In 1920, the US government, at the request mostly of a new army of female voters in America, turned off the tap that had served Americans cold beer and liquor. The Volstead Act made the sale of alcohol illegal throughout the forty-eight states.
A nation surrounded by water rose up to provide. Liquor came ashore from all directions: the Pacific Coast, the Gulf of Mexico, the Caribbean, the Atlantic Coast, and across the Great Lakes from Canada. Our story looks at the smuggling from Canada across Lake Ontario. Since colonial times, liquor had been brought legally and illegally, usually to sidestep the paying of taxes on the products. Now it was brought into the country to provide what the government had tried to take away. The Volstead Act inadvertently created a whole new smuggling system. New terms came into the general vocabulary: Prohibition agent, speakeasy, rum runners (who brought the illegal cargo in by water), and bootleggers (who drove the liquor along the nation’s roadways). Our story will be mainly focused on the rum runners, although the bootleggers will be represented as well.
My grandfather, Charles Frederick Scharping, owned a farm on Lower Lake Road that bordered Lake Ontario. In 1955, my parents built a cottage on the farm at the edge of the lake. The spot where our cottage was located, on Scharping Lane, was the spot where rum runners would bring their illegal cargoes. They sold them to the bootleggers for cash. These rum runners braved over fifty miles of water from the shores of Orleans County to the pickup points along the Canadian shore. The return trips were challenged by weather, hijackers, and the US Coast Guard. Waves up to eight feet tall were common during the frequent storms. Many lost their lives.
This Volstead Law lasted for twelve years. It was a bloody time where fortunes were made and lives lost.