The long gone Ye Ark Saloon stood at 15 East Ohio Street, approximately where the Chase Tower lobby entrance is located today. (Image: Evan Finch)
This past weekend, the nation’s eyes were focused on Indianapolis during the NCAA Men’s Final Four Basketball Championship. Early reviews are glowing, and area merchants are boasting record revenues, even beating out the 2012 Super Bowl. This is a welcome sign after a week of controversy and heated dialogue in fear that some of our visitors and neighbors may not have felt so welcome. Thankfully, cooler heads appear to be prevailing, and we can continue to be a great destination for visitors and residents alike. This is not the first time there has been controversy over who may enter an establishment. During the height of the temperance movement, saloons that had the audacity to admit women made headlines.
By April of 1907, Indianapolis Mayor Charles Bookwalter (1860-1926) had apparently had enough. The Fort Wayne newspaper man came to Indianapolis in 1887 as clerk of the State Printing Bureau. Bookwalter ran for mayor five times, winning in 1901 and 1906. He lost the 1903 election after coming under attack over his inability to get a handle on the city’s saloons and gambling halls. Perhaps this became motivation for focusing on the little bar sitting in the shadow of the Soldiers and Sailors Monument. The first mentioning of the Ye Ark Saloon can be found in 1904, under the proprietorship of Peter Schmitz. By April of 1907, the establishment became the focus of an effort to “clean up” the Indianapolis saloon culture. Mayor Bookwalter specifically mentioned Ye Ark for the “despicable” act of allowing women to congregate. Patrolmen made frequent trips to the bar in attempts to rid them of such a “dangerous” clientele. Their diligence paid off with the arrest of four women.
It may seem rather silly today to make such an issue out of the business dealings of a bar today; however, alcohol was the hot-button issue in 1907. In February of that year Samuel Altman, a judge in Boone County held that saloons could not be licensed by Indiana under the guise that liquor was detrimental to society. The oppositions countered in March by passing a “blind tiger” law, allowing more than a quart of liquor to be sold to an individual as long as he had a written statement from a druggist stating that it was for medical use. Shortly thereafter, a special session met by order of Governor Frank Hanly (1863-1920) to enact the local-option liquor law, allowing counties to vote for themselves on whether to be “dry” or “wet.”
By 1909, the little bar that caused such a stir was gone. The site became the Hume-Mansur Building where many a person received different kinds of medicine. The next year, seventy Indiana Counties were voted “dry” by the public, and the entire state was on the wagon by 1918, preceding the national law by two years. In 1933, Americans were once again able to wash away their sorrows. Women could partake by then, but wouldn’t be allowed to sit at a bar until 1969. Think about that the next time you’re shouting your drink order to the bartender.
What are some of the silliest state or local ordinances you can remember?
The Indianapolis News, February 13th, 1907
The Indianapolis Star, February 14th, 1907
The Indianapolis News, April 12th, 1907
The Encyclopedia of Indianapolis, 1994, Indiana University Press
Polk’s City Directory, 1899, 1904, 1909