From bootleggers to car dealers Historical Society president, June Reynolds, pens third book on Sherwood history
June Reynolds, Sherwood's unofficial historian, has taken her third swipe at chronicling the vast and varied history of Sherwood, recently releasing her new book, "Sherwood: A Sense of Lives and Times, Volume II: 1920 to 1939, The History of Sherwood, Oregon."
"It came out in July for the Robin Hood Festival," said Reynolds, who spent 11 years as the head librarian at Sherwood High School. "We're covering the Roaring '20s and the Depression era."
Reynolds' interest in Sherwood history came alive years ago when she discovered there was so little of it and she decided to do something about it.
The cover of her latest work features Washington Hill (now Washington Street) during a snowstorm in the winter of 1920. The book weighs in at 380 pages that took Reynolds seven years to complete.
"I had three printers break, two computers break down, and one gigantic database system I had, just went belly up," she said during an interview at the Morback House, home of the Sherwood Historical Society. "I was very frustrated."
The book picks up where her last one, "Sherwood: Tales from the Attic, Continued Volume 1: 1859 to 1919," left off, covering some of the rowdier eras in Sherwood history, including Prohibition.
While the nationwide constitutional ban on alcohol was in place from 1920 to 1933, Sherwood got into the act early.
"Prohibition was already going on in Sherwood because it started in 1911," said Reynolds.
But like the rest of the nation, the city found ways around it.
"Of course, there were all kinds of stills," said Reynolds, who is also president of the Sherwood Historical Society.
In addition, there were several "fake buildings" and "fake farms" around the area, structures whose real purpose was to produce or store alcohol during Prohibition, Reynolds explained.
One of those was on Elwert Road.
"It was a beautiful home and nobody lived in it," Reynolds said; she believes it was being used to make moonshine.
In another incident, a cow fell through the floor of an abandoned house, landing on a still below the floor boards.
While alcohol was banned in the city, Sherwood got around the so-called "blue laws," ordinances cities often use to enforce religious standards involving a ban on alcohol and certain types of entertainment on Sundays.
One "blue law" Sherwood thumbed its nose at was dancing on Sundays, with scores of local and nonlocal residents flocking to Star Hall in Old Town for Sunday night dances.
"Around the dance halls were the stills and places where people were boot-legging," said Reynolds, who relied heavily on city records, newspaper articles, dozens of interviews and the personal collections of Clyde List, Sherwood's other noted historian.
In Reynolds' research, she found that throughout Prohibition, there were many farmers who grew the hops needed to make beer, although the majority of their harvest ended up overseas in Germany or Japan. One of those operations was run by the Elwert family, the namesake of Elwert Road, and there was a large hop-growing operation on Bell Road as well, said Reynolds.
"To me, that was actually amazing," Reynolds said.
She said one newspaper reported authorities keeping their eyes open for any 100-pound bags of sugar coming through the city.
"You know this was used for more than just making candy," she remarked.
Reynolds said that her book also talks about a single man who didn't have a well but was using an inordinate amount of water, leading to speculation he was making alcohol. That man ended up in jail, said Reynolds.
"Chicken Creek water was used quite often for their distilling," Reynolds said.
Still, Reynolds doesn't believe Sherwood had an unusually high number of stills. Overall, she said, the city was probably pretty average compared to surrounding cities.
When the nationwide end of Prohibition came in 1933, Reynolds said she was surprised there wasn't more information available on people's reactions to the repeal of the alcohol ban. Still, she said the anti-liquor league wanted to continue Prohibition locally even after the federal ban.
Other interesting elements covered in her book include the heyday of the old cannery.
"The cannery was going full-bore in the '30s," Reynolds noted. "It was exciting times."
Economically, the cannery meant farmers were finally able to move their perishable goods quickly by canning strawberries, plums, beans, sauerkraut and other items.
At the same time, Reynolds said Sherwood boasted quite a few car dealers for a city its size. She noted that one newspaper ad announced residents could trade in their old Model T Fords and get a new circa-1930s vehicle.
Among the early car dealers was the son of early Sherwood resident Gustav Hanke, who sold Dodges and Plymouths in Old Town Sherwood.
"He would take the used cars and he would flip them," said Reynolds, noting that Hanke's son was stimulating the Sherwood economy. Another car dealer was Carlson and Sherk, who sold all kinds of vehicles at their business at the corner of Main and Railroad streets.
Then there was Emil Lawrenz.
"He was a Ford dealer and he was the No. 1 Ford car dealer in Oregon," Reynolds said.
Reynolds believes Lawrenz, who had a dealership on First Street next to where the Robin Hood Theatre once stood, was the first car dealer in the city, starting his business out of his hardware store in 1915 during a time when cars came disassembled in wooden crates, shipped by rail to local garages.
"And then the mechanics would put them together," she said. "Emil Lawrenz was a pretty amazing guy. And in the '30s and '40s ... he goes into the gas and oil business."
Still, the most remarkable part of Reynolds' research came while she was Christmas shopping in downtown Portland. Discovering lines that were too long for her liking, she decided to pay a visit to the downtown branch of the Multnomah County Library instead.
There, she discovered a treasure in the library's basement in the form of a scrapbook of sorts that was bound but falling apart, held together with lots of string. It had been compiled by Edward C. Robbins, a reporter for the now-defunct Hillsboro Argus newspaper.
She said Robbins was extremely interested in Oregon ancestors and pioneers and wrote extensively about them. Then she came upon an article not written by Robbins, but about him, headlined "The Blind Journalist."
The article stated that Robbins had been blind all his life.
"But he did not let that bother him," Reynolds said. "He got a Braille writer and he hired a high school student to read newspapers to him every day along with other documents. And he also hired a driver to drive him over to the countryside to get his stories. That flabbergasted me."
One of the pioneers Robbins interviewed was Charles True, a gentleman born in 1835 who helped his father build ships and was a seaman himself. The Elwert Road resident would later serve in the Civil War.
Reynolds said Kellye McBride, a Sherwood High School graduate, who just landed a "big time editing job," helped her edit the book. McBride also helped with interviews and other tasks for Reynolds' second book as well.
Despite three books about Sherwood, Reynolds says she's still addicted to the city's history and feels a huge sense of responsibility to save it. She recently came upon numerous Sherwood school classroom photos dating back to 1937 and hopes to find homes for them.
For the future, Reynolds hopes to put together a fourth history book, an addendum to this one, before taking on chronicling Sherwood of the 1940s and 1950s.
Reynolds said she hasn't made money on the book but has broken even.
The $30 book is available at the Sherwood Historical Society, 22552 S.W. Park St., open from 1 to 4 p.m. Wednesdays and Saturdays.