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City Ordinances of 1887

Ron Davidson • Oct 21, 2013 at 3:00 PM

For this week, let’s just take a snapshot in time and review some of the city ordinances in effect in Sandusky in 1887. The Sandusky Library owns original copies of the ordinance book, published by I.F. Mack & Brother (publishers of the Sandusky Register at that time). Unlike the current codified ordinances, which are divided into numbered parts and chapters, the ordinances of 1887 were presented in alphabetical order by the subject headings they were given.

The first ordinance was titled “Ale, Beer and Porter Houses,” with a subheading, “An ordinance to regulate ale, beer and porter houses, to aid in the preservation of peace and good order of the City of Sandusky and to abate the nuisance arising from offensive practices prohibited by this ordinance.” The first section of this law made it illegal for women to work in any public place where alcohol was sold, although section two provided exceptions for the owner’s wife or daughter – unless her employment creates a “nuisance.” Section three declared “It shall be unlawful for any minor under the age of twenty-one years to enter any saloon, restaurant or place of public resort where females are employed . . . or engage in any conversation with any female employed on any of said premises . . . or on any street and sidewalk adjacent to said premises.” Violators of this ordinance were subject to fines of up to $50. Not all the regulations on saloons were negative, however – another ordinance allowed saloons to open on Sunday, but they could only sell beer and native wine on that day.

In the “Bathing” ordinance, nude bathing in Sandusky Bay was declared illegal during daylight hours. At night, apparently, it was okay.

Another ordinance prohibited penned hogs north of Adams Street, and further prohibited certain animals (“horse . . . or other beast of burden, or of any ox, steer, heifer, cow, calf, or of any swine, sheep, goat or goose”) to run at large in the city limits. The maximum fine was five dollars, but the penalty could not be enforced until the animal owner was given one day to control the animal. The City Marshal was responsible for collecting and managing these stray animals.

An ordinance establishing a position of City Weigher was passed in 1883. The City Weigher was responsible for regulating “the weighing of hay, coal and heavy draughts in the city.” For each load weighed, there was a charge of twenty cents, except for coal, which was ten cents, and the Weigher kept half of the money collected as his wages. Only the City Weigher was authorized to operate public scales in Sandusky.

Under the section titled “Good Order” is “an ordinance to restrain and suppress houses of ill-fame in the city of Sandusky, and to provide for the punishment of lewd and lascivious behavior in the streets and public places of said city.” Based on the prevalence of newspaper articles on the subject, it appears that “houses of ill-fame in the city of Sandusky” were a significant problem in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. We might have more about that in a future blog entry.

I suppose some readers will be curious to know how much government officials were paid in 1887. By ordinance, the mayor received $700 a year, “in addition to the lawful fees and perquisities [sic] of his said office.” A city commissioner received $800, about $19,000 in today’s money. The Sanitary Police (yes, that was their title) received $1.50 each day that they worked.

Many ordinances in the 1887 code have been rendered obsolete by progress, such as the prohibitions on female workers and one “to prevent the spread of small pox,” and might sound amusing to our contemporary ears, but many others continue in a modern form as the foundation of our government and community. It could be an interesting research project to study the changes in community values through the evolution of city ordinances.

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