Throwback Thursday – Bowling Green as ‘Little Chicago’

Time has a bad habit of erasing evidence of the past. Buildings burn, photographs disappear, you name it. Without much written or photo evidence, true history becomes hearsay and hearsay becomes legend.

This week we’re taking a closer look into a brief era of Bowling Green history that doesn’t have much visual evidence, but the fact remains that Bowling Green earned its “Little Chicago” namesake in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

The debate temperance debate has been a subject of nationwide importance for over a century.  In 1906, there were more saloons than schools, libraries and churches in the U.S. The passage of the 18th Amendment in 1919 started Prohibition and Bowling Green was no stranger to protests. There were bars and saloons lining Main Street.

Western Kentucky students marched downtown on Fountain Square in the 1910s. Bootlegging alcohol became commonplace in Bowling Green, with the Whiskey Run route being the most famous, which ran underground from Barren River through downtown.

But Bowling Green was not just home to bootleggers. Gambling was growing. After Prohibition ended with the 21st Amendment, places across the country started going wet again. But Bowling Green’s wet versus dry conversations carried on for decades. That’s where the “Little Chicago” rumblings start.

City crime was going up in the mid-1950s. Police Chief Horace Snell was capturing suspects in bombings and murder cases. The Bowling Green Daily News reported 10 bombings in 1963. Three of those failed. One was aimed at Detective Wayne Constant, who was Police Chief nominee at the time and who hosted John F. Kennedy on a presidential tour in 1960.

The bombings were mostly surrounding the wet-dry vote and gambling, since Horseshoe Beer Depot and Siddens Music Company were the two most well-known businesses hit. The Warren County Anti-Liquor Association was pushing for another Prohibition era. The Bowling Green Rotary cCub put out a plea stop the madness, which made it all the way to the Courier Journal and the Nashville Tennessean.

The wet-dry debate between city and county continues today, as recently as the 2018 local election. But the name “Little Chicago” didn’t stick.