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Beer Wars: Wets vs. Drys on the North Shore

Through July 2019
Main Gallery

The exhibit chronicles the story of Chicago breweries and of North Shore saloons and their battles against temperance activists who advocated for their demise. The earliest taverns in the area were established in the 1830s. By 1855, Northwestern University amended its charter to assert that no alcohol could be sold within four miles of the campus, thus created an immediate division between the wets and the drys. When area villages began to incorporate after the Civil War, the towns of Evanston, Wilmette, Kenilworth, Winnetka and Glencoe became dry, while Skokie, Glenview, and Gross Point remained wet. The new exhibit includes a special section about the saloons of Gross Point (now largely part of Wilmette).  Historic photos and ads, as well as a section of an original bar counter are featured along with other saloon amenities. 

Between 1905 and 1917, local legislation across the nation was passed that forced many areas dry before Prohibition. In Illinois, it was a local option law passed in 1907. However, it was the 18th Amendment to the US Constitution that finally prohibited the nation-wide sale and manufacture of alcohol beginning in 1920. Prohibition was generally a failure, and the exhibit showcases examples of problems that arose – from illegal sales of alcohol to murder and infiltration by organized crime.  In 1933, the 21st amendment repealing Prohibition was ratified.  Yet, many North Shore communities voted to maintain their temperance ties and remained dry. Not until the 1970s and later did Wilmette and other nearby villages legalize the sale of alcohol in their towns.