By the time Prohibition became the law of the land in 1920 with the passage of the 19th amendment to the Constitution, Bovina had already been dry for at least three decades and probably longer. I say probably longer because of a recent discovery. I noted in the previous blog entry on this topic that I thought Bovina probably went dry when the State passed legislation in the 1890s allowing such a step. In subsequent research, I found this statement in a news article from an 1883 newspaper from St. Lawrence County (NY) comparing 'temperance' and 'license' towns: "Bovina is a temperance town, and last year paid $61 to support a pauper in the poor-house, while Hancock, being a license town, has paid during that period for the support of its paupers in the poor-house the sum of two thousand eight hundred and seventy one dollars." ]No, I won't attempt to analyze the validity of this statement, or the inference being draw from this information, other than to note that Hancock did have a larger population than Bovina.] It appears that Bovina was dry by the early 1880s so that by 1920, the town was well experienced in the life of Prohibition when the whole nation went dry.
In 1933, Prohibition was repealed. When Prohibition ended, the assumption in law was that every town in New York was wet. A local option vote had to be held to make a town dry. For Bovina, the issue was moot. Since no one considering the idea, no steps were taken to officially make Bovina a dry town. After half a century of being dry, Bovina technically was now a wet town.
This changed just after World War II when Edward B. Cornell opened a tavern on the main street in the hamlet of Bovina Center. It was popular with certain people, but unpopular with others, particularly those who lived in the hamlet. A letter to the Delhi Paper in 1947, headed by the title ‘Vote Dry for Delhi!’ specifically cited the example of Bovina as a reason for Delhi to stay dry: “A prominent Bovina man told me that the residents of Bovina Center are thoroughly 'fed up' with conditions created by the recent advent of the saloon there... cars, trucks and old jalopies bring customers to the Bovina bar, filling the limited parking space nearby, causing traffic congestion and confusion; children are seen going in and out of the place, and the noise continues until late at night.”
This was in October 1947, when fourteen townships in New York State were voting on whether to stay or become dry. Bovina was one of those towns (and Delhi was another). The proposition that appeared on the Town of Bovina ballot asked voters to vote on four specific questions governing the sale of alcoholic beverages:
1) To be consumed on the premises where sold;
2) Not to be consumed on the premises where sold;
3) To be sold by hotel keepers only;
4) To be sold by summer hotel keepers only.
There were two groups campaigning on the issue. The “Taxpayers Local Option Committee” was pro-license, meaning they supported allowing the sale of alcohol in Bovina. They argued that the licensing fees would off-set the need for more taxes. The “Community Welfare Committee” was anti-license. They argued that the ending of licensing fees would not increase taxes.
The vote to go dry passed in Bovina by a two to one margin. Ten of the fourteen townships in New York State that held votes that month voted to become or stay dry, including the Delaware County towns of Delhi and Walton. Cornell had just renewed his license in October 1947. He stayed in business until the license expired the following year. He was not able to renew it, of course.
Bovina stayed dry into the 21st century. There were unsuccessful efforts in the 1970s and 90s to reinstate the sale of alcohol, as well as at the start of the 21st century. All of these votes involved voting on five specific options. All five had to be presented. In 2007, the law was changed in New York, allowing for petitioners to push for a vote on a specific question. That same year, a group petitioned to put on the ballot one option - to allow the sale of alcoholic beverages in a hotel or resort setting. That option passed, so technically, Bovina is no longer a ‘dry’ town.