Beardstowners, booze and billy goats

“No resident from Beardstown shall be admitted into Arenzville for the next thirty days.” So said the town fathers in 1881.  Further reading of the town board minutes indicates that the ban on Beardstowners was not a result of an argument over football or Burgoo recipes, but rather a smallpox epidemic was running rampant over our neighboring community. Just to make sure no one snuck in, a special policeman was hired to stand at the train depot to ask folks where they’d come from. To be doubly sure that the dreaded disease didn’t creep into town, all churches, schools and secret societies were banned from meeting. 

A cursory scan of any town’s early laws and statutes is reason for a bit of chuckling, and as Arenzville celebrates its 175th anniversary, we find that our little burg had its share of weird official notices. 

At the very first village board meeting on July 9th of 1853, the committee declared that every person in town would be required to give an unspecified number of days to “Road Labor.” If you didn’t show up you were fined seventy-five cents. If your horse died on the street you had only four hours to remove the body and the noncompliance fine was from one to five bucks, depending I suppose upon the size of the horse.  You could be fined the same amount for throwing manure onto the streets. 

This next one needs a bit more description: “No person shall make or cause to be made within the limits of said town any indecent exhibition of himself or of any horse or other animal.” Perhaps some things are best left unsaid. The fine was up to ten dollars.

Grocery stores couldn’t allow gambling or keep an “indecent house” on the premises. Full-service grocery stores were still years away. The term “grocery” was broad in the 19th century, covering almost any type of establishment, but they were to also set the moral tone of Arenzville since allowing swearing in your store could also result in a ten buck fine.

The town square was fenced off in the 1850’s and you could receive a fine if you let your livestock graze there. There’s no mention of what would happen if the animal also cussed, drank, and made an indecent display. 

Sunday “blue laws” were very much a part of every Midwest town’s statutes and Arenzville was no exception…that is, with a few exceptions. The town’s German population kept their village a “wet town” during various probation periods in other cities, including Jacksonville. For example, in 1867 the town council decreed that saloon keepers should keep their doors shut on Sundays. A patron could enter and leave the tavern but he had to shut the door behind him. However, in 1868 they did pass a statute declaring that the shooting of air guns in taverns would be prohibited…on Sundays only. 

Then there are the ordinances that simply defy any modern explanation. On May 27 of 1871 the village board decided to build a wall for their town jail. One can only assume that jailbreaks were common before the wall was added. The town had a cemetery from its earliest days but until 1876 there was no road leading into it. I suppose you had to die there to get there. You couldn’t run a train through town at any speed faster than six miles an hour. High-speed rail was still many years off. However, two weeks later this speed limit was repealed since in order for a train to climb out of the Illinois River bottom and up the Arenzville hill, six mph just wouldn’t cut it. In June of 1894 the board allowed the town’s first slot machine. In December of 1893 they voted to buy 70 lights for the streets in case electricity ever made it to Arenzville. Things went wild in 1904 when the council voted to extend the town’s 8 p.m. curfew until 9 p.m. In 1905 we officially stopped all throwing and catching of balls on Frederick Street and the removal of all odiferous hog pens. In that same year the town marshal was ordered to be “more severe” with the young boys who’d been gathering at night to cause mischief.  This is what comes from extending the curfew until 9 p.m. In April of 1907 the town fathers realized that their village’s bank account was overdrawn by $4.01. In 1911 we taxed dogs for the first time, and in 1931 a certain Mr. Weeks was ordered to move his goats, disinfect his stable, and move his Billy goat outside the city limits. It was not noted if Billy had broken the six mph speed limit. 

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About the author

Ken Bradbury is an adjunct instructor of theatre at LLLC after retiring from Triopia. He entertains on the Spirit of Peoria riverboat and is the author of over 300 published plays. Website:

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