Even before Prohibition was enacted in Michigan in 1918 and ratified at the federal level less than a year later, University of Michigan students were limited in where they could and could not drink alcohol.

Beer Delivery Wagon in front of Binder’s Saloon, 1880

According to James Tobin, a historian who has written extensively about the history of the University, Division Street in downtown Ann Arbor was once more than just another street. In 1856, in response to a student riot at Hangsterfer’s Hall on the corner of Main Street and Washington Street, city officials established a “dry line” along Division Street — which already had that name — that prohibited saloons east of there from serving alcohol.

The riot erupted after Hangsterfer’s refused to serve alcohol to two rowdy University students. Students stormed into the saloon the next evening, slashing open beer kegs and driving the saloon owner into the streets, according to Tobin.

The dry line, Tobin said, was “some sort of gentleman’s handshake agreement between bar owners and city officials.”

He added that this agreement appeased Ann Arbor residents, saloon owners and University officials alike.

“The University officials would have said, ‘Look we don’t want these students to be able to roll out of bed and go into a bar. We want there to be some sort of buffer zone between the campus and the saloons,’ ” he speculated.

But even prior to Prohibition, students publicly demonstrated their opposition toward it as it gained popularity in the country. According to the Downtown Ann Arbor Historical Street Exhibit Program’s website, University students organized a rally on State Street in 1902 to demonstrate against the preaching of Carrie Nation — a temperance movement leader.

In 1903, the dry line went from a “gentleman’s agreement” to actual law when the Ann Arbor City Council voted to make it permanent. But come 1918, when the state of Michigan enacted Prohibition, the dry line would be the least of student’s worries.

Students at the time reacted similarly to how one might expect them to react today.

“I think students were accustomed to drinking and there was a fair amount of alarm and outrage about Prohibition,” Tobin said. ‘‘People were immediately thinking about ways to get around it.”

On the other hand, Tobin said that University faculty tended to support Prohibition.

“Some of the faculty were clergymen so they had typical conservative Christian views about drinking,” he said. “So they were in favor, as a body, of Prohibition.”

A report published by The University of North Carolina during Prohibition found that 30 of 34 surveyed college newspaper editors favored the repeal of Prohibition, according to an article that appeared in The Michigan Daily on Feb. 16, 1932.

Many students — particularly members of fraternities — tried to find ways around Prohibition to maintain their alcohol-induced fun, purchasing alcohol from bootleggers on the black market, Tobin said.

“Michigan was a big place like that because we are so close to Canada, where people smuggled alcohol across the Detroit River,” he said. “There would be bootleggers who would get in touch with fraternities and guys living in boarding houses. Or it would be in the other direction.”

One such story is that of The Great Raid of 1931.

According to Tobin, on the evening of Wednesday, Feb. 11, 1931, Ann Arbor policemen raided fraternities suspected of storing illegal alcohol. The raid occurred just after final exams and students were getting ready to celebrate J-Hop — a three-day, non-stop party tradition at the University.

The brothers of Phi Kappa Sigma were warned of the raid, Tobin explained, and were able to quickly hide their stash of alcohol before the police came to their door.

Edmund Love, a Phi Kappa Sigma pledge at the time, later recounted the ordeal in his memoir “Hanging On, or, How to get Through a Depression and Enjoy Life.” Love wrote that the fraternity members hid 37 quarts of whiskey and gin, five bottles of champagne, two cases of beer, four quarts of wine and one jug of hard cider before the policemen entered the premises.

According to Love, the police confiscated about 75 quarts of alcohol that night, and five fraternity houses were closed for the remainder of the school year.

Then-University President Alexander Ruthven was pleased with the results of the raid, though then Ann Arbor Mayor Edward Staebler found the punishment quite harsh, according to Tobin.

According to a Daily article from Feb. 21, 1931, the members of the closed fraternities “tramped the streets seeking rooming houses and moving their belongings to new quarters.”

In a letter to the editor that appeared in the Daily the day before that, a student with the pen name R.W.L. proclaimed that the raids were a violation of students’ rights.

“That since liquor could have been found in practically every fraternity and rooming house, in the homes of many faculty members, in the residence of a vast number of townspeople, therefore these raids show unfair discrimination,” the student wrote.

“That such raids can have no good influence, for drinking will continue, if not in fraternity houses, then in many other places and in a more public way,” the student continued.

The 1931 night editor of the Daily agreed, saying the raids were not progressive, but rather demonstrated the lack of respect the city had for the University.

“If these liquor raids have disclosed any result, it is the lack of proper harmony and cooperation between the University and Ann Arbor authorities,” he wrote.

The alcohol that was confiscated from Ann Arbor bootleggers and other citizens guilty of possession was turned over to the University Hospital.

The Eighteenth Amendment was repealed with the adoption of the Twenty-First Amendment on Dec. 5, 1933, and the Prohibition era had come to an end. Michigan voters had approved the repeal of the state’s ban the year prior.

Though students could now drink openly, the dry line remained in effect until 1969, according to the Downtown Ann Arbor Historical Street Exhibit Program’s website.

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