RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — It was 1934 and the new Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control was trying to feel its way in the new era of regulated wetness.
From St. Peter's Catholic Church in downtown Richmond came a query as to whether it could offer sacramental wine to its parishioners. The answer was "yes."
From a billboard company in Richmond came the query as to whether it could advertise beer. Yes, said the ABC board, but the company could not tell where the beer would be sold.
One of the first actions of the newly constituted ABC board was to write a letter to President Franklin D. Roosevelt asking him to lower the federal tax on liquor from $2 per gallon to $1 per gallon. This would curb "lawless traffic in liquor" the board said, in a reference to bootlegging.
It did not take long for the department to get down to work. License number 103, issued to a beer joint on Second Street in Richmond, was revoked only months after it was issued because of unsatisfactory behavior at the establishment.
And the commission determined that Sterno could be shipped into the state because it was not a liquor, although it was sometimes drank as such.
These and other records are now at the Library of Virginia to add to its vast collection of historical documents.
To commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control, the three ABC commissioners on Thursday gave 157 bound documents of board minutes and board orders to the state archives covering the first 50 years of the department's existence.
The ABC department came into being after the 18-year experiment with Prohibition had ended. Virginia chose to allow whiskey to be sold in a controlled environment, hence the ABC board.
Before that, a Virginia Prohibition Commission had administered Virginia's liquor laws. Proceedings of that organization were turned over to the Library of Virginia last year after being discovered in the old Finance Building.
From those documents we learn that in 1932, the Home for Needy Confederate Women asked for permission to offer whiskey for medicinal purposes. Similarly, a former Confederate officer from Wytheville had sought the same exception because of injuries he had suffered during the war. It must have been a bad injury. He wanted 100 gallons.
Then there was a request from John Stewart Bryan, publisher of this newspaper for 44 years, to be allowed to ship whiskey from Maryland to the family estate, Laburnum, in Richmond.
Susan R. Swecker, chairwoman of the ABC board, said, "To me the fascinating thing about the oldest books is the creation of the Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission in 1934. These folks came in here and had to set up stores, warehouse, staff and regulations in a very short period of time.
"We tweak the system all the time, but we have 75 years of experience to build on. The pioneers came in after about 15 years of Prohibition and created an efficient, profitable and safe system."
By January 1936, the commission had established 67 state stores, bootlegging had been reduced and the state was realizing a handsome profit from its monopoly, according to an article about the system in the Virginia Magazine of History and Biography.
Sandra G. Treadway, Librarian of Virginia, said the records are "an amazing collection." She said they will add greatly to the library's 20th-century historical records, which have been little explored to date.
"I had to resist the temptation to say that these minutes are awfully dry," quipped Conley L. Edwards III, the state archivist.
The ABC department was created on March 22, 1934. Virginians had voted the year before to repeal both the 18th Amendment, prohibiting the sale of "intoxicating liquors," and the state Prohibition Law.