Throughout Milford’s political history, passions have rarely been stirred as in the 1904 vote to ban the sale of liquor. This was surely the hot-button issue of the day.
In much of small-town America, liquor had been prohibited long before the 18th Amendment ever became a real national possibility. Indeed, alcohol in 19th Century Milford was only sold for “medicinal and industrial” purposes and all profits went to town coffers until 1897. A government position - the liquor agent - was supposed to keep everything on the up and up.
But by the turn of the century, the liquor agent was gone, the laws had been loosened and things started getting a little rowdy. Milford historian Winifred Wright tells of malt liquor police raids, wild drunken gatherings near Border Street and intoxicated revelers who were “whooping it up” all over town. Appalled citizens appealed to the Board of Selectmen, who quickly closed locations that sold liquor – only to be reversed by a town vote approving liquor licenses in the fall of 1902. Predictably the raucous and unruly were back in business, and in response, Milford’s religious and temperance community geared up for a decisive 1904 vote as to whether to shut out the “devil at the door.”
Those against license used a combination of pious proclamations and police records to make the case for a dry town. At a rally held in a packed town hall the weekend before the vote, Dr. Babcock of the M.E. Church thumped his bible and told the assembled that it was not right to license an evil. “The man who votes in favor of license is as bad as the man who sells the liquor. Let the towns be free from this accursed thing. God help the right!”
Meanwhile, former governor David Goodell provided the law-and-order argument, telling the crowd that complaints related to drunkenness were up 400 percent in Milford. Painting a picture of the good old days, Goodell argued that “When prohibition ruled supreme, the papers said from time to time ‘No police court today. No arrests today. We have had no police court for two weeks.’ With such results…we could have emptied our jails, prisons and alms houses and…improved the morals of the people.” The editorial page of the Milford Cabinet certainly agreed saying, “On certain days our streets have been a disgrace, our public park a menace and our Oval a loafing place for half intoxicated persons.”
And yet, the bottle still held some sway. When a record turnout filed into town hall on November 8th and began casting their ballots, it initially appeared that the pro-license forces might again carry the day. “Among the first 400 votes cast, two out of three undoubtedly favored license,” the Cabinet reported. As rumors circulated that the wets had won, the “farmer vote” came straggling in and began to turn the tide. At 10:00pm the vote was announced as 453-310 against liquor licenses. By May, only drugstores could distribute liquor in town, arrests were way down again, and Milford’s boozy, boisterous days were a thing of the past.