Booze Over the Border
by Mary Ducharme (April 2016)
On the international line Hemmingfordians had a front row seat during American prohibition (1920-1933). While the smuggling of liquor was illegal, most people did not regard it as immoral to take advantage when opportunity knocked. While ill-gotten gain seldom has positive results, local farmers widely used smuggling as a second job to raise cash for family needs, land, or their first tractor.
In March of 1923, as reported by The Gleaner, there were “disquieting rumours” about big preparations for running liquor from Canada. In Chazy huge, battered touring cars were alleged to be stored in every available hiding place. There was a description of “rat-faced” fellows obliterating engine numbers, switching licenses, and waiting for nightfall. They were “roughnecks of the lowest description. . . . who do not care about prohibition laws or any other laws.”
Of considerable entrepreneurial talent in illegal affairs, Toussaint J. Trombley, known as “TJ” ran a loading station for bootlegging purposes from his house at 26 Nichols Road. His property straddled the border. It was said that a bootlegger could drive up to Trombley’s collection of barns and sheds, load up in five minutes, and skedaddle south to distribution hubs, such as railroad cars marked “Hay” or “Oil” in Willsboro, “blind pigs”, or the address of 76 Prospect Avenue in Plattsburgh. In fact, no border agent was assigned to the area of the Hemmingford line, and the Border Patrol did not have the manpower to be effective. Any official looking in the wrong direction at the right time found his pockets well lined. Of course, there was risk of being jailed and disgraced. “Booze cars” seized by authorities were regularly advertised in newspapers for sale at bargain prices.
Trombley’s activities became so vexing to American authorities that Secretary of the Treasury Andrew W. Mellon was taken to task at a Senate meeting for not providing enough prohibition agents. Senator Brookhart, an avid prohibition man from Iowa, visited the house on Nichols Road, and reported his observations which were quoted in the Plattsburgh Press Republican on November 7, 1929: “His house is built on the line on the American side and connected with the house there is a long shed which the officers said would hold five automobiles. On the other side of the line a little way over is what looks like a barn, but I was told it was his liquor storehouse. When the roads are not guarded for ten minutes an automobile will slip out of that shed over across the Canadian line . . . . Once in a while they catch one of them, but not often.”
It is interesting to note that the day before, in another article in the Press, this same Brookhart complained of wild booze parties by some Republican senators at a hotel in Washington D.C. At one legislative function, guests were given silver hip flasks as party favours. In January of 1931, Toussaint was deported from Canada as an undesirable and turned over to U.S. immigration authorities in Rouses Point. He was posted with $7,000 bail and in a federal court he was charged with conspiracy along with three Sciota customs officers. Booze running also worked in the other direction, from the US to Canada. In September of 1924, a special Liquor Commission border patrol was set up to stop the flow of alcohol leaking into Quebec, perceived as a serious crimp in government revenue from liquor duties. Patrolling the border were squads of armed police on motorcycles with sidecars. It made little impact on traffic. Much was sold by the glass or bottle in small towns and villages in the northern part of the province that did not have Liquor Commission stores. There was a “floating paradise” for the local thirsty population on a scow on the Salmon River at Dundee. The scow featured sleeping and eating quarters, an orchestra, and hundreds of cases of illegal beer.
After prohibition, the entrepreneurial spirit of Touissant Trombley remained, and in 1939, he was arrested for membership in an auto-theft ring criminally receiving stolen property. His bail was set at $10,000. He pled not guilty.
Note: this TJ was a distant “cousin” to Mary Trombly Ducharme, and TJ’s second wife, Dorothy Abare, was a great aunt to Mary’s husband, Richard Ducharme.
The Archives is preparing an in-depth study on the subject of the Prohibition years as it applied to our region. If you have stories or information to contribute, contact the Archives at email@example.com