- The Washington Times - Monday, September 20, 2004

ROCKPORT, Mass. (AP) — A sign by a shaded doorway in this tourist village discreetly announces “Hannah Jumper lived here.” She also died in the white clapboard house in the mid-1800s, collapsing at age 84 — but her spirit has never really left.

Except for a brief period in the 1930s, the sale of alcohol has been forbidden in Rockport since 1856, when Miss Jumper and her gang of 200 hatchet-wielding women swept through town and destroyed anything containing alcohol in “Rockport’s revolt against rum.”

Now, residents and business owners are torn about whether it’s time to end her legacy. Some consider the rule a major drag on the tourist business that’s the economic lifeblood of Rockport, one of 17 dry towns in Massachusetts.

Others say the sale of alcohol will erode the quaint New England character that gives Rockport its appeal. Once liquor is sold, they say, bars and brawls can’t be far behind.

Residents today will gather at the annual town meeting to debate whether to allow restaurants and function halls to sell liquor. Residents expect the vote to be close.

“You have people [on both sides] who are equally vehement about their stance,” said police Sgt. Tony Hilliard, 50, who grew up in Rockport and has seen this battle waged before.

The women in Miss Jumper’s famous raid were angry that laws limiting the sale of alcohol were being ignored and that townsmen were wasting scarce funds drinking rum while waiting until their next fishing trip.

On July 8, 1856, the women stormed through the Cape Ann town, producing hatchets they’d hidden beneath their shawls and smashing any “keg, jug or flask having spirituous liquor in it,” as one witness wrote.

Rockport soon became a dry town, and has remained so except for a brief period after Prohibition was lifted in 1933 — a time Sgt. Hilliard said is remembered as a bit of a disaster. One alley was dubbed “Diamond Spring Alley” after the ale that apparently prompted processions of men to relieve themselves there, he said.

This year’s vote would allow function halls and sit-down restaurants to obtain liquor licenses, but would still allow the town to ban liquor stores and bars.

Amy Hale, owner of the Greenery restaurant and a lifelong Rockport resident, said she’s tired of watching potential customers leave for neighboring Gloucester when they realize they have to provide their own drinks.

“It’s cute, you know, but it’s not convenient,” said Miss Hale, 42. “It’s the age of IPods and flat-screen TVs. It’s all about service.”

Resident Diane Crudden, 33, said allowing businesses to sell alcohol would mean that crime and car accidents associated with excessive drinking would get worse. She also doesn’t believe a prohibition against bars and liquor stores would last for long.

“Give an inch, they’ll take a yard,” Miss Crudden said.

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