A few weeks ago, my husband and I went with some friends to a football game a few hours from home. We had an extra day with nothing planned except staying at the hotel, so I suggested we visit a nearby city I’d never seen before. It’s no secret if you travel with me, I’m going to ask to see a town’s historic district. Usually my husband goes along with my plans quietly–he’s a smart man! This time, however, I think even he was interested.
Fort Smith, Arkansas is featured in the book and movie True Grit, which we both enjoyed. It also has something else we were intrigued by: a visitor center that was once a working bordello!
In this former frontier city known for “Hanging” Judge Roy Parker, there’s a welcome center that was indeed once a house of ill-repute. Miss Laura’s is located in an area known as “The Row.” Several turn of the century homes once lined this street near the railroad tracks and the river, but now this beauty stands almost alone. Guests to Miss Laura’s get a free tour of the first floor of the home and a lot of information about the city itself.
The home is full of reproduction and antique furnishings, with some items coming from the original establishment and the women who worked there. Our guide showed us a secret entrance for the madam, as well as how she ran the business in the best interest of her ladies. Men exchanged money with Miss Laura, who gave them a token. Then the customers paid the ladies with tokens so the girls were in no danger of being robbed.
During the days the establishment, the ladies were governed by local law. They had to undergo monthly medical exams and were provided with transportation by Miss Laura. Photos of the ladies show them looking happy and healthy. (Our guide told us they weren’t allowed to reveal their identities because their relatives still lived in the area.) Items on display in the visitor center were both personal and telling of their professional lives.
My surprise trip was a lot of fun and great inspiration for future writing. You never know what tawdry secrets a city has until you visit its welcome center and dig into the history.
SANDRA JONES, author
Legendary romance… www.sandrajonesromance.com