My research on Bridgeville in 1922 generated a number of newspaper clippings related to Prohibition, bootleggers, and speakeasies; a subject area that warrants a column of its own. The story of Bridgeville in the 1920s is a complicated tale involving respectable proprietors of commercial establishments, the Borough Council, the two-man police force, police from neighboring communities, the Allegheny County Detectives Department, federal prohibition enforcement agents, and, occasionally, bootleggers.
A major actor in this tale is Bridgeville Chief of Police, William Flood. I remember Chief Flood from my grade school days as a loveable authority figure, usually in evidence at the intersection of Washington Avenue and Station Street. Among the accessories for my 1937 electric train were a handful of lead figures, including a portly policeman with his hand up stopping traffic. We promptly named him “Bill Flood”.
The Eighteenth Amendment, ratified on January 19, 1919, prohibited the “manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors”. The Volstead Act, passed on October 28, 1919 to implement it, did not prohibit home manufacture nor consumption. Each household was permitted to produce 200 gallons of wine or cider per year.
By 1922 consumption had bottomed out at about seventy percent of its pre-Prohibition level. The discerning drinker somehow was still able to find a place to “wet his whistle”, at a social club or a speakeasy. It is not clear how the social clubs handled this new situation; perhaps members were permitted to bring their own bottles.
In June, 1923, prohibition agents seized a railroad car at the Pennsylvania Railroad freight station in Bridgeville containing 1,000 cases of beer shipped by the Peerless Beverage Company to an unknown consignee. Later that year two Bridgeville residents, Joseph Harish and William Sacazk, were apprehended by officers; they had moonshine in auxiliary gas tanks attached to their automobile. In December, County Detective R. L. McMillen and Chief Flood raided several pool rooms and restaurants on Baldwin Street and found “booze in all the places” and a punch board in one.
In April, 1924, another railcar, containing 100 barrels of beer and eight barrels of alcohol, was seized at the Bridgeville freight terminal. It was addressed to the Union Storage Company.
In 1925 Allegheny County decided to crack down on social/fraternal clubs that were violating the Volstead Act. Constable Louis Fine requested permission to investigate the Italian Beneficial Society, the Order of Owls, and the German Beneficial Society in Bridgeville.
On July 17, a “posse” of officers led by Chief Flood raided forty-two establishments in Carnegie suspected of breaking the law. The raid was purported to be retaliation for similar raids in neighboring communities by a “flying squadron” led by Carnegie Police Chief Chris Keisling. At the time Keisling was a candidate for County Sheriff, opposing Allegheny County Chief of Detectives Robert A. Braun. Later that year Keisling led a team of federal agents on another raid in Bridgeville, arresting Charles Schade at the Norwood Hotel and Angelo Pepe at the Bridgeville Hotel.
On February 4, 1926, police and federal agents raided a home in Avalon, confiscated a still and 300 gallons of moonshine, and arrested, among others, Chief Flood. Forced to resign as Chief, Flood reported that he had been framed and was, himself, in the process of raiding the facility when he was falsely apprehended.
Flood’s replacement, Peter Caffrey and Policeman Anthony Borsig, had a narrow escape in March. They had just discovered a still in a vacant building on Baldwin Street when they were accosted by ten bootleggers, who immediately opened fire on them. After a four-hour gun battle, they were finally rescued; their adversaries escaped. Caffrey promptly resigned and was replaced by Anthony “Rosie” Brozek.
Flood’s problems continued in July when he was accused of posing as a federal officer and “shaking down” a suspected bootlegger. This case was dropped because of lack of evidence. He stayed out of the newspapers until October 1929 when federal agents arrested him on McLaughlin Run Road and charged him with possession and transportation of 125 gallons of moonshine. He reported that he had been out for a walk and had no connection with the incident. He was never formally charged.
On February 1, 1930, Bridgeville swore in a new Chief of Police, Raymond Fink, replacing Brozek, who had resigned because of dissension with the Borough Council.
In April, 1931, Flood was one of five Bridgeville men arrested as part of a “sting”. Five federal agents posing as bootleggers negotiated the purchase of four five-gallon cans of moonshine at the Lost Key barbecue on Bower Hill Road for thirty dollars, then picked it up at a club at 806 McLaughlin Run Road. They returned and apprehended Flood, and his companions. The alleged malfeasants were remanded to federal court in Elkins, West Virginia for trial. The trial was postponed when Flood developed ruptured hernia and was transferred to a hospital there for treatment.
On December 5, 1933, the Twenty-first Amendment was ratified, repealing Prohibition. The popular vote for repeal was 74% for and 26% against. In Bridgeville, the vote was 896 for repeal; 142 against repeal. Flood’s trial was still pending when a Supreme Court decision on February 6, 1934, granted amnesty to all persons under indictment, including him.
John Maioli had replaced Fink as chief in 1934; he resigned in1936 when the Democrats regained control of the Borough Council by a 4 to 3 margin. No one was surprised when William Flood was announced as the new Chief. Flood then served with distinction until his death in June, 1941.
Life in Bridgeville was certainly exciting in the Prohibition Era. It was often difficult to differentiate between the “good guys” and the “bad guys”, and to pass judgment on the folks involved. As for me, I prefer to remember Bill Flood in a blue uniform, with his white-gloved hand up high, stopping traffic as the Commodore Vanderbilt bears down on the railroad crossing.