In January 1885 Merriam Park was incorporated into the city limits of Saint Paul. In negotiations, the parties involved agreed that no saloon would be licensed within a four-mile radius of the newly annexed area, beginning with Merriam Park at the center. This agreement included a part of the 200-acre region to the north called the Midway District.
'Blind Pigs' soon began to sell intoxicating liquors along University Avenue from locations within the prohibited zone. By 1895 public drunkenness had become a familiar site. While city officials had promised to clear the area of the illicit saloons, the problem continued. By 1902 it was reported that district police knew of a handful of 'Blind Pigs' in the Midway District, but did little to enforce the law against the illegal places. Local citizens, frustrated with the lack of support from both city officials and the police vowed to come together to close them all down permanently.
According to the group, by 1903 that number of 'blind pigs' along University Avenue had climbed to at least a dozen. Saint Paul Assemblyman H.C. Schurmeier believed that the problem in the Midway District was similar to an issue that took place throughout the city. He noted that while records showed nearly one-thousand locations that paid federal taxes, only three hundred had registered for a local liquor license. Schurmeier later submitted a resolution to the city board of aldermen appropriating $500 to investigate ‘blind pigs’ in the Midway District, but the measure was defeated by a 10-1 margin.
City inspectors and other officials searched the area for 'blind pigs' but found that none existed. The investigative process involved a uniformed police officer entering a potential 'blind pig' to ask for a glass of beer. When refused, the investigating officer concluded that the location wasn't running an illegal saloon. This type of half-hearted police work led many people in the Midway community to believe the investigation was little more than a "novelty," and that local police and 'blind pig' operators might be complicit in the crime of selling intoxicating liquors in their neighborhood.
The ineffectiveness of the police drove the people of the district into action. Over a three day period in April a committee of Midway citizens investigated the locations in question, applied for the necessary warrants, and bypassed the district police station to request that twelve illegal saloons located along University Avenue be raided. The raids were carried out on April 15th. Citizens picketed in front of each address while deputy sheriffs went through the suspected houses and stores. For the best chance of success, each of the offending locations was raided at the same time.
After the raids were finished, wagons were loaded with kegs and barrels of alcohol. The event resulted in the arrest of six 'blind pig' owners and the confiscation of nearly $3000 of liquor. The prevailing belief was that locations were alerted to the impending raid, allowing some owners to elude capture. On May 5th the arrested proprietors pleaded guilty to the charge of operating a 'blind pig' in police court, and each of them was assessed a $50 fine. On May 12th deputy sheriffs poured the seized alcohol, consisting of fifty cases of beer, seventy-five jugs of whiskey and wine, as well as some bottled goods, into a storage room warehouse sewer near Third and Minnesota streets in Saint Paul, where it made its way into the Mississippi River.
Local citizens pushing for the removal of illegal saloons from the district enjoyed the victory but understood that their work was far from done. On May 15th, only days after the recently seized illegal liquor floated down the river, community meetings were held at both the St. Anthony Park Methodist Church and the St. Anthony Park Congregational Church to discuss ways to continue to take the fight to the Midway ‘Blind Pigs.’
Bibliography available here.
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