Students today know Division Street as the road that runs parallel to State Street, but not many realize its name used to mean something.
In 1903, the city of Ann Arbor literally divided the town by prohibiting the sale of alcohol in all establishments east of Division Street, and allowing it to the west, according to the Ann Arbor District Library’s website.
“The dry line was what they called it,” said Wystan Stevens, a 1970 University graduate and lifetime Ann Arbor resident.
John Marwil, Ann Arbor historical expert and history lecturer at the University, said binge drinking on campus is nothing new, hence the implementation of the line.
“There was really quite serious drinking on this campus for a really long time in the late 19th and early 20th century,” he said. “Drinking habits in the country involved an extraordinary amount of drinking of hard liquor and whiskey.”
The beginning of the temperance movement at the University began in the mid-to-late 1800s when students and University officials began to notice the negative effects of alcohol among students.
At a temperance meeting held at the Washtenaw County Courthouse in 1845 — documented in the book “Ann Arbor The First Hundred Years” by O.W. Stephenson — a senior at the University said it was “the duty of every inhabitant of the village to exert an influence in favor of order and strict morality; and that to make this efficiently they should neither make, use, nor vend intoxicating liquors.”
Like many other college campuses during the temperance movement, the University became a place of great concern and controversy over consumption of alcohol.
Stevens said it led to visits from radical speakers and pro-temperance activists like Carrie Nation, a famous pro-prohibitionist who was known for her ruthless antics that included stealing rum bottles from bars and smashing bottles of hard liquor.
Eventually, the division lost meaning. But the name stuck.
“There was kind of a general loosening up of the rules around here, about the time the Vietnam War protest got started and people weren’t going to tolerate restrictions on liberties, especially if not universally applied,” Stevens said.