In the early 20th century, Westerville had earned a reputation as a progressive town.

In the early 20th century, Westerville had earned a reputation as a progressive town.

The city’s residents were active in the abolition movement in the years leading up to and during the Civil War. Residents largely backed the women’s suffrage movement.

And the town had long been dry, with an active and established Prohibition movement.

It was that reputation, along with a $9,000 grant from the Board of Trade to establish headquarters, that drew the Anti-Saloon League to the city in 1909.

“Their movement was entirely consistent with what the city was. The city was made up of churches; it was viewed as a very moral community; it was the home of a college that was led by a president who was part of the (Temperance) movement,” said Westerville resident and city law director Bruce Bailey. “I don’t think there was any moral dispute about it. It was entirely consistent with the community’s heritage as a Prohibitionist community.”

The town also had sold bonds to put a railroad through its center, something that would be essential in attracting a national organization like the Anti-Saloon League, said Beth Weinhardt, local history coordinator at the Westerville Public Library.

“The people of Westerville really created their own destiny,” Weinhardt said. “I think the city saw it as a perfect match to bring in a business that would fit with the high moral tone of the city.”

For the Board of Trade’s $9,000 contribution, the city reaped great economic rewards.

When the Anti-Saloon League moved to Westerville to open its printing shops, it brought 200 employees to the town of about 1,500 residents. The league built houses for its employees and leaders, and in its heyday, the league provided 40 percent of the city’s property-tax revenue, said local history assistant Nina Thomas.

“The post office became a first-class post office because of the volume of mail,” Weinhardt said. “The railroad would have to make long stops here to load the cars.”

From its headquarters in Westerville, the Anti-Saloon League helped launch the successful Prohibition campaign.

The league gave its financial backing to “dry” political candidates, lobbied elected officials and printed masses of Prohibition propaganda.

At the height of its power, the Anti-Saloon League was worth about $3 million in today’s dollars, Bailey said. Its Westerville printing presses churned out 40 tons of anti-alcohol materials a month.

“I think it’s fascinating; it’s amazing that it was here,” Bailey said. “It’s just an amazing story — that it happened and that it happened from the efforts of the people here.”

The materials printed and distributed by the Anti-Saloon League, along with its political lobbying tactics, ultimately brought about the passage of the 18th Amendment, prohibiting the sale of alcohol.

“They sent those things all over the world,” Weinhardt said of the propaganda printed in Westerville. “People have tried to look at it and emulate it today. It’s brilliant marketing.”

In fact, the marketing tactics ultimately were used by brewers following the repeal of Prohibition in 1933 to revive the industry, Thomas said.

Even after the end of Prohibition, the Anti-Saloon League continued its work from its headquarters, now part of the Westerville Public Library building, until 1973.

“Their money had totally dried up. They were just kind of a forgotten thing,” Weinhardt said. “They still believed in the cause. É They didn’t give up the fight, but they no longer had that clout.”

Unable to care for the building any longer, the heads of the league walked over to the library next door and handed the keys to the headquarters to the employees, Weinhardt said.

The house that held the headquarters was filled with the books and documents the league had accumulated over the years, along with materials printed by the league.

Library employees worked after hours sifting through the boxes and boxes of materials, Weinhardt said. The Ohio Historical Society was brought in to help.

Due to broken pipes, much of the material was thrown away because it was too water-damaged to salvage at the time, she said.

However, those sifting through the materials found plenty worth salvaging, Weinhardt said.

In addition to the reference materials compiled and created by the league, there was a letter signed by Abraham Lincoln, a “Jefferson Bible” and a rare book of Carleton Watkins photographs.

“It was the largest collection of anti-alcohol materials in the world,” Weinhardt said. “They found some really rare things in here.”

Many of the materials were given on permanent loan to the Ohio Historical Society. More remained in the former headquarters to become Westerville’s Anti-Saloon League Museum.

The movement, and Westerville’s role in it, were too significant to let disappear along with the league, Weinhardt said.

“That’s unique for a small town to have an organization like that. That’s truly unique. It was a small place, and yet they really pulled together to do that,” she said. “I’ve never been able to put my finger on why. You’ve got this moral-conviction thing going on here that was really strong É a really strong sense of cause.”

jnesbitt@thisweeknews.com

www.ThisWeekNEWS.com

A statue recognizing Prohibition — and Westerville’s role in it — has been designed for the city’s Bicentennial Park, but support is needed to see that statue constructed.

Law director Bruce Bailey, also a city resident, has worked with local sculptor Michael Tizzano to create a model for a sculpture that would be placed in Bicentennial Park, just north of Westerville City Hall. The city has budgeted $200,000 to renovate that park in 2014.

The sculpture would be a recreation of a Prohibition-era photograph in which New York’s police commissioner watches while two men dump a barrel of alcohol down a sewer.

To make Tizzano’s model, the scene was re-enacted and photographed in front of Westerville City Hall.

Bailey is spearheading the effort to raise $136,000 for the construction of the statue. He said he’s hoping the release of Ken Burns’ “Prohibition” documentary will spark interest in documenting Westerville’s role in the movement.

The documentary includes materials from the city’s Anti-Saloon League Museum and documents how the Westerville-based league helped to bring about Prohibition.

“You’ve got to have interest in what it’s about before you decide to contribute any money toward it,” Bailey said. “All of that, hopefully, creates the publicity, the knowledge. Then it makes sense if that happened here to commemorate it. That’s what the statue is to commemorate: the significance of what happened here.”

Bailey has been talking to some businesses and groups about contributing money toward the statue, but he’s hoping to find other residents interested in seeing it built who will help coordinate fundraising.

“What we need to do is, really, form a committee of people who will undertake this,” Bailey said. “That’s really the next step in this. If people are interested in serving, we’d want to know.”

Funds also are being collected for the statue by the Westerville Parks Foundation.

Anyone interested in donating or in joining a fundraising committee can inquire at the community center, 350 N. Cleveland Ave., or call the center at (614) 901-6500.

jnesbitt@thisweeknews.com

www.ThisWeekNEWS.com