A sign by a shaded doorway in this tourist village discreetly announces "Hannah Jumper lived here." She also died in the white clapboard house in the mid-1800s, collapsing at age 84 -- but her spirit has never left.

Except for a brief period in the 1930s, the sale of alcohol has been forbidden in Rockport since 1856, when Jumper and her gang of 200 hatchet-wielding women swept through town and destroyed anything containing alcohol in "Rockport's revolt against rum."

Now, residents and business owners are torn about whether it is time to end her legacy. Some consider the rule a major drag on the tourist business that is the economic lifeblood of Rockport, one of 17 dry towns in Massachusetts.

Others say the sale of alcohol will erode the quaint New England character that gives Rockport its appeal. Once liquor is sold, they say, bars and brawls will follow.

On Monday, residents will gather at the annual town meeting to debate whether to allow restaurants and function halls to sell liquor. Residents expect the vote to be close.

"You have people [on both sides] who are equally vehement about their stance," said police Sgt. Tony Hilliard, 50, who grew up in Rockport and has seen this battle waged before.

The women in Jumper's famous raid were angry that laws limiting the sale of alcohol were being ignored and that townsmen were wasting scarce funds drinking rum while waiting until their next fishing trip.

On July 8, 1856, the women stormed through the Cape Ann town, producing hatchets they had hidden beneath their shawls and smashing any "keg, jug or flask having spirituous liquor in it," as one witness wrote.

Rockport soon became a dry town and has remained so except for a brief period after Prohibition was lifted in 1933 -- a time Hilliard said is remembered as a bit of a disaster. One alley was dubbed "Diamond Spring Alley" after the ale that apparently prompted streams of men to relieve themselves there, he said.

This year's vote would allow function halls and sit-down restaurants to obtain liquor licenses but would still allow the town to ban liquor stores and bars.

Amy Hale, owner of the Greenery restaurant and a lifelong Rockport resident, said she is tired of watching potential customers leave for neighboring Gloucester when they realize they have to provide their own drinks.

"It's cute, you know, but it's not convenient," said Hale, 42. "It's the age of iPods and flat-screen TVs. It's all about service."

People who bring their own liquor save a couple of dollars, but they also present restaurants with dilemmas because managers say they cannot cut customers off when they have had too much and cannot check to make sure drinkers are 21 or older.

Allowing restaurants to control drinking and be more competitive will not mean Rockport will "all of the sudden be party central," Hale said.

Resident Diane Crudden, 33, said allowing businesses to sell alcohol means crime and car accidents associated with excessive drinking would get worse. She also does not believe a prohibition against bars and liquor stores would last long.

"Give an inch; they'll take a yard," Crudden said.

Bruce Emrich, 49, and Julie Emrich, 45, of Saratoga, N.Y., are frequent visitors to Rockport. She says the restriction makes the town seem more artsy and intellectual, and he likes the town's sense of tranquillity, compared with the gritty appeal of nearby Gloucester.

"It kind of does go with the town," he said.

Still, Bruce Emrich says they never eat in Rockport because he likes a beer or wine with his meal.

Proponents of keeping the ban may look to the spirit of Jumper for support, but they will not get much help from the woman who lives in her home.

Dorothy Russell, 90, said fears about alcohol sales transforming Rockport are unfounded because the town's character is so well-established. She jokes that Jumper has passed on her approval about lifting the ban from the afterlife, but gets serious when asked her own opinion.

"I believe it's time," she said.

Jean Brown, bottom, pours champagne for Ruth O'Brien at a Rockport, Mass., restaurant. Diners must bring their own alcohol to eateries in the dry town.