Mansfield's Spirited Debate

Mansfield's Spirited Debate

One of the enduring debates in the history of Mansfield has been the legal sale of liquor in the borough. In the 150 years of the borough’s existence, liquor has only been legally sold for 39 years.

There is evidence, though, that liquor was sold before the incorporation of the borough.

With the support of such notable figures as Mansfield State Normal School Principal Fordyce Allen and former state Representative Simon B. Elliott, the state legislature banned the sale of intoxicating beverages within two miles of the school. That effectively banned liquor, beer, and wine sales within the borough.

The Wellsboro law firm of Cox, Stokes, and Lantz, P.C. located a copy of the law, which was approved by the state Legislature. The law read in part: “That from and after the passage of this act, no license of shall be issued to any person, or persons, to sell any spirituous, vinous, malt, or brewed, liquors, for drinking purposes, within a radius of two miles of the Normal school at Mansfield, Tioga County, Pa.”

Section two of the act set a fine of $50 to $200 for a violation. A second violation also provided for imprisonment of up to three months in addition to the fine. Section two did exempt anyone who previously held a license from the provisions of the act until the license expired.

At least one person was convicted under the act. Mansfield resident Thomas Hatfield was indicted of violating the act in November 1886. He appealed the ruling and in 1888 the state Supreme Court found a “writ of error” in his favor. Specifically, according to a Wellsboro Agitator article and the opinion in the case, the court found that the title of the act did not mention an exemption for licenses. The court reasoned that, since the point about licensing was in the same section with penalties, the section was unconstitutional. Therefore, while Hatfield may have been guilty, he could not be fined.

We have not uncovered how the Legislature followed up on the ruling.

Prohibition did not appear to have stemmed drunkenness in the town. In 1981, Phyllis Swinsick, a local historian, wrote in the Wellsboro Gazette that the Mansfield Borough Council found the problem of drunkenness so intolerable that it passed an ordinance providing for a fine of $1-$10 and 48 hours imprisonment for public drunkenness.

The ban did not stop those who wanted to drink. In the 1880’s, folks could take the Blossburg-Corning Railroad to Blossburg. One night, four Mansfield State Normal boys went to Blossburg to drink. On the return trip, boisterous boys annoyed the other passengers. They wound up in a fight with a very strong brakeman.

The brakeman won. The boys reportedly were thrown off the train and were not heard from for two days.

The rest of the U.S. followed the lead of dry towns like Mansfield when the 18th Amendment was approved December 18, 1917. The Amendment empowered the U.S. Congress to pass laws restricting the “manufacture, or sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquor” in the United States. Nine months later, on Oct. 28, Congress passed enabling Legislation, the Volstead Act.

The New York Sun opined in 1919 that 1 million men “would be thrown onto the labor market.” While alcohol was officially banned, people continued to drink illegally. It was not unusual for otherwise law abiding citizens to patronize illegal “speakeasies” while police looked the other way. The two major problems of the period were the rise of organized crime to make and distribute alcohol and the number of deaths that resulted from dangerous concoctions like “bathtub gin.”

There is no evidence that a speakeasy ever existed in Mansfield.

The 21st Amendment repealed Prohibition. It was fully ratified by the states December 5, 1933. However, subsequent legislation allowed municipalities to decide whether to allow the sale of alcohol, which is what Mansfield did. However, alcohol could be brought into a dry municipality and legally consumed. People who wanted to drink at taverns often went to Wellsboro, Blossburg, Troy, and New York.

In 1973, Mansfield Borough held a referendum asking voters to decide whether or not liquor and beer or just beer could be legally sold in the municipality. The beer only sales proposal failed 439-358 and the liquor and beer sales question was defeated 437-359. The vote was held after the Mansfield State College students had left for summer break. Eight years later, in 1981, Mansfield held another referendum. Unlike the previous vote, the students were in town and many registered to vote on the question. The local ordinance was changed as voters approved liquor and beer sales by a vote of 407-348.

Under Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board rules, one liquor license was available for every 2,000 residents, based on the 1980 census, which showed Mansfield had a population of 3,327 people. Within a week of the May 19th 1981 vote, four establishments applied for licenses. “Now everyone is in a tizzy as to who will get a license to ply the populace with legal libations,” Phyllis Swinsick reported in the August 5, 1981 issue of the Gazette. Mark’s Brothers Restaurant received the only available license Dec. 22.

Mark Brother’s owner, Scott Bixby, recalled that he was on his way to see family in St. Louis when he received the news. He received his official copy of the license in January, 1982. After some remodeling, Mark’s Brothers started selling alcohol legally in February. He sold his first drink to his father, Britton Bixby on Friday evening, Feb. 5. The Wellsboro Gazette ran the photo on the front page of the Feb. 10 issue.

The Comfort Inn and the Main Street Lounge restaurant, (later named the Edgewood Restaurant) had bars under the hotel exemptions. These bars did not count toward the 2000 resident limit, the May 27, 1981 Gazette Article explained. The Edgewood Restaurant (which saw further incarnations as Jimmy Crackers, then the University Club) later stopped serving alcohol when ownership of the adjacent motel, the Mansfield Inn, was split from the restaurant.

New PLCB rules allowed for liquor licenses to be transferred among municipalities within the same county with borough council approval. In February 1981, the Mansfield Borough Council approved a transfer from the Tioga Borough. In March it also approved a transfer from Wellsboro. The University Club served for a few months before discontinuing sales. The restaurant closed in early 2007. The Wren’s Nest Restaurant which was built by early settler Dr. Joseph P. Morris as one of the earlier homes on the western side of the Tioga River, served alcohol until its closing in early 2014.

Dr. Rick Lucero, professor of education at Mansfield University, acquired the license that was held by the former University Club. In November, 2007 he opened Changos (Spanish for Monkeys) on North West side of Main Street. The establishment became the second bona fide bar in Mansfield.

For better or for worse, the Mansfield Borough was dry for 111 years.