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During the mid 19th century, Dowagiac grew up alongside the new railroad to the west. Society was booming and boisterous as in any frontier town. Whiskey, plentiful as milk, sold for 3 cents a dipper. At one point, Dowagiac boasted 16 taverns, many of them on South Front Street. Since Michigan law allowed only 10 taverns per village, 6 of them sadly closed their doors on a really prosperous trade.
There was more to entertainment than a full dipper, though. Men challenged each other to billiards in the taverns, while townsfolk danced in the halls above them. Bicycle riding and horse racing were popular, along with the fun of Dowagiac Union Fairs, which featured sleigh rides, fresh oysters, and a variety of carnival booths. On Courtland Street, St. Paul's Episcopal Church hosted concerts and lectures, while the Dowagiac Mandolin Club, the Round Oak Band, and the Beckwith Memorial Theater Orchestra provided musical fare. The Young Men's Hall alternated between political rallies and theatrical performances. But the most splendid contribution to early Dowagiac social life was the Beckwith Memorial Theater.
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