The end of prohibition in Logan

By Dwight Williamson - Contributing Columnist

Dwight Williamson

What do you get when you put a beer and a joint together? Well, a “beer joint” of course.

Now, before you get all bent out of shape, let me explain to the younger readers that there used to be many beer joints throughout the county—long before this year’s proposed legislative action to legalize medicinal marijuana. Confused? You should be, because that was my intention. Sorry about that, but I had to get you focused.

The reality is that the issue of alcohol used to be the number one concern for Logan Countians and most West Virginians. Although Prohibition (which reminds me of marijuana laws of today) meant the nationwide ban on the production, importation, transportation and sale of alcoholic beverages, and it became law in 1920, West Virginia had actually tried to prohibit the sale of alcohol in our mountain state as early as 1883 when a bill passed in the West Virginia House of Delegates by a 49-14 vote, but was defeated 15-11 in the Senate.

By 1910, however, 37 of the state’s 55 counties were completely dry—but not in Logan County. In fact, many of our people reaped the benefits of the making and selling of their illegal concoctions. That is, until statewide prohibition became West Virginia law in 1914, which then allowed moonshiners to make even greater profits because of it being illegal thus, driving up the price. As the National Prohibition law went into effect in 1920, even better profit margins could be seen by our local holler residents, although raids, shootings, murders and other moonshine related incidents increased dramatically. There were hundreds of locals who wound up in prison for making and selling moonshine.

After unlawful acts increased and organized crime—particularly in places like Chicago, Detroit and other large cities—became a nationwide issue, the Prohibition Era ended in 1933. West Virginia counties later had the option of becoming “wet” or “dry” and Logan Countians voted by a 7 to 1 margin to become wet. In fact, the only precinct in the county that voted in the “dry” category was at Lake.

It wasn’t long then that bars and restaurants selling alcoholic drinks sprang up in downtown Logan. In the coal camp hollows of the county, places selling mostly beer became the norm and were known as beer joints—since saloons, which once existed in Logan, were more commonly noted as being located out west somewhere. One of the last true “beer joints” in Logan County was known as “John’s” or “The Shegon,” and was located at Mud Fork. The cinderblock building still stands and is comprised of small apartments. Beer joints, as opposed to licensed clubs and restaurants, sold only beer and could not dispense liquor.

Former Logan Judge C.C. Chambers spent nearly all of his life condemning the use of alcohol, legally or illegally. There were also many local religious leaders who expressed their condemnation. The following account I obtained is a sermon from one of the most renowned pastors ever in Logan—Rev. A. J. Coffey, pastor of the First Christian Church in Logan for many years. Speaking to a crowd that was said to be about 400 people at the church auditorium, Coffey told the listeners, “The decent people of Logan are being insulted.”

“I indict the liquor crowd for lying,” Rev. Coffey said, exulting what he said was a nationwide problem. “They promised that the saloon would not come back. There were 177,000 saloons in the old days, and today we have 450,000. They said bootlegging would decrease, but on the other hand, it has increased 100 percent. They said they would empty the jails, but the prison population is at capacity.

They promised it would put people to work, yet more than 10,000,000 are idle. They should be indicted for robbery, for $43,225,000,000 is expended in a year in liquor sales,” continued the reverend. “If one lived at the dawn of our recorded history and had that amount and had given away a dollar a minute for six thousand years, he would still be a rich man.”

Rev. Coffey stated that sales of liquor were taking “legitimate business” away from the business people of Logan. “The Associated Press gives the sales of the Logan liquor store at more than a quarter of a million dollars and Logan businessmen ought to see what this is doing to their business,” Coffey stated. The pastor charged that the liquor store had violated almost every law meant to control it.

“They sell to the habitual drunkards,” Coffey declared. “And relief workers spend their money at the store. Even newspaper boys are allowed to loiter at the saloons.” The Reverend added that he was against beer anywhere and that in other cities and towns the mayors and councils were investigating places that sold beer and “it should be done in Logan.”

Coffey charged that the local police were simply “passing the buck” and that something had to be done about it. “There are a dozen or more places in Logan that ought to be padlocked—places rented by landlords for gambling, vice and bootlegging—landlords who are called respected citizens. If these buildings were padlocked and revenue cut off for a year, these landlords that get their money that way would do some thinking in a year’s time.”

Logan’s “fighting preacher” recalled how he saw a woman fall over an empty beer keg that was placed out in front of a Logan business on a recent Saturday night. “Just try placing your garbage can out on the sidewalk some Saturday evening and see what happens.”

In closing his message, Rev. Coffey made a strong appeal for a united effort of the people of Logan “to clean things up” as he appealed to all law-enforcing agencies and newspapers to come to the rescue and to “get behind a moral righteousness in the city.”

And now—some 80 years later after Rev. Coffey’s sermon—and as I make that same appeal, and gaze out a courthouse window at the un-busy streets of Logan, I can only say, “I’ll drink a toast to that”—I mean, if there was only a “beer joint” around somewhere.


After watching President Trump’s rather exciting speech the other night, I’m sure local attorney and public defender Gerald Mercurio has to be pleased to know that plans for the border wall are still in the making… see, the ingenious attorney has plans of opening up a pole-vaulting business in many of the border towns of Mexico…..darn, I wish I had thought of that first……speaking of borders, there is no truth to the rumor that Canada is going to build a wall and that America is going to pay for it…..truth is, recently a search warrant for a former Logan City employee’s home unveiled a huge amount of marijuana and pills, which police said was smuggled in from Canada, where, as you probably know, recreational pot use is legal…..oh, the stories that I just keep to myself, but will someday unveil…..while on the subject of marijuana, one has to hail the “guts” of State Senator Ritchie OJeda in trying to pass legislation that would make medicinal marijuana legal in West Virginia, or his efforts to get the vile weed reclassified from the category of heroin and other terrible drugs…..unfortunately, I predict the goat farmers will vote the bill down…..meanwhile, Delegate Rupie Phillips has decided that increasing litter law violations will put an end to the “trashing” of our beautiful state, something I’ve complained about for years now… the current law reads today, and to put it into plain English, if you get caught tossing a McDonald’s sandwich wrapper or something else weighing less than 100 pounds onto the ground or from an automobile, and you are arrested or given a citation, the current possible penalty that can be imposed by a magistrate is a fine of from $50 to $1,000, or sentenced to perform community service by cleaning up litter from an alley, street or pubic highway, or public park, etc., or magistrates can fine the violator and also make the person do the community service… addition, a violator must pay a civil penalty of $100 to $1,000; so right now, the minimum a violator can get away with is a total of $315.25, and maybe 8 hours of cleanup; the maximum right now would be $2,165, plus 16 hours community service…..Rupie’s bill increases the maximum fine to $2,500 and the community service to a maximum of 100 hours…..I have no problem with the increased penalties, however, guess what else he put into his bill?…..he wrote, “We should make sure magistrates don’t drop the charges.” …, that’s what bothers me about our lawmakers—they don’t know the law…..let me make myself perfectly clear here: MAGISTRATES CANNOT DROP TICKETS OR OTHER CHARGES WITHOUT THE CONSENT OR RECOMMENDATION OF A PROSECUTING ATTORNEY, unless the citation or complaint is defective…, for God’s sake, go find Delegate Jeff Eldridge and go to work on the state budget before another teacher has to be laid off……by the way, I had our chief clerk Deanna Briggs look into just how many littering citations were written last year and this is the way it turns out— less than 10 and none were dismissed, except by request of the officer…..I’ll have all the stats for readers by next week …..keeping on cue, does anybody remember the 1976 movie “Network” where the television anchor ends up getting all his listeners to rise up with the words “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it anymore.”…..well, that’s pretty much the way me and millions of other Americans feel nowadays…..changing gears, DID YOU KNOW that medical studies now show that millennials born in 1990 and thereafter are four times more likely to develop colon or rectal cancer than persons born in 1950 thru 1989?….although the scientists still don’t know why this is happening, may I suggest reading the ingredients that are now in just about everything one chooses to eat…..I can’t even pronounce most of the ingredients, much less know what they are…..seriously, look at items in your cupboard right now; you might be shocked… magistrate Joe Mendez and his assistant Tammy White have only been on the job since January, but both have already provided needed high tech energy to the dungeon of magistrate court… eagerness to learn has me confident that the two will become super good court employees and be around for many years to come …..on another subject, thanks to Logan Banner compadre Owen Wells, I have learned that one of my favorite radio stations is likely to be sold soon…..WNKU-radio (104.1), which is a public sponsored Northern Kentucky University commercial free radio station, provides “different” music in a variety of ways…..frankly, I hope the sale falls through……then there is the untimely death of actor Bill Paxton, who people should remember as the actor in the Hatfield-McCoys series from a few years back…..Paxton portrayed feudal leader Randolph McCoy, and Paxton’s death got me to thinking about the Hatfield’s…, here’s some information I will pass along: Logan County Sheriff Joe Hatfield, Devil Anse’s son, was the first sheriff in West Virginia to implement the wearing of uniforms by deputy sheriffs…..before this happened in 1929, only the state police wore uniforms as law enforcement officers…..QUOTE OF THE WEEK: “If we cannot learn from history, then we cannot learn.”—Charlton Heston, actor…..CLOSING NOTE: I must admit I started to write a scathing detailed report that would be a huge embarrassment to Logan City Hall, as well as all of Logan County. But, since I’m really not a very vindictive person, and I don’t like to see anybody lose their jobs, or be imprisoned, I will take the high road for now in regard to a recent WSAZ news report that tried to shed a bad light on magistrates and the prosecuting attorney’s office. First, allow me to tell you that if any police officer or agency has a concern about any court matter, then that should be brought to the attention of the chief law enforcement officer of the county—the prosecuting attorney, not the news media. Secondly, several years ago, Amanda Barron, now a respected WSAZ news anchor, also asked for an interview that I granted in which Chief Harper was then blaming Logan magistrates for certain bond issues. After I explained the right to bail as a Constitutional right and other factors, Barron did a very neutral job of reporting that story. Now, again, I have found myself defending a magistrate court system that last year handled 788 felony charges and a total of 7,247 misdemeanors, not to mention all the other matters dealt with daily, like domestic violence petitions, personal safety orders, civil suits, etc. So this marks the second time that Harper has attempted to blindside the court system. My real gripe is that Harper has never even been to a magistrate court hearing, nor to my knowledge, ever arrested anybody in Logan County in his rather long tenure as chief. He may argue that is not a chief’s job. Well, try telling that to someone like Chief David Walls of the Man PD, who makes most of the arrests in his department. Regardless, people deserve to know that if even a misdemeanor gets dismissed, an officer has one year in which he or she can re-file the complaint. Where Harper gets his information, I don’t know. But if he has an officer complaining to him about what happens in court, then he should come to court, pull the records, and talk to a prosecutor; odds are that it won’t be what he thinks it is. Now, for the WSAZ reporter to go on the air and declare that 65% of all cases were dismissed last year, when she told me she had picked “10 to 15 files” to look at (none of which, by the way, were even my cases) and then later asked the chief clerk for four more, and to deceive viewers by showing a stack of files on the broadcast that were not from Logan Magistrate court (but did add flavor to the short story) is truly what President Trump has called “fake news.” If in fact, WSAZ, or anybody else, wishes to look at all of the criminal files from last year, I have calculated that the total cost to reproduce the pages of the papers needed to make an accurate review, would come at a required costs of $8,035, and that hasn’t happened. Some people may forget that I was an investigative reporter for many years and then later worked in the sheriff’s department. So, when Chief Harper, a Boone County resident, used the word “watchdog” in his interview, it made me realize that he must not know that I just might be the “watchdog.” Perhaps a meeting of the minds of the prosecutor’s office, various police department heads, and even the magistrates would be a good idea. By the way, magistrate’s court’s records are state audited every year. May we all “live long and prosper.”

Dwight Williamson Williamson

By Dwight Williamson

Contributing Columnist

Dwight Williamson is a contributing columnist and former reporter for the Logan Banner. Williamson is currently a Logan County Magistrate.

Dwight Williamson is a contributing columnist and former reporter for the Logan Banner. Williamson is currently a Logan County Magistrate.

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