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History: The fight for local option in Adair County, 1934-37

The fight for local option in Adair County, 1934-1937 (part I of II)

As September 1934 drifted off stage and October strolled into the limelight, woes of the Great Depression, the fifth anniversary of Black Tuesday looming large on the near event horizon, temporarily took a back seat in Adair County as a special election drew nigh.

Almost exactly ten months earlier, passage of the 21st Amendment to the US Constitution nullified the Volstead Act -- Prohibition -- and for the first time in nearly fourteen years, liquor flowed legally. Within a short time, however, the Adair Ministerial Association started agitating for exercise of the local option.

On Sunday night, April 29, an overflow crowd packed the Court House to hear a number of local men of the cloth lay out the evils of alcohol and what could be done about curtailing same. Said the News, "All the ministers of local churches took part," including Rev. Perry L. Stone, pastor of the Columbia Christian, who made "a plea for the maintenance of Columbia's moral standards."

It was at this meeting that a petition requesting a vote for local option -- that is, for the county going dry -- first came up in a public venue, and one of the speakers brought out that if one-fourth of the voters registered in Adair signed such a petition, the matter could be brought to ballot. The following week, the committee selected October 2nd as the date of the proposed election. Chairmen, many of them ministers, soon were appointed in nearly all of the 29 precincts to lead the gathering of signatures, the petitions were printed, and the campaign got under way. Within the next four or five weeks, nearly 1,600 voters affixed their names, and by the end of June, some 3,800 had signed, two thousand and more over the required minimum.

Only one local minister is known to have spoken out against exercising local option. On Saturday, June 16, Rev. Meshack Franklin Beamer, affiliated with the Church of Christ and using the Courthouse as his venue, gave an "impassioned plea" against going dry. (It was at this presentation that mention was made of a liquor dispensary on Jamestown Road having recently burned, an event Rev. Beamer "condemned as having been done by a religious fanatic or a bootlegger." The blaze otherwise went unreported in the News.)

In addition, the News indirectly quoted Rev. Beamer as estimating there to be "no more than one bone dry person out of 500," and the paper went on to say,

"The preachers were advised [by Rev. Beamer] that it would do more good if they would get out of politics, quit talking about whiskey and local option, and preach the Bible."

A published letter from Rev. Beamer announcing another Court House speaking on Saturday, June 23, succinctly gave his stance in the form of a question:

"Do you favor government control of whiskey, and let the county, State, and nation have its revenue from the same, which is so much needed at this time, or do you want the moonshiner and bootlegger to have control of whiskey and rob the county, State and nation of its revenue and have nothing but the deviltry from whiskey?"

Undeterred by the local option whirlwind across the county, late July 1934 found Stanley W. Epperson opening Epp's Place, "an up-to-date restaurant, soft drink stand and pool room" in the east corner of the Square. Not too long afterward, an ad touted "Epp's Place / Good things to eat / Beer on tap." Less than three weeks later, legal notices in the News stated T.A. Tabor had been granted license to "dispense liquor at retail in unbroken packages" at a location "over 3 miles from Columbia on the Greensburg Road." At the same time, Joe Morris had been issued the same license for a dispensary "about 100 yards out of City Limits, Jamestown Rd."

On Sunday evening, September 30, 1934, Charles J. Turck, the president of Centre College, fired up a large -- and largely partisan -- crowd in Columbia with a brief history of prohibition, saying in part that the 18th Amendment had been overthrown "mainly to indifference on the part of the temperance supporters and the use of money by the wet element." He further stated that "We" -- the voters present -- "owe it to oncoming generation to outlaw the liquor traffic as an enemy rather than take it on as a partner...[W]e must choose between government control of liquor and liquor control of government."

Following Dr. Turck's remarks, several local ministers, including Rev. A.P. White, president of Lindsey Wilson Junior College, made short talks, and John W. Flowers closed the gathering with a prayer.

Two days later, over four thousand Adair Countians went to the polls to vote in the special election. When the smoke cleared and the ballots all tallied up a few days later, the wets had carried Eunice precinct 45-22, Milltown by two votes, and harmony by three, but countywide, legal liquor met a tsunami-strength Waterloo, losing 3,200 to 933, a margin of almost a three and half to one. (In the Keltner and Sparksville precincts combined, the dry vote carried 297 to 5.) The News reported, rather remarkably, "The election passed off quietly in all the 29 precincts."

Part II of this look back at the history of legal/illegal sale of alcohol in Adair County will be printed here within the week. Coming up in part 2: a court ruling, an election that wasn't, a troublesome amendment cast out, and another election.

This story was posted on 2019-10-08 05:53:10
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