Polk County Historical Society

Every community has its own peculiar history and people who made it so. But you have to look far and wide to find a match to Monmouth’s unique history as the last bastion of local option prohibition in Oregon, and Raphael Lande, the man who made it so.

Monmouth was founded by immigrants from Monmouth, Illinois.

Monmouth, Illinois is situated 70 miles west of Peoria. It was known in its earlier years for its Monmouth University.  The University and much of the town itself, was founded by followers of the Protestant Disciples of Christ.

A group of the Illinois Disciples decided in the 1850s to homestead in Oregon. They located in an unsettled part of the Willamette Valley and organized their own town – named Monmouth – and institution of higher learning — Monmouth University.

A town site was platted, classes at the college were begun, and business began to prosper in the new Monmouth.

One of the early newcomers was a saloonkeeper, whose name is lost to history. He sold his business to Raphael Lande, and this started a cascade of events that was to be felt in the town of Monmouth for nearly a century and a half.

Folks in Monmouth were Christians in word and deed.  They did not like liquor.  Raphael Lande sold liquor.  A gill (four liquid ounces) of whiskey cost 25-cents.

Abstemious Monmouth pioneers puzzled over a solution. One came from the mind of Ira F. M. Butler, one of the earliest Monmouth, Illinois immigrants, who in 1857 was the Speaker of the Oregon Territory House of Representatives.

In those days, if you wanted to be an incorporated town or city, you went to the Legislature, which by special act created towns, incorporated railroads, and in a number of cases also by granted divorces to the unhappily married.

The 1859 Territorial Legislature incorporated the town of Monmouth, set its boundaries — an optimistic three-miles in dimension -- and provided for the election of the first town council.

The townsfolk elected their council which met and adopted its first and only ordinance. By that gem of local legislation, Monmouth prohibited the sale of intoxicants within the town limits.

Just where Lande’s “bucket-shop” was located is not certain. It is believed to have been on the west side of Monmouth Avenue between Main and Clay Streets.  As originally platted, the square block bounded by Monmouth Avenue, and Main, Warren and Clay Streets was set aside as a town square. A similar town square exists in Monmouth, Illinois. But Monmouth, Oregon did not keep its town square. Part was sold for commercial development and another parcel was given to house the Christian Church, which had to be moved from the college campus when Monmouth University ran into money troubles and was taken over by the state as Oregon Normal School.  

Lande refused to shut up shop.  Instead, he went to Portland, hired a lawyer and sued in the Polk County Circuit Court at Dallas.

Monmouth did not want to have to spend money to hire a lawyer.  The first futile pleadings filed by the town with the court resemble the handwriting of Ira F. M. Butler. 

But eventually Monmouth gave up, hired a lawyer, and lost. The court ruled that the Legislature did not do its job well.  One of the things the Legislature failed to do in granting a charter to the Town of Monmouth, was to clothe it with the authority to regulate the sale of liquor.

Lande won.  But he had spent what money he had and left town victorious but broke. He never returned to Monmouth.

Monmouth did not function thereafter as a town until it was reincorporated in 1880. Again, its Charter prohibited the sale of intoxicants.

Monmouth stayed dry thereafter, but with two exceptions.

Oregon voted state-wide prohibition in 1915. When Oregon voted to repeal statewide prohibition in 1933 Monmouth folks figured the old prohibition provisions of its 1880 city charter were still in effect, but they weren’t  until Monmouth formally voted dry again in 1936 prohibition was not in effect in Monmouth.

The only sales permitted during this hiatus were in 1935 when G. L. “Sam” Russell, who had a pool hall upstairs at 123 West Main Street, got a package license from the Oregon Liquor Control Commission.  This license did not permit on-premises consumption of beer. If one bought a bottle of beer from Sam, who kept it in a refrigerator in the pool room, one had to step out in the hall to drink it.

Sam Russell’s beer license expired in December, 1935.  He did not seek its renewal and Monmouth voted dry, 213 to 111, again in 1936.

Attempts to repeal Monmouth’s dry status failed at elections in 1959 (374 to 87) and 1954 (392 to 105).

Monmouth was almost forced to go wet in 1969. Cities and counties shared in Oregon liquor taxes, but only if they permitted the sale of liquor.  Monmouth was almost broke. The City Council feared the only way to balance the budget was to go wet and obtain state liquor revenues.  But State Rep. Joe Rogers of Independence introduced a bill in the Legislature to amend the state law to permit Monmouth to share in state liquor revenues.  The theory was that folks in Monmouth paid liquor taxes just like everyone else.  They just bought what they drank somewhere else. Ed Brandt, the owner of the garbage service in both Monmouth and Independence charmed the House State and Federal Affairs Committee and assured the amendment of the statute when he testified at a hearing on the bill that his trucks picked up more brown bottles from Monmouth garbage cans than from those in Independence.

Monmouth stayed dry until 2002 when voters approved the sale of beer and wine.  Sale of hard liquor was approved in the election of 2011.

Information in this article is from the Library of the Polk County Historical Society.  The Society’s Library and Museum, located at the Polk County Fairgrounds at Rickreall, is open to the public from 1 to 5 p.m. each day except Tuesdays, Sundays and holidays.  Admission:  adults, $5.00; seniors (age 62+), $4.00; children ages 6-17, $1.00; children under age 6, centenarians and Society members, free.)

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