In 1856, Hannah Jumper reputedly led local women on a bottle-
breaking raid of drinking establishments here in Rockport, Mass.
Since then, except for one brief period after national prohibition
was lifted in 1933, this seaside harbor has been "dry" - no alcohol
Then earlier this month, Peter Beacham, local antiques appraiser
and Rotary Club president, inaugurated the new liquor license of a
local inn. Residents voted in April to allow restaurants and inns to
acquire liquor licenses (bars and liquor stores remain prohibited).
With 55 percent support, the vote provided one more sign of the
ebbing dry-town phenomenon, experts say, as more communities search
for revenue. The erosion comes despite indications that an on-
again, off-again national flirtation with temperance is hanging on.
"We're still in an antialcohol period that really began in the
1980s," says David Hanson, professor of sociology at the State
University of New York, Potsdam, who has closely tracked alcohol use
for decades. "Maybe 15 years ago I saw a survey with questions about
availability of alcohol [in which] about 1 in 8 people actually
favored prohibition if it were not called that," he says. "The
question described prohibition without using that word, and it got a
great deal of support."
Keeping towns dry, however, has not.
The votes nearly always occur in alcohol-free municipalities
exploring the "wet" alternative, and two-thirds or more pass, says
Professor Hanson. "My impression is that when they fail, they tend
to fail with a fairly narrow margin," says Hanson. "But many times
when they pass, it's with a resounding majority." He speculates that
large majorities often reflect the sway of outsiders, and that
closer votes are indicative of "more stable" communities. Often
these are rural.
Hundreds of counties remain dry, Hanson says. Although the
temperance movement of the late 1820s was rooted mainly in the
North, most of today's dry communities are in the South. Hanson and
others cite Kentucky as a state with a high concentration of
antialcohol towns. A few years ago, all but a dozen or so Tennessee
counties were dry.
"There are states in which there are wet towns in dry counties,"
Hanson says. "There have been times when a place would become dry
and then become wet again, and back and forth. And after repeal [of
Prohibition] in 1933, there were a number of states that elected to
remain dry; then there were the larger number that chose to permit a
'local option,' " he adds. The last dry state, Mississippi, went to
local option in 1965.
Reasons vary for going dry. Some communities, such as Harvey,
Ill., were founded as dry in their charter, according to William
Rorabaugh, author of "The Alcoholic Republic: An American Tradition"
and a history professor at the University of Washington. The charter
includes a provision that if alcohol were ever introduced, the
town's property would revert to an original owner. Several similar
provisions have been challenged in court and overturned.
Even some resort cities, such as Ocean City, N.J., and Moorhead
City, N.C., are dry. Often, local residents want to keep out rowdy
visitors, Professor Rorabaugh says.
That Rockport stayed dry for so long - a 1996 challenge failed at
a town meeting - makes the Northeastern tourist town, like Ocean
City, something of a holdout in its class. …