Exactly 106 years ago, on April 28, 1911, the saloons of Runnels County closed their doors. It was not by their own choice, but as a result of a referendum that was held previously on March 16.

Exactly 106 years ago, on April 28, 1911, the saloons of Runnels County closed their doors. It was not by their own choice, but as a result of a referendum that was held previously on March 16.

The county was split down the middle between the “antis” and the “pros”. The debate was heated and passioned on both sides. Speeches were given on the courthouse square and sermons in the pulpits on Sunday, editorials were written in the newspapers, and flyers were given out across the county. When the tally was taken, Ballinger and Rowena voted to stay “wet,” but Winters went overwhelmingly “dry”...and so it was. The local option to ban alcohol in Runnels County passed by a margin of 331 votes.

On that last day, it was noted that the saloon business in Ballinger was brisk, with area citizens coming to town to load up on “supplies.” But, at the end of the day, the eight saloons of Ballinger closed quietly and without fanfare.

Rowena, on the other hand, did not go gentle into that good night. P.J. Baron, the founder of Rowena, who had also been a barkeeper in Ballinger for a time, was dismayed. At 6 p.m. a demonstration was organized in the form of a mock funeral to bury “liberty.” Over 500 people attended and watched J.J. Henkhaus solemnly carry a small coffin around the town square. A hole was dug where the little coffin was carefully placed, and a monument was erected on which was inscribed, “There Lies Our Liberty, Died April 28.”

John Maddox from Ballinger gave a stirring message that brought tears to the eyes of the onlookers. On top of the monument was placed a bottle of whiskey and a bottle of beer. The crowd dispersed in an orderly fashion, but later that night, both bottles of booze were stolen.

Back in Ballinger, there were now eight empty buildings. But, starting the first week of May, 1911, the rows of whiskey bottles and barrels of beer would be replaced by grocery, clothing, and other retailer’s wares. Futch & Company grocery moved in where the Green Front saloon used to be. L.B. Stubbs opened a grocery store previously occupied by the Palace saloon. The A.J. Zappe saloon would become A.J. Zappe clothing and dry goods.

April, 1911 marked the end of an era in Ballinger. After the bars closed, just seven days later on May 5, 1911, John Weeks cleverly placed a player piano in Walker Drug. For a nickel, you could listen to “In The Good Old Summertime” or some other popular ditty, while you sipped a Coke or drew from a fine Havana cigar. No doubt there was a certain appeal to those who used to listen to a piano being played long into the night at their favorite watering hole, while sipping a beer or drawing from a fine Havana cigar.

Randy Atkins is a Ballinger native who writes about Runnels County history. He resides in Lubbock.

Sources: Ballinger Ledger, Shiner Gazette, Coleman Democrat-Voice, Baylor County Banner, Palacios Beacon, “Bonnie and Clyde: The Lives Behind The Legend”, “Runnels County, Texas, Celebrating 150 Years”, and the Southwest Collection at Texas Tech.