Among the many partyers delving into the Roaring Twenties spirit at Speak Easy Night held last September at Panther Mountain Pub during Chestertown’s smash Rum-Runners' Weekend were (front, left to right): Janine Best, Wesley Butler Jr. and Denice Morrisseau of Brant Lake and Chester. Bob Montgomery is shown in the background. The Rum-Runners' Weekend won a Best Community Event award from the Adirondack Park Agency. Photo by Kim Ladd/Lifescapes Photography
Last September, hundreds of revelers in fedoras, three-piece suits and flapper dresses converged on Chestertown for a weekend to celebrate the exuberance and frivolity of the Roaring Twenties.
The new event was sponsored by the Tri-Lakes Business Alliance, which for several years has been working on jumpstarting commerce in the sleepy town that hosts too many vacant storefronts.
The event, Rum-Runners’ Weekend, struck a chord with not only local residents, but with people from the Capital Region and beyond.
From freewheeling parties and a vaudeville show of local talent — to a staged bootlegger car-chase, the weekend provided a memorable glimpse into the rich history of northern Warren County.
Thursday April 10, Rum-Runners’ Weekend was awarded as one of the eight Best Community Events by the Adirondack Park Agency. It won First Place in the Best Spring-Fall Event category. The award was presented during Local Government Day in a luncheon ceremony in Lake Placid. No less than 48 events had been entered in the competition.
Thurman Maple Days was runner-up in the Most Authentic — Adirondack division. The Seagle Colony’s summer programming won Best Event in the Historic-Cultural-Educational category. Indian Lake’s Challenge Festival, held in conjunction with Governor Cuomo’s Adirondack Challenge event, received special recognition.
In mid-September, Rum-Runners' Weekend attracted a standing-room-only crowd at its Saturday-night vaudeville show, held in the Carol Theater, a 1930s-vintage movie parlor that had in recent decades been shuttered.
People from their 20s to their 80s mingled, danced and partied long into the night, both Saturday and Sunday at “Speakeasy Nights” — where people had to utter a password to the doorman to be allowed in.
Also, mock bootleggers in antique vehicles were chased over Landon Hill by police in squad cars, one of them a vintage edition. The chase featured men dressed up as whiskey smugglers in a 1920s “woody” wagon, pursued by sheriff’s deputies. The action was witnessed by hundreds of people lining Landon Hill Road, as well as a crowd gathered at the end of the chase, at state Rte. 9.
During the weekend, store proprietors wore 1920s clothing, as did most of those attending the Speakeasy Nights, which featured Charleston dance contests. The weekend also featured a Babe Ruth baseball competition, with players in age-old uniforms.
The weekend showcased the local Prohibition-era heritage of the area, as Chestertown and Pottersville were stopovers for bootleggers smuggling alcoholic beverages from Canada to New York City: state Rte. 9 was the direct route.
Panther Mountain Inn proprietor and Tri-Lakes Alliance official Don Butler, one of the event’s founders, said that he was happy the APA staff had recognized that a lot of historical research and planning had been involved, and that the weekend had been embraced by people from their 20s to their 80s.
“It’s good they understood that people really ‘bought into it’ — from the young kids to middle-age and older folks decked out in flapper dresses, three-piece suits and fedoras,” he said. “The award shows the APA believes in promoting and preserving local culture, not just hanging onto trees.”
Butler had impersonated a bootlegger at the vaudeville show, which was “raided” by police who dragged him out of the theater, to the audience’s delight.
Cindy Mead, who played a big role in organizing the event, noted that Pam Morin had conceived of the Rum-Runners' Weekend five years ago or so, and the Alliance members were sold on the idea and carried it forward.
“I am thrilled about the award,” she said. “The weekend was such a big hit; it was just wonderful — and we have great plans for this coming year.”
Morin said she had always been intrigued by the local history — she said that during Prohibition, the state police barracks was located at the Rising House. She added that illegal alcohol consumption and gambling routinely occurred across the street on the third floor of the old Remington Building — with the shades drawn.
“I’m delighted that the contest judges realized how colorful our history is, and how it should be recognized,” she said.
Brant Lake councilman Bob Olson gave a short speech as he accepted the honor on behalf of the Alliance.
“The awards ceremony was mobbed, he said. “I invited all of them to come to Chestertown this September and have some raucous fun,” he said.
A brief PowerPoint presentation depicted each entry, and the Rum Runners' montage featured photographs by Brandon Himoff of Brant Lake and Kim Ladd of Thurman.
Ladd said she and her sister Pam — who had decked themselves out in vintage clothing for the weekend — were really impressed with the debut event.
“From the first night we immediately knew that this had to be held year after year,” she said. “People really jumped into it wholeheartedly.”
Chestertown Revitalization Committee leader Mary Jane Dower — born and raised in Brant Lake — said she enjoyed assisting in organizing the weekend. Her uncle, Gene Hayes was a rum-runner.
“We had a wonderful, fun time planning the event,” she said. “Everyone had ideas, and we just went with them and kept going.”
More ideas have since surfaced, and plans now call for Rum-Runners’ Weekend to be expanded this September, Butler said. There’s likely to be two vaudeville shows, plus a treasure hunt that’s geared for adults, alongside ones for children, he said.
“Bringing people back into town is what the Tri-Lakes Alliance is all about,” he said.