A weekly web column by Roger A. Baylor.
Once upon a time in downtown New Albany, a house stood in the space between Bank Street Brewhouse and the Ricke & Associates agency to the north. If there is an extant photo somewhere, I haven’t seen it, although it is safe to assume an appearance somewhat like that of the Ricke house itself, or the Fox law office on the other side, probably positioned close by the street in traditional row house fashion.
Before the house was demolished around 1955, it had been used for a very long time by New Albany’s branch of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union. In case you didn’t know, the WCTU’s mission was to create a “sober and pure world” through “abstinence, purity and evangelical Christianity.” City guides dating from 1954 all the way back to 1919 identify the house as the WCTU chapter’s headquarters.
The following was written in 1937.
In the year 1852 Mr. John Crawford built and sold to Mr. Silas Day the large brick house on the west side of Bank Street now owned by the W.C.T.U. This was an example of a New Albany home of the better class in the 1850s and 1860s.
We don’t know when the WCTU bought the house, although in 1882, New Albany’s chapter merited mention in the “Minutes of the Woman's Christian Temperance Union of the State of Indiana at the Annual Meeting.”
The New Albany WCTU’s zenith was in the early 1900s, during its ultimately successful campaign for statewide and later national Prohibition. Fortunately, Prohibition’s myriad and well-documented failures served to discredit America’s teetotalers far better than my puny words ever could. Today, the craft brewing revolution flourishes in New Albany on the very same spot where beer’s enemies once conspired.
That’s delicious, and it’s why we need a monument to victory over the prohibitionists.
The project I’m proposing is called Ice Cold WCTU, and it aims to provide a unique, fully functional entrance to Lloyd’s Landing, the NABC “beer garden” adjacent to Bank Street Brewhouse. Lloyd’s Landing is named for the late Lloyd Wimp, who I’m confident would have enthusiastically approved of this idea.
Ice Cold WCTU is designed to be multi-faceted. It addresses the history and architectural heritage of New Albany, provides a conceptual “memorial” suitable for becoming a genuine tourist attraction, addresses themes of art and sustainability, and will be the only thing like it, anywhere.
That’s because the WCTU helped bring about Prohibition, and Prohibition almost killed brewing in America – and so who better than a local brewer belonging to the new, flourishing “craft” generation to commemorate the killjoy villainy of the WCTU?
The memorial plaque might read:
“In a house once standing here, New Albany’s chapter of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union advocated for Prohibition and abstinence from ‘Demon Alcohol.’ But Prohibition proved to be a disaster, and so it is vitally important that we remember the WCTU’s efforts favoring Prohibition, all the better for us to reject Prohibition, now and forever.”
Here’s how it might work.
At the entrance to Lloyd’s Landing, facing Bank Street, we’ll “trace” the front of the former WCTU house. This structure will take the form of pergolas (on the Lloyd’s Landing side, to eventually be linked to a shelter house or patio improvements) and an artistic façade or “false front” rising higher on the street side, constructed mostly of salvaged and recycled building materials. Because the front would mimic the roofline of the (an) old house, there’ll be at least the suggestion of a restored streetscape.
The facing will be representational, not an exact reproduction. It might be painted, or not. Vines or hops might grow on it, or not. Gaps could be complemented with shutters, window frames and other architectural mementoes, or not. It is to be artistic, not a duplicate. I envision an interpretive plaque, as worded above, as well as a life-sized, all-weather cutout bearing the photographic image of WCTU members – the Wild Women of the WCTU, next to whom visitors can pose for selfies.
But there’s even more.
Bank Street Brewhouse’s fully enclosed, former outdoor patio area already has been dubbed the WCTU Reading Room, and there is just enough unused wall space therein to redeploy as a museum, with exhibits explaining the WCTU, Prohibition, and their deleterious effects on civilized society.
The grand opening can be preceded by a community-wide art contest, in which local artists riff on a theme of fundamentalist zealotry. For the occasion, we might clear the former dining room of furniture and display the art there. Behind the art, through the window, lies the brewery, and if those machines kill fascists, surely they eradicate prohibitionists as well.
Ice Cold WCTU simultaneously pushes so many red hot buttons that I’m hard pressed to count them all.
It restores a streetscape, references New Albany’s history and recognizes the city’s architectural heritage.
It serves as a permanent art project and tourist attraction.
It provides a focal point to rebranding Bank Street Brewhouse, something we need in the absence of a kitchen, giving us a place to begin or end brewery tours.
Best of all, every aspect of it is factually verifiable. It is non-fiction. To return yet again to the words of Santayana: "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." There needs to be a memorial and a museum to the WCTU and Prohibition, because they must not be forgotten.
Now all I have to do is figure out a way to finance Ice Cold WCTU. If ever there was a Kickstarter project capable of succeeding, this is it.
Anyone know a grant writer?
As for the recycled materials, paging Mr. Steve Resch …
Steve, if you’re reading …