Village of Jamestown establishes saloon licenses in 1881

JSSP Historic Events and Happenings

The village of Jamestown needed another source of revenue back in 1881. It looked to a license on saloons as a way to beef up the village’s resources.

“First, the revenue derived from that source will assist materially in paying the expenses of the village corporation,” wrote The Jamestown Alert. “Second, it will discourage the establishment of low dives, thus keeping out a class of men whose principal business would be to fill our jail and disturb the peace of our village.”

The license fee was set at $200 per year with a $500 bond required to assure the saloon operator kept the peace.

Adjusted for inflation, that amounts to a license of about $5250 and a bond of about $13,000.


Saloons were one of the principle businesses of early Jamestown with nine of them operating in 1881. Those saloons outnumbered all the other businesses in the community. The editor of the Alert editorialized that nine saloons in town were enough.

“There are a few saloon keepers in Jamestown that are law-abiding men, and they should feel it their duty to assist in shutting out disreputable characters,” wrote the Alert. “… We think that something should be done to discourage the establishing of anymore gin mills in our village.”

The new village ordinance also set consistent opening and closing times for the saloons of Jamestown.

It could be expected that the saloon owners of the village didn’t like the new rules and license fees. The Jamestown Alert reported that the owners did form an organization although it appears they didn’t invite the editors of the Alert to their meetings.

The saloon owner’s organization did establish a uniform price for a beer in Jamestown at 10 cents.

And while a dime may seem a bargain price if you’ve been to a drinking establishment and bought a beer recently. It was about 10% of the daily wages for a lot of working men in Jamestown.

Even at the steep price of a dime a beer, it was a popular drink in Jamestown. The Danner Brewery produced 400 kegs of beer during its average four day work week. The beer was distributed as far west as Mandan and as far east as Moorhead.

It was even hauled by wagon to some of the small towns in the region like Grand Rapids that didn’t have rail service.


Saloons and breweries were short-lived industries in North Dakota. The constitution of the new state of North Dakota in 1889 established prohibition as the law of the state. Prohibition stayed in place until the 1930s.

Author Keith Norman can be reached at

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