November 14, 2002
Posted at: 8:00 p.m. CDT
by Diana Davis
JONESBORO, Ark. -- Do you know when Craighead County became dry? Not many people remember when that actually happened. Some weren't even born yet. Others wrongly assume the county has always been dry.
"I sure don't (know)," resident Rachel Hall said. "I'm sure it's been quite some time."
"They voted themselves dry," local attorney Anthony Bartels said.
From it's earliest days, Craighead County, and Arkansas as a whole, battled over the issue of alcohol. Early Arkansas had been a hard drinking place. Moonshine whiskey flowed freely in the 1800s. At one time, Little Rock had more saloons than churches and schools combined.
William Nash was a Craighead County Sheriff that voters elected time and time again to deal with problems associated with alcohol sales and gambling. Prohibition came along in 1915. This was followed by the bone-dry law two years later, which which made liquor sales illegal in the state. Smugglers, known as bootleggers, started making and selling alcohol illegally and prohibition eventually failed.
"Will Nash was elected and he cleaned up the county," longtime resident Frank Snellgrove said.
"Open the breweries and let the people have good wholesome beer."
That was the call on June 16, 1932, as Republicans argued over alcohol at their party's national convention. And it wasn't long until alcohol was flowly freely again in the country, and in Northeast Arkansas.
M.J. Fox, a longtime resident, says business like the now-defunct Hotel Noble, had a small package store on the outside where patrons could buy liquor and brownbag it into the hotel.
"Right here is where they sold your liquor," Fox said, pointing at a picture of the outside of the hotel. "If you had a restaurant, you could apply for a beer license. If you want anything else there, you could buy it and take it in with you. You could brown bag it. Now some restaurants kept it pretty clean. Other restaurants didn't keep it as clean."
"We had several beer places. I say joints," Snellgrove said. "Some of them were pretty respectable places like the Princess Cafe and Roy Garrett's bbq place out on Nettleton."
"Everybody went to the Princess Cafe and did for years," resident Martha Wall said. "Across the street there was the Links Cafe."
Wall remembers downtown Jonesboro well. Her father-in-law started Wall's Department store that once stood on Main Street where a parking lot is right now. Segregation, she says, even affected the way people "drank" alcohol."
"The front door was for the white ones," Wall said. "The back door was for the black ones. Now it was just a beer joint."
Back then, Craighead County was primarily a farming community. A trip to town on saturday was common.
"All the farmers worked pretty well all during the week," Snellgrove said. "Saturdays they'd come to town to buy their groceries and things of this nature.
"The ladies would do their shopping from downtown Jonesboro and, say from Huntington all the way to the railroad tracks, was where most of the beer joints were located," Snellgrove added.
"The cops, instead of cars, they would walk (the street)," Fox said. "And when they'd walk the street, one on one side and one on the other.
"If there'd be any trouble down there, they would call them and them cops would walk up and down two or three times and look in and you ain't about to get them in that thing with about 40 or 50 men half drunk. You know that.
"It wasn't dangerous, no more than it is right now," Fox added.
Times were good, according to those who lived here in the late 30's and early '40's. But the winds of change were coming. War was on its way and Craighead County would find itself in the middle of a battle between "Wet" versus "Dry."
Now, if you think our recent elections had alot of negative campaigning in them, just wait until you see how the battle over alcohol unfolded in 1944. Who takes up the cause against alcohol, and who pleads for the chance to keep beer and whiskey flowing?