Jackson’s First Legal Saloon

By Stephen D. Bowling

February 17, 1904 – Someone finally did it. After 60 years as an organized town, someone did it legally. Matt Crawford walked into Town Hall and paid the tax. He opened an officially licensed bar in Jackson. The people in Jackson were shocked.

For generations, the practice had been to run “blind tigers” or illegal alcohol establishments without approval from the town council or the state. At one point, a central Kentucky newspaper reported seventeen illegal alcohol businesses in downtown Jackson and within a mile of town in Snake Valley. A stiff drink could also be had under the table at other places including local restaurants. None of them were licensed. Conditions got so bad, the Kentucky State Legislature outlawed alcohol establishments in Jackson by direct statute.

When Matt Crawford climbed the steps of the Crawford Building on Main Street in 1904 to pay the $500 fee, no-one was prepared. They did not even have a form or application that could be completed.

Hundreds of newspapers across the country carried the story. Many of the same papers had carried the wild tales of feuds and murders just a few years before. Most found it hard to believe but it was true. The people of Jackson learned of this development on page four of The Breathitt County News. Hidden away near the bottom of the back page of the February 26, 1904 edition was this small article:

First Legal Saloon.
For the first time, a legal saloon was established here when Matt Crawford took out a license paying $500 therefore.  Recently the town council passed a resolution licensing saloons in the face of a legislative enactment prohibiting saloons in Jackson.  Numerous blind tigers are still in operation here.

The article did not give any details as to where the business was located, although most were in the Broadway and Highland Avenue section of the city. The “saloon” owner was well known and connected in the community.

Matthew A. “Matt” Crawford operated a federally licensed distillery just outside of town for many years prior to the opening of his business in Jackson. By 1904, he had decided to move into town. The son of Stephen J. and Nancy (Hargis) Crawford. He was born on August 20, 1882, near Bryant’s Creek. He was educated in the common schools in Breathitt County. Connected to several of the most powerful families in Breathitt County, the Hargis, Crawford, and Jett help clear the way for him to establish his business.

He operated the well-visited site until the evening in October 19, 1910 when a man knocked on the door wanting alcohol. Crawford refused because the man was already intoxicated. The man shot and killed Crawford without warning and fled the scene. Mathew A. Crawford was buried in the Oliver Crawford Cemetery at Athol.

Matt A. Crawford’s tombstone stands high on the hill in the Oliver Crawford Cemetery near the mouth of Bryant’s Creek.

The legal distillery and “watering hole” closed the next week after local residents declared the experiment of a saloon in Jackson a failure. It would be more than decade before the city would try to legalize alcohol again.

© 2022 Stephen D. Bowling


About sdbowling

Director of the Breathitt County Public Library and Heritage Center in Jackson, Kentucky.
This entry was posted in Breathitt County, Jackson, Murder. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Jackson’s First Legal Saloon

  1. Pingback: Store Shootout Kills One | Bookie on the Trail

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