The story of suds in west Green Bay
By Ryan Swadley
Neville Public Museum
GREEN BAY – While the name Fort Howard strikes up memories of the prominent paper manufacturer headquartered in Green Bay for nearly a century, serious history buffs will know the moniker originated first with the American military fort on the Fox River in 1816 and later as the name of Green Bay’s largest neighboring city.
While traces of the independent town of Fort Howard can still be found today, the city was annexed by Green Bay in 1895 after years of negotiations and resistance by citizens on the west side of the river.
One of the many curious side effects of the east-west side rivalry (aside from bridges that span diagonally across the river to connect streets with different names) is no saloons were allowed in the old city limits of Fort Howard past Broadway.
Rumors circulated the reason for this was a large landowner and teetotaler donated land to the city with the caveat liquor could not be sold in that district, but the real story is a bit more complicated.
As early as the 1870s the temperance movement had gained a foothold in Wisconsin, and in the Green Bay area hoards of drunken lumberjacks illustrated the evils of alcohol to the townspeople of Fort Howard.
In 1885, the Wisconsin Legislature granted local governments the right to set the price for a liquor license higher than the state minimum of $200.
Activists in both Green Bay and Fort Howard moved to increase the amount to $500 to squeeze out low-class saloons; the attempt failed in Green Bay, but succeeded in Fort Howard.
Three years later, the liquor license fee in Fort Howard was increased again to $1,000 while remaining just $200 across the river, dropping the number of west side taverns to a quarter of what there had been in 1885.
Meanwhile, several previous attempts by Green Bay to annex the city of Fort Howard had been defeated, in large part due to the pride of Fort Howard’s townsfolk who did not wish to be absorbed by a neighbor twice their size.
Only when leaders began speaking of the merger as a consolidation rather than an annexation, did the citizens start to come around.
Seeing the writing on the wall, officials in Fort Howard sought concessions from Green Bay, including a compromise on the liquor tax – Fort Howard agreed to lower its rate back down to match the $200 fee in Green Bay, but in return demanded that no saloons could be established west of Broadway.
On April 2, 1895 referendum results came back in favor of a union between Fort Howard and Green Bay.
It is said spontaneous parades and bonfires broke out in the streets, and an old cannon from the real Fort Howard was fired.
The ban on booze west of Broadway was enshrined in law and stood for over 100 years, when a popular referendum passed in 2005 that allowed liquor to be served at hotels and restaurants.
To see an upcoming exhibit schedule, purchase tickets and learn more about local history in Brown County, visit NevillePublicMuseum.org.