The Roaring ‘20’s Part III
The turn of the 20th Century saw a lot of growth in Hendersonville. The Railroad was bringing tourists and summer residents to Hendersonville by the carload but with more tourists and population growth brought more issues to be dealt with. Automobiles were becoming commonplace and North Carolina enacted their own Prohibition law in 1909, ten years before the federal government passed the 18th Amendment.
North Carolina’s laws on Prohibition drove North Carolina’s Moonshine industry further underground and the automobile came to play a big part in the Moonshine industry. The Moonshiners began looking for ways to increase the speed of their automobiles to evade law enforcement and the problem got so bad in Hendersonville, local officials enacted a speed limit of six mile per hour on Main Street with a fine of $50 of you received a citation. To address the speeding issue in Hendersonville, the city hired their first motorcycle cop in 1924 to help enforce the traffic laws.
The automobiles, the Moonshiners, and law enforcement all came together in the 1920’s and it was an explosive mixture that more often than not ended in violence. With the passage of the 18th Amendment, it brought the United States Treasury Department into Hendersonville in the form of Revenue Officers. They came to Hendersonville in search of blockade stills and to try to curtail the moonshine industry.
Local law enforcement did a good job of finding and destroying stills in their own right. Sheriff Vaughn Echols Grant served as Sheriff from 1920-1922 and him and his men found and destroyed 214 stills during that time. He was so successful that he lost his bid to get reelected as Sheriff. He was soon appointed as a Revenue Officer by the United States Treasury Department. He continued his work in Henderson County and six surrounding counties in North Carolina.
Grant continued his work for the United States Treasury Department against the blockade distilleries until he was killed in a car chase through Henderson County on 1 June, 1926 with moonshiners. Grant was driving his Nash roadster in pursuit of the moonshiners when he was shot and killed and wrecked his car. Grant died from the gunshot wound on the scene. Grant was shot by William D. “Button” Dennison allegedly as an act of revenge for Grant’s work against the moonshiners. Dennison was reported to be the ringleader of well-organized group of moonshiners.
In another act of revenge, a contracted driver for the United States Department of Treasury’s Prohibition officers, Clarence G. “Fatty” Howard was shot with a .38 caliber pistol by Fred Swartz while stopped at a red light on Main Street on 21 April 1930. He died the next day. Howard participated on a raid at the home of Swartz in the Catshead section of Henderson County the day before. A 65 gallon still was seized and destroyed and 26 gallons of whiskey were confiscated. This murder was reported in the Greenville News on 23 April 1930. Swartz immediately turned himself in to authorities.
1920’s Hendersonville resembled a scene out of The Untouchables and the world of Elliot Ness. We had organized crime, car chases, gun battles, and Revenuers and Moonshiners being shot and killed. Hendersonville made the Roaring ‘20’s live up to its name.
There is some excellent resource material on the Roaring Twenties for Hendersonville. I used Hendersonheritage.com on the law enforcement career and death of Sheriff Vaughn Grant, findagrave.com has an excellent article on the death of Clarence G. “Fatty” Howard, and hendersonvillenc.gov under the heading of “History of Our Department” has an excellent overview of early law enforcement in Hendersonville.