Just before Christmas, the Eaton County Historical Commission released its second book chronicling an interesting facet of county history. The commission’s first book was about the one-room schoolhouses of Eaton County. The second book, “Sprits of The Past,” offers, “An intoxicating look at the history of Alcohol, Temperance, Prohibition, and Brewing in Eaton County, Michigan.”
The roughly 108-page book is seven chapters of county history, old and new alcohol establishments, and different uses for libations through the generations.
The Historical Commission started work on the project in early 2017. The lengthy research process involved reading through old newspapers, visiting various sites around the county, and viewing sources from outside Eaton County. All of the research led the contributing writers through a fascinating history of prohibition, skirting around the law, and the attempts to keep Eaton County dry.
During the mid-1800s, Eaton Rapids was the center of both debauchery and hardline temperance movement. In Woodbury was a train engine turn around station, where men would ride in from outside the county to fill their buckets full of beer. In 1871 Charlotte was home to one of Eaton County’s first breweries. In Eaton Rapids, Abie’s is the former home of Eaton County’s first bar.
The research for the book was not easy for the Historical Commission, however. While the contributors found many fascinating stories and accounts of alcohol production, they were surprised at what they didn’t find. Although chapter five of the book includes a few snippets of stories from the prohibition era, there are no grand stories of rum running, white lightning distilleries, or raids from law enforcement. Still, the book doesn’t spare what details there are of the locals who dodged the law.
Eaton County itself went back and forth on the topic of alcohol production and consumption many times throughout its history. Long before prohibition Eaton County was wet, then dry, then wet again. Bar owners struggled for a long time in an environment that was hostile to their business, and their customers.
But after surviving the temperance movement, various bouts of outlawing alcohol, prohibition, and the hangover of towns that wanted to remain dry as late as the 1960s, Eaton County now has its own culture of craft breweries. Charlotte Brewing Company, EagleMonk Pub and Brewery, BrickHaven Brewing Company, Sanctuary Spirits, and Dimes Brewhouse are recent additions to the ongoing history of alcohol and restaurants in Eaton County. The book looks briefly at these establishments, and their role in the county, as well as their place in the larger trend of craft breweries in the United States.
“Spirits of The Past” costs $15 and can be found at the historic Eaton County Courthouse, and other select locations. Upcoming author events for the book include 2 p.m. on Feb. 4 at BrickHaven Brewing Company in Grand Ledge, 7 p.m. on Feb. 6 at Sanctuary Spirits in Grand Ledge, and 6 p.m. on Feb. 13 at Delta Township Library in Lansing. To learn more about the book, or about the Eaton County Historical Commission, readers can email firstname.lastname@example.org.