Perkasie During Prohibition: A Spirited Time

Today, some people look back at the Roaring Twenties as a simpler wholesome time. But Perkasie Borough and its neighbors had their share of drama involving alcohol and illegal activities.

The Great Experiment of Prohibition lasted from 1920 to 1933, when the 18th Amendment and the Volstead Act banned the sale, manufacture, or transportation of intoxicating spirits, with some exceptions.

Trio House on the Right

The Trio HOUSE Apartments (right) Hosted A Major Still in its Barn

By 1920, Perkasie had become one of Bucks County’s most populated areas, with 3,150 residents in the Borough. It ranked fifth in population out of 52 municipalities in Bucks County. Perkasie and its neighbors in Sellersville, East Rockhill, West Rockhill, and Hilltown had a reputation as a hard-working community. However, the Prohibition era was just starting, and the region would not be immune to the problems brought by the government ban on “intoxicating spirits.”

A review of local newspapers such as the Perkasie Central News, the Allentown Morning Call, and the Bristol Courier shows that if anything, there seemed to be an uptick in general carousing – or more reporting of such activities in many Bucks County areas

At various times in Perkasie, law enforcement shut down a major distilling operation at the Trio Apartments, raided the American House hotel and Fraternity Temple for retail liquor sales, and dealt with frequent drunken driving incidents.

Prohibition Arrives In Perkasie

Prohibition officially started on January 16, 1920. Local ministers preached about the death of “John Barleycorn,” but post-war grain restrictions and tax hikes in 1919 had curbed some consumption, with beer at 10 cents per glass and bar whiskey costing 20 cents per shot. The Perkasie Central News supported Prohibition and said its only objectors were “foreign-born” elements. The newspaper also complained about the enforcement of liquor laws in the state of Pennsylvania, which had the one of the worst reputations for policing the booze business in the United States.

By 1921, county authorities started raiding major bootlegging locations in the Bucks County’s rural locations in Durham Township, Carversville, and Upper Makefield. Locally, the first still raided by police was on the McBride Farm just north of the Perkasie Park Camp-Meeting in September 1922, where its owner had a still in operation next to a cornfield.

The American House was Padlocked after police Raids for a Time

Hotels could still get limited liquor licenses at that time, but they soon gained a reputation as a country alternative to urban speakeasies. In July 1922, the Hagersville Hotel, near Perkasie, was cited for illegal liquor sales. And in August 1925, H.B. of East Rockhill Township confirmed to detectives after his arrest that “moonshine flowed freely” in the upper part of the township. Police raided the Blooming Glen Hotel in 1927 after a fired housekeeper told authorities that liquor was hidden in various parts of the hotel. A year later, police raided the Bush Hotel in Quakertown after three federal agents were allowed to buy liquor from an unsuspecting server. In August 1928, the Dublin Hotel’s proprietor was caught selling wine. In later years, the Blooming Glen Hotel and Dublin Hotel proprietors were arrested again for liquor sales.

The Booze Business In Perkasie Borough

One of the first liquor raids in Perkasie happened in 1924, when a Fifth Street resident (L.B.) was visited by the police, who found a five-gallon still. The resident was held in custody and paid a $300 fine after his trial.

On December 13, 1928, nine federal agents raided the American House hotel at Seventh and Market, and the Fraternity Temple on Sixth Street. They also failed to get into the Union Hotel, which had closed its bar. In 1930, a federal judge ordered a padlock placed at the American House’s bar entrance. That did not stop of the American House’s owner using the hotel’s kitchen as a temporary bar. In 1931, State police raided the kitchen, where they found a half-barrel of “high-powered beer,” and the owner was sentenced to three months in prison.

American House Interior, 1929

In May 1929, Crouthamel’s Hotel in South Perkasie was sued after a widow claimed her husband died from tainted moonshine allegedly bought at the hotel. A judge threw out the lawsuit when it could not be proved the liquor served at the hotel directly caused her husband’s death, which happened 10 days after he drank the moonshine.

And in August 1929, the Perkasie Fire Department responded to a call at the Trio Apartment’s barn on Eight and Chestnut Streets, and it found one of the best-equipped distilling operations in Bucks County. Soon a large crowd showed up at the scene. “Many [people] were surprised at what was disclosed by the fire. Others tried hard to put on a ‘surprised’ appearance,” said the Central News. Then, more than 100 people got by the fire police and walked off with much of the illegal liquor inventory.

Bawdy House Controversies

The most notorious case in the area involved one of the region’s known speakeasy water holes: the Rocky Ridge Hotel on Bethlehem Pike, between Perkasie and Quakertown. There were two relayed incidents involving a couple (L. G. and C.G.) from York County that had moved to a farmhouse in Hilltown in 1927. Police raided the home after complaints about several illegal activities. For starters, the couple along with two women were caught serving alcohol to a group of five married men, including four Perkasians and a Sellersville resident. While the husband (L.G.) was charged with selling liquor, his wife (C.G.) was accused of “operating a house of ill repute.” A judge found the couple guilty and through their attorney, they made bail while the case was appealed. The couple then took over as proprietors of the Rocky Ridge Hotel.

In 1928, the same couple faced similar charges after a raid on the Rocky Ridge and the Brush Meadow restaurant on Bethlehem Pike. Both spots were frequented by the same clientele and L.G. and C.G. at the Rocky Ridge was convicted of selling illegal liquor and “keeping a house of prostitution.” They soon left the area to return to York County. They briefly returned to East Rockhill in 1931 amid accusations they were using a rented farmhouse for similar purposes. L.G. and C.G. then went back to York County for good.

In early 1933, Perkasie attorney Mark Thatcher defended a Haycock resident, Dr. Bertha Guild, from serious charges related to a large distillery in her barn at the foot of Haycock Mountain that had four employees and 50,000 pounds of mash. Dr. Guild had worked at the Philadelphia Children’s Hospital until she moved to Bucks County. In 1935 a judge overturned her conviction on a technicality.

By December 1933, Prohibition had ended in the Perkasie region. Governor Gifford Pinchot, a noted “dry,” put the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board into place to regulate liquor sales. On January 4, 1934, Perkasie milk dealer Frank Benner was the first person to legally buy an item at Perkasie’s new State Store on Seventh Street.