Justice Elkin of the PA Supreme Court Decides in Favor of Brewery

The Indiana Brewery was built in 1904 by a Pittsburgh contractor, and received its first wholesaler’s license in 1905. Trouble arose three years later when the brewery applied for its annual manufacturing license.

Judge Stephen Telford, of the Indiana County Court of Common Pleas, denied the license. The reasoning behind his decision was the company was guilty of seven district offenses in violation of the liquor laws of Pennsylvania and because of the 5,000 reputable citizens of Indiana County, through petition, declared the Indiana Brewing Company unfit to have a license.

The brewery had operated throughout 1908 under a limited state license. In January 1909, Telford again denied the request for the annual manufacturing license. The case moved through the appellate system to the Pennsylvania Superior Court and in October 1909, they upheld the county court’s decision. But that was not the end of the Brewery Saga, it was appealed to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

Justice Elkin wrote the majority opinion which reversed the lower courts. The reasoning, Justice Elkin wrote in his opinion that the evidence that was presented against the brewery – mainly the petitions – were not sufficient to force the closure of the brewery. The vote of the PA Supreme Court was a 4-3 vote. Justice S.L. Mestrezat wrote a strongly worded dissent which argued that the Court’s decision wrongly took away from the local court the right to grant beer licenses.

The brewery encountered further judicial problems from Telford, but it stayed in operation until the early 1920s. It is interesting to note that years prior to this decision, Justice Elkin worked for a Constitutional amendment to prohibit the manufacture and sale of intoxicating liquors.

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Justice Elkin: Politician, Lawyer, Community Leader

There are many professions that are held in high-esteem, one of those professions is the legal profession, and in the history of Indiana, the members of the legal profession show up frequently in the history and founding of many of the organizations and schools around the area. If you are familiar with the town of Indiana you have probably come across the Elkin Mausoleum in Oakland Cemetery, one of the focal points of the Cemetery. The name Elkin has a long history in Indiana, including having the name dedicated to one of the buildings on IUP’s campus. The story behind John Pratt Elkin is one that deserves a closer look.

John Pratt Elkin’s life began humbly as many in the early days of Indiana County; he was born January 11, 1860, in a log house in West Mahoning Township. He was the son of Francis and Elizabeth (Pratt) Elkin. The family moved to Smicksburg in 1868 where Francis opened a store and a foundry. Elkin, 8-years-old at the time helped in the store and also attended the local school. In 1873, the family moved again, this time to Wellsville, Ohio; it was here that his father and several others established a tin mill, where young John worked, but by the end of 1874, the venture failed.

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Justice John P. Elkin

The family returned to Smicksburg in the fall of 1875 where John (only 15 years old) began teaching after passing his teacher’s examination, and when the school closed in the spring of 1876, he enrolled in the Indiana Normal School (now IUP). He continued teaching and his schooling in the summer months; after this he borrowed some money so that he could remain in school a full year and graduated in 1880.

After teaching for a year, John entered the University of Michigan Law School in Ann Arbor, Michigan, graduating in 1884. Elkin was enrolled in a class of about one hundred twenty-nine students, and he was ranked among the leading students of his class. It was during his law school career that Elkin decided to be a candidate for the Pennsylvania State House of Representatives for the Republican primary and conducted his campaign by correspondence. A week after graduation, Elkin won the nomination. It was at the same time that he married Adda Prothero, a daughter of John P. and Sarah (Clark) Prothero. Elkin won the election in November 1884 and served two terms in the House representing Indiana County in 1885 and 1887.

On September 14, 1885, Elkin was admitted to the Indiana County Bar. It was during the first session of the House in 1885, that he framed and introduced a bill to prohibit the manufacture and sale of oleomargarine (a fatty substance extracted from beef fat and used in the manufacture of margarine) and it was successfully enacted into law.

In the 1887 session, Elkin was chairman of the Committee on Constitutional Reform and worked for a Constitutional amendment to prohibit the manufacture and sale of intoxicating liquors. Interestingly enough, in his later life as Justice on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, Elkin authored the majority opinion which enabled the Indiana Brewery Company to obtain their liquor license (see a future blog post).

Elkin also served as a delegate to the state Republican Convention in 1887. Just the previous year, he was named a trustee of the Indiana State Normal School and continued in that capacity for the rest of his life (29 years), the last 17 years he was vice president.

It was in 1887 that Elkin also began business as a partner with Henry and George Prothero, opening up mines in the Cush Creek area. Elkin always believed in the profitable operation of the coal lands. The partners also secured a railroad from Mahaffey to Glen Campbell and sold part of the coal lands to the Glenwood Coal Co.

Elkin’s political career however was not over. Elkin served for five years as chairman of the Republic State Committee and in 1898, he conducted the successful campaign of William A. Stone for governor. He was appointed Deputy Attorney General in 1899 and served until 1902. Elkin himself was a candidate for the Republican nomination for governor in 1902, unfortunately he was defeated by Samuel W. Pennypacker.

After serving as Deputy Attorney General, he returned to Indiana County to practice law. It was in April 1904 that Elkin received the nomination for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court and in November 1904 he received overwhelming support, with his majority being 425,000 votes over his Democratic opponent. On January 1, 1905, Justice Elkin began his term as associate justice on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, in which he served until his death on October 3, 1915. Justice Elkin was also favorably considered by the President for a seat on the United State Supreme Court in 1912, but was not chosen. Justice Elkin was considered as a candidate for the United States Senate seat in 1915, but at the time Elkin was serving on the PA Supreme Court and when asked about this possibility Elkin stated “As you know I am on the bench and am out of politics. Just now I am busy writing opinions on cases before the supreme court and have no time to even think of such matters. I am out of politics.” And John P. Elkin would never return to politics.

Justice Elkin, passed away on October 3, 1915, his funeral services were attended by hundreds of people from all over the state and nation. More than 5,000 people lined the roadway in Indiana as the Elkin funeral passed, this included many students from Indiana Normal School. It was after his death that the Elkin Mausoleum was erected in Oakland Cemetery.

Elkin Mausoleum
Elkin Mausoleum in Oakland Cemetery, Indiana, PA