Wet to dry to damp to whatever's next: A brief history

There is an effort to put the dry county/wet county issue before the voters for the first time in two generations.

 

Faulkner County had several saloons in the 19th century, and flip/flopped between “dry” and “wet” several times in the early 20th century. The county has been “dry” since 1943. The vote then was 1,753 to 488. There were a few attempts to get enough signatures over the next few decades, and eventually it was put to a vote again.

Jimmy Carter was elected President “in close contest,” read the lead headline in the Nov. 3, 1976 edition of the Log Cabin Democrat. Not far below that was the headline “By 3-2 margin — Dry voters outnumber wets.” The count in 1976 was 8,439 to 5,313.

The leader of the 1976 "wet" initiative was, according to the Aug. 26, 1976 edition of the LCD, former cross-country truck driver Grover D. “Dee” Jones, who according to that edition “occasionally was inclined to stop for a beer or a mixed drink” while on the road.

Jones told the LCD then that when he settled in Conway, “it first hit me that Faulkner County’s dry and I don’t have the choice (to drink) or I have the choice of driving a distance to get it. And in looking around the county, it’s rumored not to be so dry.”

Jones was referring to bootlegging, but his argument (aside from commercial drivers stopping for a beer once in a while) could still stand.

Faulkner County’s status as dry “kind of had a back-handed effect of promoting the private club era,” Conway Mayor Tab Townsell said on Wednesday. Townsell said that he “for one welcomes the question going to the ballot.” In a decade, Conway went from private clubs that you could count on one hand to so many that it’s hard to count and locals correct visitors that Conway is “damp” rather than dry.

There was resistance against private clubs, and there will be resistance against the effort to put the dry/wet question to the voters this November.

Jones said in his 1976 interview that he didn’t think the church community would oppose Faulkner County going wet. In the next day’s edition, he found out how wrong he was.

“The Rev. Walter Jolly, Pastor of Bethel Baptist Church, visited the Log Cabin Democrat today to take issue with [Jones’] statement in Thursday’s edition that he does not believe churches will oppose the effort,” the Aug. 27, 1976 edition reads.

“Jolly said Bethel Baptist wishes to go on record as opposing the drive, and said he ‘would hope’ area churches would organize to oppose it.”

“'It’s our belief that liquor, as it has throughout the country, will do harm to the community,’ Jolly said. ‘Liquor has many defenders, but no defense — as Abraham Lincoln once said.’”

The Aug. 28, 1976 edition reports that Ray Miller, pastor of the Conway Chapel-Christian Family Center spoke on behalf of the Faulkner County Ministerial Alliance in telling the newspaper that, “For those of us in the ministry that have had to deal with those with broken lives and broken homes where drinking was a factor in those problems, we can certainly attest that no amount of revenue or any other so-called benefit could compensate for the negative influence that would be felt if this county allowed a change on its present position.” 

About three column-inches worth of church leaders that signed on to this statement follows in this edition. 

Townsell said that he would support a “wet” Faulkner County initiative as far as Conway goes because, though he doesn’t drink now, “a substantial percentage of Conway residents do, and it would certainly be more convenient for them to get it here, and more beneficial for that money to stay here in this city and this county.”

Conway has the zoning and design ordinances to prevent the “ugly liquor store next to my house” problems, he said, and that generally he felt Conway was ready to “go from damp to wet.”

County Judge Allen Dodson said that he’s interested to see what the people think about the question, but declined to take a side.

But before the question can be reached, the committee that is organizing the petition drive, Our Community Our Dollars, will have to get almost 25,000 signatures, and according to their press release they won’t be canvassing in Mayflower or Vilonia so as to not disrupt the ongoing tornado relief operations.

 

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