The Wet Years: “Looking Back”

Reprinted here by special permission of the author, Cindy Beckman, a retired Conway High School history teacher who writes local history.

After the saloons closed in 1888, Faulkner County was “dry” for 45 years. In 1919, temperance movements across the nation succeeded in getting the 18th Amendment to the Constitution ratified so on January 1, 1920, the entire nation banned the production, sale and distribution of alcohol.

But by 1933, Prohibition, as this era of American history became known, became highly unpopular. Crime rates and violence rose as gangsters became rich off the illegal sale of alcohol. Enforcement of the 18th Amendment became nearly impossible. There was also much corruption among the law enforcement officers who were supposed to enforce it.

So in 1933, Congress proposed the 21st Amendment to repeal the 18th Amendment. This is the only time in American history that an amendment was repealed. It is also the only time that an amendment was ratified by state conventions instead of state legislatures. That’s how they got around legislators who were beholden to temperance leaders.

In the meantime, Congress and newly elected President Franklin D. Roosevelt authorized the sale of taxed 3.2% beer. Governor Futrell called a special session of the legislature to legalize the manufacture and sale of 3.2% beer and wine in Arkansas and Faulkner County was wet again.

Immediately, Leon Smith, owner of the Owl Café, announced he would sell beer. At 15 cents a glass, beer also went on sale at several other local cafes and restaurants, including Moll’s Café, Goad’s Café, and Johnson’s Service Station.

The Conway Bottling Company became a wholesale distributer for Budweiser while Wallace Fiddler became a wholesale distributer for Bruck’s. Coca-Cola became a wholesale distributer for Schlitz.

The Conway City Council held a special meeting in late August, 1933 to pass an ordinance to regulate the sale of beer and wine in Conway and to set up a system for issuing permits to sell. Ordinance No. A-136B stated that there would be no sale of beer or light wines within 500 feet of any school or church yard. A privilege tax of $500 a year was put in place.

In January, 1935, the state legislature made full repeal of the 18th Amendment final in Arkansas with the passage of the Arkansas Alcoholic Control Act, allowing the sale of liquor and making provisions for its taxation.

The Conway City Council passed another ordinance in March, 1935 to require that any who desired to store, transport or sale liquor had to apply for a permit and license. It also declared that no alcohol could be sold by wholesalers except between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. Retail sales were to be confined between 7 a.m. and 10 p.m. There would be on sales on Sundays, Christmas and the Fourth of July.

In addition, the ordinance made it unlawful to sell to “habitual drunkards.” The city council defined these persons as those who had been convicted of public drunkenness more than three times in any twelve-month period.

Permits also had to be acquired to sell beer outside the city. The $10 annual permit fees were collected by the sheriff. There were only five places out in the county that had these permits. There were three on Highway 64 and two on Highway 65.

Even with permits, businesses could be shut down if they “disturbed the peace” or were a “public nuisance.” Tin Can Hill, one of Faulkner County’s most notorious roadhouses and dance halls located about three miles out of Conway on old Highway 65 (now State Highway 25), was padlocked by the sheriff for the third time in September, 1943, charging that the owner/operator and several of the patrons were drinking too much. Later the circuit judge ordered that dancing no longer be permitted there.

The 1933 beer law had provided that counties could use the “local option” method of prohibiting alcohol but there was no effort to exercise this option until 1943. That year, Dr. H.B. Hardy, formed a new prohibition organization that circulated a local option petition to ban the sale of all alcoholic beverages including beer and wine.

The petition needed on 985 signatures, or 15% of the county’s eligible voters. He got 1,928 signatures and on December 29, Faulkner County residents voted 1,733 to 488 for the local option prohibition.

The last day for liquor sales was March 15, 1944. Three liquor stores, two wine manufacturers and 17 retailers of beer and wine were operating in the county when the local option took effect at midnight. The Tin Can Roadhouse property was sold within a year.

Note: Some of the information in this column came from Mary Van Gundy who wrote a paper on the wet years while a student at UCA. Her article was published in Faulkner Facts and Fiddlings, Winter, 1973.

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