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Wet & Dry: Alcohol in Clay County 1871-1937

The Historical and Cultural Society of Clay County presents a new exhibit at the Hjemkomst Center in Moorhead; Wet & Dry: Alcohol in Clay County 1871-1937.  This exhibit opened on February 16th and will shown for 2 years.

Keep checking back here for more information and a schedule of events associated with this exhibit.

Exhibit website and upcoming events

WetDry300This exhibit explores the spirited debates around the morality of alcohol, from our Wild West birth through the end of Prohibition, encompassing three major periods: Settlement (1871-1890), the Saloon Era (1890-1915) and Prohibition (1915-1937).

People have enjoyed alcoholic beverages for thousands of years. It’s an important part of our culture – and a multi-billion dollar industry – but alcohol is also a dangerous, addictive drug that can lead to irresponsible and violent behavior, destroying lives and families. Efforts by Clay County residents to resolve this disconnect – to give the people what they want but still maintain social order – are marked by extremes.


When settlers founded new communities, they debated whether or not alcohol would be part of it. Once the Northern Pacific Railway arrived in 1871, thousands of settlers streamed into Clay County, claiming land for new farms and creating new villages. As each new community formed, a debate began between those who would ban alcohol (the Drys), those who welcomed alcohol (the Wets) and everybody in between.

The Saloon Era

When Fargo went dry in 1890, Moorhead became infamous for its many – and rowdy – saloons – 45 of them in a town of about 3,700. Moorhead’s Prohibition was more wet than dry, with criminal networks keeping Clay County drinking. City officials and voters could have responsibly regulated and limited the influx of saloons, enforced the law and used the liquor license fees paid by the saloons wisely. But they didn’t. Corruption, law breaking and bad financial decisions plagued Moorhead throughout the 1890s.


In 1915 reformers succeeded in outlawing liquor completely. But Prohibition also did not work out. Although legally dry, Clay County had a very wet Prohibition. Residents did not stop drinking. “Rum-runners” smuggled in large shipments of alcohol from Canada or other parts of the USA. “Moonshiners” secretly made hard liquor in home distilleries. “Bootleggers” sold alcohol on the streets or in cafés. Scores of local businesses and private homes were “Blind Pigs” or “Speak Easies,” illegally selling alcohol under the table or even operating as not-so-secret illegal saloons.


As soon as the Drys succeeded in making alcohol illegal in America, Wets went to work trying to repeal (or overturn) Prohibition. The Repeal movement gained support as the American public saw that Prohibition was not working. The Repeal Movement gained steam during the Great Depression. With unemployment soaring, many saw that reviving the alcohol industry would put people back to work and bring needed revenue to the government through alcohol taxes. On December 5, 1933, the 21st Amendment to the Constitution completely repealed National Prohibition. Although many Clay County communities allowed 3.2 beer in April of 1933, the county did not legalize hard liquor and strong beer until 1937.

About Dean

I drank my share of pale lagers back in college in the 80's but I always wanted to try more, often drinking the 'dark' versions of beer as that was the only interesting thing on tap. I got into homebrewing in the early 90's meeting a lot of great people and then really started learning about beer and how to judge it. Then into the 00's I started branching out with beer and started to deal with beer education and paring beer with food which I did with some restaurants, even beating out wine in a beer vs. wine dinner. I don't try and push beer on people but if they ask questions and really want to listen, I can talk for hours about the subject. Now we come to today, and beer scene in the Fargo / Moorhead area and North Dakota is starting to boom. FMBeer was created with the help of MNBeer.com so people in the F/M area have a single place where they can find out more about good beer, from a calendar of events to lists of local breweries and bars. FMBeer is also a place to learn more about craft beer for those just branching out and a resource to come back to.