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Stockton Club

Stockton Club. "It was the hottest spot in this part of the country," former patrons said of the Stockton Club, a major attraction in the Roaring 20s. The classy roadhouse featured top-grade whisky, high-stakes gambling and quality entertainment. Some insist that for much of the Prohibition years, 1919-1933, the Stockton Club was controlled by the Purple Gang, a strong Detroit mob.

They contend that the gang used it as a haven for members being sought elsewhere. A musician reported that mobsters often arrived at the nearby Stockton station on the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad. The club also was used to launder some money from the gang's robberies, bootlegging and extortion. The club thrived during Prohibition for several reasons. One was its location. It sat in a sparsely-populated rural area about seven miles south of downtown Hamilton and about 11 miles north of Cincinnati. That remoteness is difficult to visualize today. In the 1920s, the building was at the northeast corner of Dixie Highway and Seward Road. Dixie Highway then was a narrow two-lane road only recently paved. Fairfield Township had a population of just 2,527 people in 1920. The club burned March 1, 1940, three days after it had closed. Today the site is along a busy multi-lane highway and surrounded by businesses and restaurants in the City of Fairfield. In 1921 -- when the Stockton Club started to boom -- only 11,467 cars were registered in Butler County. By 1926, the number climbed to 23,467. Fifty years later, more than 50,000 vehicles a day were passing the site of the roadhouse. The scarcity of cars in the 1920s didn't hurt business at the Stockton Club. Patrons without cars could reach it at stop 24 on the Millcreek interurban line that connected Hamilton, Glendale and Cincinnati. "People arrived in taxis from Cincinnati, Newport and Hamilton," reported one observer. "You found only the most expensive cars in the parking lot, recalled another. A second factor in the Stockton Club's success, contemporaries insist, was music. Among the name musicians who performed there was Bix Beiderbecke, whose biographers have provided a description of the operation. Beiderbecke was at the club in 1923 and 1924, said Richard M. Sudhalter and Philip R. Evans, authors of Bix, Man and Legend. "Its setup was a cliché of Prohibition-era America," they wrote. "The ground floor of the two-story frame house was split into halves, one for a gambling casino, the other a cafe operation, specializing in food of dubious quality and high-grade bootleg booze. . . . "There was a dance floor on the cafe side, where the band played from 9 in the evening until 3 in the morning. The upstairs housed caretakers and other club staff," said Beiderbecke's biographers. The club was managed by "a Damon Runyon character" named "Chappie" (Gerald Chapman).

"Backed by five Ohio millionaires, the Stockton Club quickly became a popular hangout for gangland figures and thrill-seekers alike," attracted by booze, music, gambling and "the works," said Sudhalter and Evans. Another reason for its prosperity was the shortage of law enforcement in the area. Throughout the decade, the sheriff had only one car to patrol more than 800 miles of road in a county of 469 square miles. The Stockton Club was built in 1902 by George Stroh, a former chief of police in Hamilton. He operated it as a restaurant, serving family meals. It became a popular and convenient outing because the electric-powered Millcreek Valley interurban line stopped in front of the Dixie Highway eatery. The club was raided several times during Prohibition. In August 1924, a Cincinnati man filed suit in Butler County common pleas court to recover $1,893 from the Monte Carlo of Butler County, otherwise known as the Stockton Club. Who owned -- or actually controlled -- it during Prohibition was always in doubt. Stroh and his wife sold the business in 1922 to Roy Addison, a former Hamilton police officer, and Albert Seevers. It passed to Barry Langdon, Harvey Langdon and William S. Barry in 1923. Mrs. Lillian Langdon owned the building when it burned in 1940.

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