How bootleggers helped build Sylvania

Sylvania, Ohio is the prosperous suburb of Toledo where I went to high school. I graduated from the “new” high school (which is now over thirty years old), and to me, Sylvania was never a place that was afraid to spend a little money to improve itself.

Oh, not all of it – there were some spots in Sylvania Township everyone freely referred to as “Dogpatch” when I was a teenager – but all in all the city and the surrounding township came off pretty favorably. And I wasn’t the only one calling it Dogpatch.

(Aside: When I was growing up, we knew “Dogpatch” as the residential areas generally in the Central Avenue – Holland-Sylvania Road area, but here’s a blogger who says Dogpatch was north of Alexis Road and west of Whiteford Road, which I agree with one hundred percent as well.)

In the 1920s, however, miles of open space and farmland separated Sylvania from Toledo. And the village mayor’s court became a hub of enforcement of the Volstead Act of 1919, better known as Prohibition.

This March 10, 1968 piece by John Grigsby told the story: with courts in Toledo overwhelmed with cases, Sylvania became the destination for “booze sleuths” – teams of federal, state and local law enforcement officials who brought their cases to Sylvania because, under state law, a mayor’s court could take jurisdiction over liquor arrests made anywhere in Lucas County (even Toledo).

“I sometimes faced as many as 30 or 40 on my docket in a day,” Clifford C. Peck, mayor of Sylvania from 1921 to 1929, recalled.

The good news for Sylvania was that it kept fifty percent of any fines it collected, as well as costs.

“With at least three teams of agents in the field all the time seeking violators, you can see why the court was busy,” Mr. Peck said. …

He explained that the Toledo courts were clogged with cases so that long delays and continuances were frequent. This led to the popularity of the outlying courts, such as at Sylvania, where prompt daily hearings were conducted and the arresting officers would receive their fees at once.

The Sylvania activities frequently were under attack, particularly in Toledo.

Critics charged that “daily invasions” of Toledo were being made by Sylvania marshals and constables. These officers would swoop into illegal drinking sports, or pick up still operators or rum runners.

A particularly happy hunting ground was Point Place, where boats brought illegal cargoes in from Canada.

The whole story came to light in 1968 as Sylvania officials started to examine the possibility of rebuilding one of the improvements paid for with bootlegger money: the youth pool in Burnham Park (a “nest of weeds” before the fine money started rolling in), which was built in 1924 and closed in 1962.

In fact, money from convicting bootleggers paid for the paving of every street except one, the pool, tennis courts, playground equipment, monuments, a bandstand, park improvements, 125 streetlights, the motorization of the fire department, and a surplus.

“The bootleggers did it,” Mr. Peck said. “Don’t make it sound like I’m bragging.”

This is one of a number of great historical stories by John Grigsby, who worked 53 years at The Blade (1936-1994), according to an inventory of his files donated to the University of Toledo. I will probably be referring to a number of his stories in the future, because if anybody chronicled the history of 20th century Toledo, it was Grigsby.

One Comment

  1. In 1960/1961 brings to mind many fond memories of the guys from Dog Patch and us guys from Toledo and our territorial disputes with them at the West Toledo Y on Thursday nights.Lt Hall and Sgt Ed Sobsak, Toledo Police Dept sure had their hands full with us. Great times and great town.
    Steve is the only name I can recall from those guys from Dog Patch and if your still in the area ? I just want to say .Good times are all about life,and we sure lived it…………………….

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