Port of Rochester for much of Prohibition and as such he supervised many of the sorties against rumrunners on both lake and land throughout his district. This area covered 178 miles from the western end of Orleans County east to Oswego County. He was diligent, aggressive, and resourceful in his quest for Prohibition scofflaws.
But before he became the Customs Collector at the Port of Rochester, he attended the Whitney school as a boy later he attended the Rochester Free Academy. From 1886 to 1890 he was a Professional Baseball player for Rochester, Buffalo, Hamilton, Ontario, and Portland, Maine clubs. He went on to hold his first public office as the deputy collector for the Internal Revenue Service for his district from 1897 to 1901, then made a police court investigator for sixteen years, and then in 1917 he was elected sheriff of Monroe County and held that role until December 31, 1920, and in 1924 President Calvin Coolidge appointed Andrew Wiedenmann as the Collector of the Port of Rochester.
His keen eyes and his investigative skills came in handy as well he was the Collector of the port of Rochester when he was the Head Sheriff of Monroe County he knew places where he would watch for people to sneak stuff into town and where to spring traps to collect the crooks. He once walked the beach from Charlotte to Manitou investigating rumors of liquor shipments being off-loaded in obscure spots. On the walk, he came across a group of people hiding under a tarp with contraband alcohol.
As the Customs Collector at the Port of Rochester, Wiedenmann often accompanied the Coast Guard (U.S.C.G.S) in their pursuit of rumrunners in the darkest hours of the night. He would shout: “We are United States Customs Officers. I order you to halt.”
On July 12, 1924, he and his agents chased a truck laden with 1200 bottles of ale 18 miles along Ridge Road. Bullets flew as gunfire was exchanged.
Andrew Wiedenmann caught both Ben Kerr and the Bootlegging Trio. But his biggest challenge was the notorious Staud brothers from the town of Greece. By the way, all three of the books mentioned here today are in the museum’s reference library. You can at least get the first two books on a Kindle by Amazon but the book Booze, Barns, Boats, and Brothers which is about the Staud brothers is only in the museum reference library and can be viewed when the museum is open or by making an appointment to look at the book.
On July 8, 1930, the Democrat & Chronicle wrote this about the Staud brothers: they are “The most dangerous and intrepid gang of rum runners in Western New York.” Local newspapers also characterized the brothers as the “most daring,” “most powerful,” and “notorious” of smugglers. The gang operated out of a home on Grand View Heights Road (today, South Drive).
Look pretty innocent, don’t they? But they were ruthless thugs when they grew up. From right to left, Karl, George, Edward, and Milton, called Midge.
They were the sons of George C. and Ida Staud (the couple also had three daughters); their father was the postmaster of Rochester from 1917-1921 while Andrew Wiedenmann was the Sheriff from 1917-1920. He had plenty of trouble with them as teenagers, but did not live to see their Prohibition notoriety. Their mother had also died, but their stepmother was living. Between Andrew Wiedenmann and his brothers, William who served on Detective Force; and his brother Frederick who served as an attorney for the City of Rochester may have had other run-ins with the Staud Brothers. Before the Staud Brothers went into the bootlegging business during prohibition.
Karl was the eldest, born about 1895. His nickname was “K-the Bishop.” He had a muscle infirmity and walked with a limp. He acted as the gang’s accountant, keeping the books for shipments and payments, and also for Midge’s speakeasies. He also frequently provided bail for George and Eddie. George was born in early 1900. He was described as a “scrapper,” tall and lean. Eddie, born also in 1900, “did most of the dirty work.” “Midge” was born in 1901. He was broad-shouldered and tall at 6’3”. Although the youngest, he was the boss and brains of the gang. The newspaper called him the “‘Little Caesar’ of Rochester’s rum-running hierarchy.” The reference of course being to the Edward G. Robinson movie.
The brothers quickly established the lakefront from Sodus Point to Oak Orchard as their “domain” and were ruthless in enforcing the boundaries.
Midge Staud had a fleet of large cars, Pierce-Arrows, and Studebakers, which he altered so they could stash up to 500-quart bottles of whiskey “in the seats, in backs of the seats, false floors and even false side panels in the doors.” The Stauds’ uncle, Fred, owned a shoe store and they would hide whiskey bottles in shoeboxes at the rear of the store until they could sell or transport them.
If you want to learn more about Pierce-Arrow cars you can visit the Buffalo Transportation Pierce-Arrow Museum before you go to their museum check out their website to view their current museum hours at https://pierce-arrow.com/.
The Stauds altered this car so that poisonous mustard gas was emitted from the exhaust pipe. It was registered under a false name or now it is referred to As Known As or AKA or an alias which would allow someone to hide their identity or business from either the government, local authorities, or other gangs that were in the business of rum running, but there was enough evidence that proved that the car was owned by Midge. George was arrested wearing only his underwear trying to escape capture after the car was stopped by agents. This same car was involved in a Christmas Eve raid led by Andrew Wiedenmann.
The Stauds would find a cooperative farmer who would let them hide the liquor in a barn. Some had underground tunnels linking the shore to barn basements. Late at night, the beer, whiskey, ale, and wine would be transported in modified cars to speakeasies all around the area including the many that populated Greece.
This photo shows 200 cases of assorted liquor which was seized by border patrolmen Monday, December 24. Midge and George Staud along with four other men in their gang were arrested in connection with the raid. The liquor, which was composed of whisky and champagne, was intended for the Rochester holiday trade. Tire tracks in the snow alerted agents to this cache in a farmer’s barn.
George served some jail time on a few occasions, but nothing major. Authorities could never get a conviction against Midge. Later in life, Midge ran the Towne Tavern (Left) on Gibbs Street in Rochester and for many years he, George, and Eddie had an interest in the Grove House in Greece. Their career as rumrunners and bootleggers was mostly forgotten.
So where was all that booze going? Quite a bit of it was staying right here in Greece. And that’s the subject of our next Snapshot.
Thank you for joining us today. Next week we take a look at Greece speakeasies.