by Helen Wilson (posted 6-2020)
When Kelley Stroup, founder of House History, gave a SHHS presentation in February 2017 about how to research your house’s history, she warned people to expect the unexpected. I never thought that would apply to me, because I believed my 1920s-era house was too nondescript to research. Then a friend sent me a clipping from The Pittsburgh Press, dated 1938, about a still that was seized in a raid on my house by Federal Alcohol Tax agents. The agents seized a “150-gallon still, 20 gallons of ‘moonshine’ in four five-gallon cans and 1200 gallons of mash.” The raid followed the arrest of the “alleged owner,” who was found with ”35 gallons of illicit liquor in his sedan.” Prohibition had ended in 1933, but taxes were high on alcohol and home stills were still illegal, so bootlegging went on—and my house was involved, to my great surprise.
Another article from 1938 says that the “following described property was seized [from the house] as hereinafter set forth, for violation of the Internal Revenue Laws of the United States.” The article lists an inventory of all the furniture in my house at the time, including, besides the still, an “8-burner stove, Prosperity gas range, Coldspot electric refrigerator, Majestic radio,” and various pieces of furniture.
When I purchased my house in 1978, I wondered why there was an old gas stove in the basement. I assumed the occupants had cooked down there in summer before air conditioning was invented. It seems they were cooking other things as well.
Prohibition agents with moonshine still, Washington, D.C., 1921