The Temperance Movement in Williamson County, Texas and Round Rock March 1878

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Bob Brinkman - Texas Historical Commission


The temperance movement in Williamson County and Round Rock

The Temperance movement was a powerful group in America in the 19th century. Their crusade to make alcohol an illegal substance was part of a larger progressive action that aimed to improve Americans’ quality of life. Along with women’s suffrage, child labor laws, and other civil rights, they were able to put the question of the prohibition on the ballot in local elections for decades. Often a town’s claim to be “dry” was a selling point for prospective citizens and students. Round Rock pushed such a law through the State Legislature in 1863, making the sale or possession of alcohol within four miles of the schoolhouse punishable by up to $500. When the I & GN Railroad came to Williamson County in 1876, it brought goods and ideas from the eastern U. S. more rapidly.

The railroad also created new towns, like Thrall, Taylor, and Hutto. Each of these stops was briefly the “end of the line,” and enjoyed great success as trading posts and commercial centers, and among other things brought saloons to the landscape. Eventually, feelings became divided in the county, with those in the western half generally in favor of temperance, and those in the east preferring to be “wet.” In 1878 a county-wide election was decided 494 to 461 in favor of the local option. For a time, each precinct held a prohibition election every two years, and some areas flip-flopped with each election.

During these years there was serious talk from the eastern towns of breaking away and forming their own county, often referred to as Willie County.

In Taylor and Georgetown, newspapers were founded on the sole premise of being for or against temperance. Petitions for a new county made it all the way to the Legislature, but in the end, cooler heads prevailed. The wet-dry line through Texas has become fixed over the years, with enterprising saloons set up right along the border. Such a place was Cocklebur, which prospered for a time just south of Round Rock along the road to Austin. Another string of bars can still be seen near Florence. Eventually, prohibition became the national standard from 1918 to 1933 with amendments to the Constitution. The change came slowly, and the local option for liquor-by-the-drink was declared legal statewide only in 1970. Still, there remain 53 counties in Texas (out of 254) that are dry as a bone.