Portland Maine has a reputation as a foodie city, a place where you can seemingly turn every corner and run into a farm-to-table restaurant or pub or craft beer bar. The city has some of highest per capita numbers of bars and restaurants, and brewers like Allagash have made it a destination for the artisanal ale crowd.
But for all the city’s fun, the boozy revelries in the Old Port, from the wine bars to the speakeasies, stand in contrast to the state’s history; Maine, in 1851, was the first state to ban the sale of alcohol. The move was a bellwether for political possibilities of the temperance social movement and the first domino, tipping a cascade of states and other countries to follow suit. The drive culminated in the 18th Amendment, banning the production and sale of alcohol nationwide, in 1919.
Temperance was a hotly-divided issue, whose proponents saw it as a bulwark against society’s great evils, including poverty and domestic violence. Drinking was common, a handover from the country’s European immigrants who, home in Portland, incorporated it into their daily routines. In the early 1800s, Portland was a city of some 9,000 people but had 200 registered places to get a drink. As more immigrants settled, temperance tasted like jingoism, becoming a political issue tied to nationalism.
Prohibitionists stood on a moral high ground above it all. For 25 years before passage in Maine, they pressured politicians and formed social groups to enact change. They found a champion in Neal Dow, a native of Portland and a Quaker, who became an intellectual heavyweight behind Maine’s temperance movement.
Dow, a founding member of the Maine Temperance Society, believed that slavery and rum went hand-in-hand. Then the Mayor of Portland, Dow pushed the controversial “Maine Law” through Maine’s legislature, earning him the moniker “Father of Prohibition” (he later ran on the Prohibition Party’s presidential ticket in 1880).
Yet in another predictor of things to come, citizens by no means abided by the rules. Mainers were some of the first moonshiners: farmers turned their appeals into ciders and wines. Fines on taverns became a cost of doing business. Rum running from Canada through Maine’s ports became big business, and authorities who couldn’t be bought were simply evaded and the illicit goods hidden in secret areas.
The law also required tweaking. In 1855, driven into a fury from a rumor that Dow secretly stored liquor for politicians’s use at city hall (he bought it for the public’s medicinal use, as allowed by law), a 3,000-strong crowd gathered outside city hall. After they refused to disperse, Dow ordered the militia to fire on the crowd, leaving one person dead and several injured in what became known as The Portland Rum Riot of 1855.
The episode turned public opinion against teetotaler Dow and the law, which was repealed, replaced, amended and eventually added to the state’s constitution in 1885, where it remained in effect until national prohibition was overturned in 1933.
Like the rest of the nation, Prohibition killed off Maine’s breweries, which only made a comeback in 1990s.
Volcanic Iceland Epic Trip
meet our Local Insider
HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN A GUIDE?
WHAT DO YOU LOVE ABOUT YOUR JOB?
It's the personal contact, the personal experiences. I love meeting people from all over the world... I really like getting to know everyone and feeling like I'm traveling with a group of friends.
WHAT DESTINATION IS ON YOUR TRAVEL BUCKET-LIST?
I have so many places on my list, but I would really lobe to go to Africa. I consider myself an “adventure girl” and Africa feels like the ULTIMATE adventure!
Every CULTURE TRIP Small-group adventure is led by a Local Insider just like Hanna.
KEEN TO EXPLORE THE WORLD?
Connect with like-minded people on our premium trips curated by local insiders and with care for the world
Since you are here, we would like to share our vision for the future of travel - and the direction Culture Trip is moving in.
Culture Trip launched in 2011 with a simple yet passionate mission: to inspire people to go beyond their boundaries and experience what makes a place, its people and its culture special and meaningful — and this is still in our DNA today. We are proud that, for more than a decade, millions like you have trusted our award-winning recommendations by people who deeply understand what makes certain places and communities so special.
Increasingly we believe the world needs more meaningful, real-life connections between curious travellers keen to explore the world in a more responsible way. That is why we have intensively curated a collection of premium small-group trips as an invitation to meet and connect with new, like-minded people for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in three categories: Culture Trips, Rail Trips and Private Trips. Our Trips are suitable for both solo travelers, couples and friends who want to explore the world together.
Culture Trips are deeply immersive 5 to 16 days itineraries, that combine authentic local experiences, exciting activities and 4-5* accommodation to look forward to at the end of each day. Our Rail Trips are our most planet-friendly itineraries that invite you to take the scenic route, relax whilst getting under the skin of a destination. Our Private Trips are fully tailored itineraries, curated by our Travel Experts specifically for you, your friends or your family.
We know that many of you worry about the environmental impact of travel and are looking for ways of expanding horizons in ways that do minimal harm - and may even bring benefits. We are committed to go as far as possible in curating our trips with care for the planet. That is why all of our trips are flightless in destination, fully carbon offset - and we have ambitious plans to be net zero in the very near future.