The Chicago Beer Riot

In the mid 1800s, America had many worries, not only were the southern states threatening secession but there were very severe strains between more recently arrived German and Irish immigrants an those whose parents and grandparents immigrated from Europe earlier. Those who most feared that the country was being taken over by so many immigrants gravitated towards to a group that called itself the “American Party”. In time they became known by the name “Know-nothings” because of the semi secret organization of the party. If a member was asked about their activities by an outsider they were supposed to reply with the phrase “I know nothing”.

By 1855 Chicago had become a hotbed of tension between the immigrant groups and the party. That year Levi Boone was elected Mayor running on an anti-immigrant platform. Mayor Boone was a moralist, if not technically a “know-nothing” and he was outraged by the pleasure that the Irish and Germans found in drinking beer and chose that drink to bring pressure on the immigrant communities. After Boone was elected, he first barred immigrants from any city job. Next, he increased the cost of a city issued liquor license by 2,400%, from $50 annually to $300 quarterly. Then he ordered that an old law be brought back, prohibiting sale of alcohol and beer on Sundays.

On the first Sunday that the newly reenacted law was in effect, the immigrants on Chicago’s north side went about their business as usual, gathering in their neighborhood taverns for the traditional Sunday afternoon beer. Suddenly, and without any warning, the Chicago police showed up, ordered all the taverns to be shut down and arrested more than two hundred people for drinking on Sunday. The magistrate on duty at the courthouse released those who had been arrested and set a hearing date for April 21, 1855.

When that day arrived, an unruly crowd of some 300 barkeepers marched towards Courthouse Square, shouting threats against the judge and being led by a traditional Yankee fife and drum. Chicago police stopped the crowd and moved them back to the north side and a clash was averted. But not for long! About three that afternoon the crowd returned. And again the police were prepared for their arrival. Their tactic this time was to allow about half the crowd to cross the Chicago River and then open the swing bridges which effectively cut the crowd in half as well as trapping some on the bridges themselves. This tactic, while effective, infuriated the protesters and very soon both sides were shooting at each other.

Immediately rumors began that some of the protesters had been killed but there is no historical evidence for this claim. The fact that the Mayor had ordered the cannon in the courthouse square be loaded in anticipation probably helped fuel the rumors. As night came on, tempers cooled off and the demonstration broke up, their point made. The next year, Levi Boone lost his bid for re-election and the prohibition against selling beer on Sundays was repealed.

And so ended the great “Lager Beer Riot”; the only time in U.S. history that drinkers have rioted in support of their favorite beverage.

First Monday Weekend in Scottsboro, Alabama

Scottsboro, Alabama is the home of one of the largest trading days in the region. First Monday Weekend is held each month starting on the Saturday before the first Monday of the month. This huge event is held in downtown Scottsboro in the area around the Jackson County Courthouse Square.

First Monday in Scottsboro goes back more than 100 years. It began in 1902 as Horse Swapper’s Day. After a rather slow beginning, the event was eventually changed to Market Day to give area farmers a place to sell and trade their goods. Over the years the variety of vendors increased and so did the crowds. Today First Monday in Scottsboro is a massive trading weekend.

First Monday has had to adapt to changing times. Many vendors who had full time jobs were unable to participate only on Mondays, so the event is now held Saturday, Sunday, and Monday. Sundays generally bring out the largest crowds. Labor Day Weekend is usually the biggest and best weekend with thousands of people in attendance. Many vendors are regulars who reserve their spaces from month to month. Vendors are expected to set up at least one day of the weekend.

Today no horses or other animals are swapped on First Monday. What buyers will find are handmade crafts, furniture, antiques, baskets, plants, clothing, and food vendors. The atmosphere is fun and festive, and people enjoy browsing among the booths. All kinds of treasures await those who attend First Monday.

Located in northeast Alabama, Scottsboro is situated on Lake Guntersville, the Tennessee River’s largest lake. Downtown Scottsboro has an attractive historic district, filled with a variety of shops and restaurants. Courthouse Square, containing the Jackson County Courthouse, is the centerpiece of downtown. Local highways and Interstates serving the Scottsboro area are Interstate 65 and U.S. Hwy. 72, making it easily accessible to the many local attractions and fun things to do.

Scottsboro Preserves Its Historic Past

Scottsboro, Alabama, incorporated in 1870, is a city rich in history. Its past has been well preserved in its historic districts and structures that are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The downtown historic district contains the courthouse square. Its tree-lined streets are lined with historic homes. Most of the properties are privately owned, but a walk or drive around town affords visitors the opportunity to view a number of these historic structures.

The Public Square Historic District contains Scottsboro’s quaint courthouse square. The Jackson County Courthouse, constructed in 1911-12, is the attractive centerpiece. The brick structure was designed in the Neo-Classical style, with four Doric columns supporting its front portico. The building is topped with a cupola containing a clock. The courthouse was the site of the 1931 trial of the Scottsboro Boys, nine young black defendants accused of raping a white woman. Some people consider this trial to be the beginning of the civil rights movement in America. More than two dozen of the buildings surrounding the square have been designated as historic structures. Most are one or 2-story brick commercial structures from the early 20th century.

The Scottsboro Railroad Depot, at North Houston Street and Maple Avenue, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The brick building was constructed in 1860-61 as a passenger and freight depot for the Memphis and Charleston Railroad. On January 8, 1865 it became the focus of an intense Civil War battle between Union forces that held the depot and Confederate troops under the command of Brig. Gen. H.B. Lyon. Confederate artillery eventually drove the Union soldiers from the building. This depot is one of only three remaining pre-Civil War depots in Alabama.

The Brown-Proctor House on South Houston Street is another property listed on the National Register. The Greek-Revival style mansion, built in 1880, currently houses the Jackson Heritage Center. Visitors may tour the home as well as Sagetown, the center’s pioneer village. A number of authentic buildings have been moved to the location for preservation, including cabins, a school, and Jackson County’s first courthouse, built in 1868.

The College Hill Historic District includes ten structures on College Avenue between Scott and Kyle Streets. This area was Scottsboro’s first subdivision. Homes in the district date from 1909 to the 1940s. The building styles include Bungalow, Craftsman, and Classical-Revival.

The preservation efforts in the historic districts show Scottsboro’s commitment to honoring its history. This picturesque town in northeast Alabama is well worth a visit.