Opinion: Westfield’s liquor issue settled in 1882


Commentary by Zach Burton

Every legislative session, the Indiana General Assembly debates the issue of alcohol sales. But liquor regulation in the Hoosier state is nothing new, and in Westfield, the issue came to a fiery settlement in 1882.

That summer, a saloon was established by William Shaw that shook the Quaker citizens of Westfield to the core. According to a contemporary account in the Noblesville Republican-Ledger, the saloon that had been an eyesore to the citizens of Westfield “was last week moved out to the railroad, one-half mile west of town.” It was at this location that “the nefarious business” could continue in what appeared to have been no more than a shanty.

Due to the location of the saloon outside the town’s limits, Westfield’s elected officials were left powerless to do anything about the dilemma. But the town’s Quaker women were determined to be rid of the nuisance, town limits or no.

A group of Quaker ladies initially approached Shaw and offered to buy him out, which he refused. This rejection was met with a passionate response, with the women dumping out every bottle of booze they could get their hands on and trashing Shaw’s establishment.

Determined to continue his trade, Shaw repaired the damage to his shack by the tracks and re-opened shortly after the incident.

Business continued as usual for Shaw for about a month when, according to the Noblesville Independent, “about 40 ladies from the town and country assembled at the church and marched from there to the railroad where … the shanty was located.” Upon arriving at Shaw’s saloon, the women demolished the structure with axes, arranged the lumber in a pile and proceeded to set the entire heap ablaze.

Shaw – who had the foresight this time around to send his alcohol down the road on a wagon when he noticed the women approaching – decided his days in and around Westfield were numbered. He met that afternoon with the determined Quaker women, and a buyout of $25.00 was agreed upon.

A resolution was passed by those in attendance that was then distributed to area newspapers:

Whereas, we are informed that persons from a distance have asserted that they would set up saloons in Westfield, therefore,

RESOLVED: That notice is hereby given that no saloons will be tolerated in our midst, and that all persons coming here to engage in the business will come at their peril.

– Mrs. M. H. Brown, President

According to the Noblesville Independent, shortly after this episode, Shaw was seen sporting a blue ribbon – a mark of the temperance movement started in the 1870’s – on his lapel.

Zach Burton is a communications specialist for the City of Westfield. He can be reached at [email protected].