A Little History
Our country’s history is fascinating, and there is no time like the Prohibition Era to get your imagination turning! The 18th Amendment, which was passed in 1919 and stayed in effect until it was repealed by the 21st Amendment in 1933, outlawed the sale, transportation and manufacture of “intoxicating liquors.” As quickly as it took effect, the law produced some badass lawbreakers, none more badass than Sally Miller Smith.
At this time in our history, most women supported “temperance.” Temperance meant abstaining from drinking liquor, which people considered to be bad for families and marriages, and showed a weak moral character. Sally, however, did not agree. She thought Prohibition was ridiculous, and she quickly figured out a way to provide liquor to the people who wanted to drink. According to all accounts, Sally loved her liquor, and she figured Prohibition would be a pain for others who wanted to drink, as well!
One place you can go in the Adirondacks where you can learn a little about the Prohibition Era and a lot about Sally Miller Smith is the Silver Spruce Inn Bed & Breakfast in Schroon Lake. You can find it located on Route 9 an easy drive off the Northway. I visited there this week, looking for information on badass women of the Adirondacks, and met Phyllis and Eldon Steelman, owners of the Silver Spruce B&B.
Visiting the Bed and Breakfast
Phyllis and Eldon happened to be between guests when I arrived, so they had some time to tell me some stories about Sally, who is a local legend. She owned the Silver Spruce B&B long before Phyllis and her late husband Clifford bought it in August of 1981. According to my hosts, Sally added on to her house in 1926, just before Prohibition began, and ran a speakeasy in the basement during the whole Prohibition era. It was set up perfectly for this purpose, too; Sally had purchased the bar from the original Waldorf Astoria in New York City, just before it was torn down (that’s the site of the Empire State Building now). She had the bar brought up to Schroon Lake and installed in her basement. It was there that she held some wild parties, and where she ran the speakeasy when drinking became illegal.
According to legend, Sally knew Prohibition was coming, and she refused to have it cramp her style. Just before the law took effect, she purchased all the alcohol at three local liquor stores, hiding it in a whole host of places throughout the bed and breakfast. As we spoke about Sally, Phyllis and Eldon showed me around their quaint B&B, pointing out some of the hiding spots, many that I would never have guessed. There were hidden cubbies with shelves behind false walls that looked like bookcases. Walking down the stairs on the left there was a shelf the entire way down. Behind this shelf, that now holds antiques, was another hidden compartment, where Sally hid more alcohol! It was fascinating to find all the hidden spots, and very clever of Sally to build them to help her skirt the law. To keep the speakeasy going during the 14 years of Prohibition, Sally would travel to Montreal, filling her suitcases with booze and shipping them home to Schroon Lake.
Sitting downstairs in the speakeasy, I was taken back in time. I felt like the atmosphere hasn’t really changed in the years since Sally was holding her parties, and you could feel the history in the room. I laid a hand on the bar, and could really appreciate the effort Sally made to make sure she and others could continue to enjoy themselves at a time when drinking was considered evil. As we sat there, Phyllis and Eldon shared a few more stories about Sally, one that I thought was hilarious, and made me wish I could meet her. As the story goes, during one of her parties in her speakeasy, Sally had had a bit too much to drink, and tripped when she was coming down the stairs. She tumbled down the stairs, but when she got to the bottom, she popped up and went right to the bar, saying, “Get me another drink!” Sally was not what you would expect of the women of her time, but the people in the community loved her and her eccentric style.
I certainly enjoyed meeting Phyllis and Eldon and learning about badass Sally Miller Smith. I will definitely be going back to stay at the Silver Spruce Inn B&B, and I hope to learn more about Sally while I’m there. Visitors should check out the Schroon Lake website for more information. It’s a piece of American history that you’ll be glad you took the time to visit. Of course, while you're in the neighborhood, you should plan a stop at some of our local dining establishments - you never know, they may have hidden cabinets and fun stories to share as well!