March 5, 2021
Written by 
Luke F. McCusker III

Wrestling the Creature

Baltimore's early Irish parishes were often led by native sons of the Emerald Isle, and West Baltimore's St. Peter the Apostle Catholic Church was no exception. Their first pastor was Edward McColgan, born on May 5, 1812, in County Donegal, Ireland. He was a member of a farming family who lived in the coastal town of Cloncha, part of the Culdaff parish . Some family members decided to go to America, and young Edward sailed for New York with his brother Patrick. They arrived on June 27, 1831.

John McColgan, Edward’s older brother, was living in Baltimore by 1831, listed in the City Directory as a rum and cordial distiller. The entire McColgan family eventually joined him, including John’s parents, four brothers and two sisters.

Several of the McColgan brothers joined John in the liquor and grocery trades, as did the boy’s father. Edward chose another path, becoming a student at St Mary’s College, where he studied from 1834-1836. He enrolled in Saint Mary’s Seminary upon his completion of college courses, under the instruction of the Sulpician order.

Edward was ordained on September 1, 1839 and was first assigned to serve at Boone’s Chapel, a historic structure built in 1710, just after the Catholic community was allowed to return to the practice of public worship...albeit in modest settings. John Carroll, America’s first bishop, had been baptized there in 1735, and Rev. McColgan served there in 1840 and 1841. It was located near the parishes of Prince George’s County. Marlboro and Piscataway were nearby, but the towns were some 17 miles apart. Each was a developed, affluent tobacco shipping port.

The rugged men of the parish had a decided affection for the drink, and the young priest saw a pattern of excess among his congregants. McColgan had become part of an American culture that drank far more than the Irish back home, and at twice the rate of modern Americans. He decided it was best to encourage the men towards abstinence.

More than one of the farmers and plantation owners were a bit incredulous, as McColgan was not averse to a wee drop of the creature. He knew what he had to do, and took the pledge himself. It became a foundation and distinctive of his pastoral ministry that would last 59 years.

Archbishop Eccleston saw his young priest as a perfect fit for a new parish in West Baltimore, and McColgan was named pastor of St. Peter the Apostle Catholic Church in 1842. He visited the Baltimore Alms House on several occasions, offering spiritual help to those who sheltered there, and saw that the Irish were a disproportionately high percentage of the residents, often due to their excesses with alcohol. He made the decision to intervene in lives of boys and men at earlier stages, trying to prevent a life of dissipation among his Baltimore congregants.

​A group of men met at St Peter’s Schoolhouse on October 23, 1842 to establish the Young Catholic’s Friend Society. Its purpose was to lend material and spiritual support to young Catholics of the area, especially those experiencing neglect or abandonment. This organization was led by Father McColgan, and was begun in response to the plight of many abandoned and neglected boys on the streets of Baltimore.

Rev. McColgan's emphasis became a position advocating for total abstinence, and he formed several church organizations towards that end, culminating in the establishment of the Society of the Sacred Thirst, where men were encouraged to seek Living Water, rather than the destructive drink that had ravaged many families. This organization became both a national and international Catholic ministry, and had considerable effect in the Baltimore area, with special level of success in the Irish parishes of his time. That being said, temperance men were still known to celebrate, albeit in different ways.

March 17, 1873 was a sunny pleasant day, and Baltimore’s Irish took advantage of the weather by participating in the annual St. Patrick’s Day festivities. Early masses were crowded that Monday morning, but nowhere more so than St. Patrick Catholic Church at Broadway and Bank Streets. Much fanfare was held at the Oliver Hibernian Free School, on present day Guilford Avenue, and many students received special awards from the Hibernian Society that were reserved for the day.

These morning gatherings were a perquisite to the day’s largest celebration. Some 4,500 Irishmen gathered in the center of the city, meeting as organizations and divisions on various side streets that stretched several blocks. Irish symbols were abundant, with the traditional “Wearing of the Green” the most predominant symbol of Irishness among them. These thousands were led by a gathering of Assistant Marshals that represented Irish organizations from Baltimore City, each mounted on horses.

The grand Marshal, Col. E.T. Joyce, led the procession through Baltimore, which provided a huge appreciative audience for the annual parade. Four divisions of marchers followed these community leaders east on Baltimore Street, eventually passing St. Patrick’s Church and the Battle Monument, where appropriate celebrations were held by church and civic leaders.

Each of the divisions of marchers featured men from various Irish organizations, but none was larger than that of the parade’s Fourth Division. They were led by prominent pastors from the Catholic community, including Rev. Edward McColgan of West Baltimore’s St. Peter the Apostle Church, Rev. Edmund Didier of St. Vincent de Paul and Father McManus of St. John the Evangelist. The division’s pastors rode in barouches drawn by four horses each.

They were followed by 1,000 men devoted to temperance. First in line were the societies of St. Peter’s Church, led by a band. They were the largest temperance group among the cities’ parishes, with 150 marchers.

Father McColgan was a moderating influence on an immigrant Irish parish with thousands of laborers who were not unfamiliar with having a drink or two at the end of a hard work day, or during the work day for that matter. His influence was a broad one, and Irish families benefited from a respected voice for temperance within their immigrant community.

And yet there were others....

Not everyone bought in to the Total Abstinence drumbeat of both Catholic and Protestant ministers of the era. Baltimore had 1,784 licensed saloons in 1908, and they were found on many corners, with the proprietor and his family living upstairs. An example of this is McGillen's Pub, located directly across the street from our Museum. It was located at 917 Lemmon Street, a modest alley street address. How many men could have fit in that first floor room...20-25 or so? This was a typical scenario; small places, often opening for lunch and a beer or two for men on their break at the B & O Railroad's Mount Clare Shops(or elsewhere), and re-opening after the work day was over. Men of modest means were certainly not having the fellas over in their man-cave. Homes were the domain of women and children, and men socialized at the bars nearby.

Local fellas in the parish above Mount Clare Station saw the corner bar as a place to relax and socialize with friends. Amos Town was such a guy; his cigar smoking wasn't allowed inside the house, and he liked to sit outside in front of Naiman's Store at 101 S. Arlington Avenue for a bit of pleasure.

When weather turned cold, Amos moved his cigar smoking inside at Winehoff's Tavern (on the other corner).

(Thanks to Les and Stephanie Town for this fun image).

And that's when the trouble began...

Many railroad men spent their lunch hour in their favorite bar, and a few evenings as well, but you can only fit so many Irishmen in a pub. One man that knew this to be true was Morris Lasky, who applied for a bar license on February 24, 1905 for 759 W. Baltimore Street., just two blocks from St. Peter the Apostle Catholic Church. It would be located at the Northeast corner of the Alexandroffsky estate, owned by the Hutton family. They were less than receptive to the idea, and hired Ferdinand C. Latrobe, a seven time mayor of Baltimore, to defend their interests.

The Hutton family was of the opinion that the 18 bars that existed in a two block radius were quite enough.

For some reason, the Liquor Board thought if 18 was good...well, 19 was better. They approved the bar license, and the trouble began.

A neighborhood man was shot there in February 1906, after some heated arguments. Charles Cook, a private detective, smashed up the place in May, 1909 while arresting a deserter from the U.S. Army. The bar was closed by May 1, 1913.When asked for the reason for closing the bar, Addison E. Milliken, of the Liquor Board, stated that beer was sold there for 3 cents a glass, and as a consequence the bar drew some of the worst elements in the city.

​Despite the bar's posted sign that stated that they were the “Workingmen’s Friend”, the Board determined that the bar was a menace to the neighborhood.

(View of Alexandroffsky Estate from St. Peter's Church)

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