Charles H. Pennypacker's Efforts to Rid West Chester of Drunks and Clean Up the Borough

Neat, tidy and sober is just the way he liked it. His blacklisted drunks paid up for public intoxication, while other civic efforts beautified West Chester for all citizens to enjoy.

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Prohibition officially lasted from 1920 to 1933 nationwide. What’s often forgotten are the hundreds of little prohibitions that preceded and followed it, including the selective ban on liquor sales declared in 1903 by West Chester burgess Charles H. Pennypacker. That year, Pennypacker distributed to local bartenders a list of 87 men he labeled drunks, forbiding liquor sales to any of them.

“There are two ideas of the law regarding habitual drunkards,” Pennypacker told the Daily Local News. “My interpretation is that I am an interested party. I am interested in the preservation of good order in West Chester.”

The plan seems to have worked—at least for Pennypacker’s 1903-1906 term. Subsequent burgesses were less zealous.

Born in the borough, Pennypacker once sought out a newspaperman to publicly deny a rumor that he’d been born in West Pikeland. “I first saw the light of day in West Chester and have lived here all my life,” he said. “What’s more, I expect this to be my abiding place as long as I live.”

Pennypacker was also a lifelong advocate of the superiority of suburban living—West Chester living, in particular. “There is no spot on Earth better adapted to the development of character than a suburban town,” he declared in 1904 at a banquet observing the 14th anniversary of the Merion Fire Company. “You may talk as you please about urbanity, but suburbanity is the acme of civilization.”

According to the Daily Local, “his chief delight was the boast: ‘West Chester is some hundred feet higher and, therefore, nearer heaven than Philadelphia.’”

Both Pennypacker’s father, Uriah, and paternal grandfather, Joseph, had also been burgesses, though the office had less authority in their days. Joseph was a founder of the First Baptist Church of West Chester. Uriah was a prominent attorney. His son was educated at West Chester Academy and Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire, then studied law with his father. He was admitted to the bar in 1870.

Pennypacker worked for 10 days as a newspaper reporter. He never named the paper, but the experience was a disaster. “I wrote an editorial which was a stinging rebuke of some municipal measure,” he later recalled. “The manager of the paper came to me and said, ‘Mr. Pennypacker, it would never do to publish that editorial of yours as it might cause us trouble.’ ‘All right,’ I said. ‘If that editorial is not published, you can look for another editor.’ Well, the editorial went into the wastebasket, and I put on my hat and left the newspaper office never to return. That put a stop to my ambition to become a newspaperman.”

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