hill country observerThe independent newspaper of eastern New York, southwestern Vermont and the Berkshires


News July 2021


On the seventh day, local blue laws ruled

Maury Thompson


The 1886 Independence Day celebration in Glens Falls took on the feeling of a New Year’s Eve party when July Fourth fell on a Sunday, delaying the festivities until Monday, July 5.

“When the hands of the clock passed the hour of midnight this morning, removing the restraints of the Sabbath, a score of patriotic young men awoke the echoes with fire crackers, pistol shots, and the ringing of bells, and illumined the streets in the vicinity of Fountain Square with red fire,” The Morning Star of Glens Falls reported on July 5, 1886, covering the festivities on deadline. “The sounds of the engine bell brought out a few unsuspecting citizens, who promptly returned to their couches.”

Raucous celebrating took place on both sides of the Hudson River, the paper reported: “The boys on this side of the river were ably reinforced by embryo drummers in South Glens Falls, who kept up a vigorous pounding on the sheepskins until daybreak.

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, commerce, theater, entertainment, sports and even fishing on the Christian Sabbath were frowned upon — and in some case prohibited by so-called blue laws.

The term likely originated from an 18th century usage of the word blue to mean “rigidly moral,” although some suggest it is a reference to an early Connecticut treatise on the Sabbath being printed on blue paper, according to Encyclopaedia Britannica.

“A rumor was abroad yesterday to the effect that a local barber would this morning take steps to secure the arrest of another knight of the razor on a charge of violating the Sunday law by shaving a citizen on that day,” The Morning Star reported on Aug. 13, 1883.

Even overly enthusiastic public worship could be sanctioned.

“Fourteen members of the Salvation Army of Yonkers were arrested for disturbing the peace and sanctity of the Sabbath by pounding and beating of tambourines,” The Glen’s Falls Messenger reported on May 2, 1890.

The Fort Ann correspondent of The Granville Sentinel gently chided Sabbath-breakers in the paper’s June 15, 1888 issue.

“Four young gentlemen from Glens Falls came to town on their bicycles Sunday morning,” the correspondent wrote. “They were very expert riders, and two of them gave some fine exhibitions in our streets that would have been very credible if it had been on a weekday.”
But there were limits to the restrictions some would tolerate.

“A clergyman of the northern part of Warren County is said to have destroyed his usefulness by preaching a sermon condemning Sunday night courting,” the Sentinel reported on Nov. 23, 1888.
Many daily newspapers in small cities did not publish on Sundays, in deference to church leaders who condemned the reading of newspapers on the Sabbath.

The Journal of Commerce, based in New York City, had as its 19th century slogan: “In one respect, and in only one, we expect to be outdone, and that is in collecting news on the Sabbath.”

Employees of daily newspapers did not actually cease work on the Sabbath, as they worked Sunday afternoons and nights to publish Monday morning papers. But taking Saturday nights off provided the opportunity, at least, to get a good night’s sleep and be alert in church on Sunday morning.

A Morning Star editorial on June 20, 1887, criticized out-of-town daily newspapers that hired newsboys to hawk their Sunday publications on street corners. The Morning Star, a forerunner of The Post-Star, did not publish on Sundays.

“Although we are fast assuming the awe of a city, and have many metropolitan characteristics, still we have not as yet become hardened to the habitual desecration of the Sabbath,” the paper wrote. “It seems almost a sacrilege to have the quiet streets of our pretty village disturbed by the bawling and shouting of boys selling the Sunday papers. Just at church time yesterday, two boys went up the street with New York papers as I was coming down, and their discordant, strident voices sounded louder in the calm still air than the Salvation Army Corps.”

In an editorial on Aug. 2, 1886, the Star endorsed a crackdown on Sunday baseball playing in Ticonderoga.

Three town justices there published the section of the state penal code that prohibited shooting, fishing, horse racing, gaming, sports, shows “and all noise disturbing the peace of the day” on Sundays, with a warning of “an extreme penalty” if local Sunday baseball games were continued.
“Some of the Sabbath-day ball players in Glens Falls ought to have a similar reminder,” The Morning Star wrote.

Officials in the Essex County village of Port Henry went beyond a warning.
“A party of sixteen boys were recently arrested for ball playing on the Sabbath,” The Granville Sentinel reported on June 7, 1877. “They were discharged with a reprimand.”
The legal prohibitions on Sunday activities were somewhat open to interpretation, however. In 1916, George W. West of the Warren County Law and Order League was angry about a liberal interpretation of Sunday blue laws.

“Sheriff Charles Baker has decreed that baseball may be played at League Park tomorrow afternoon, provided that no admission is charged, and also that the crowd conducts itself in an orderly manner,” The Glens Falls Times and Messenger reported on May 27, 1916. “Representatives of the sheriff’s office will be on hand to see that the law is enforced. Sheriff Baker is a church man. He believes in upholding the law, but he also believes that it is far better for young men to pass their time at a baseball game properly conducted than to indulge in pastimes which are harmful.”

Newspapers sometimes made light of Sunday Sabbath restrictions.
“The genius who invented fish poles in sections to slip one inside the other and to look like a walking stick did a great thing for a few deacons we know of who could not conscientiously carry old-fashioned poles over their shoulder on Sunday,” The Granville Sentinel quipped on July 21, 1876.


Maury Thompson was a reporter for The Post-Star of Glens Falls for 21 years before retiring in 2017. He now is a freelance writer focusing on the history of politics, labor and media in the region.