Thursday, May 26, 2016


Fort Smith, Arkansas in the northwest part of the state is a town named after its main reason for being – as a U.S. military fort to help maintain order on the frontier. From the nineteenth century until the turn of the twentieth century, Fort Smith was a raucous border town right on the edge of Indian territories in nearby Oklahoma. It was what you may imagine as the “Wild West.” Lawlessness was prevalent and men outnumbered ladies by a significant number.

 Seven brothels or houses of ill repute were bounded by the Arkansas River on one side and the rail lines on the other. In fact, the girls were permitted to stay only within this red light business district and not allowed to roam the town. Until outlawed by ordinance in 1924, the brothel industry was open and controlled by the town.

 The story is told that in 1903 Laura Ziegler borrowed money from a respectable banker to open a new, quite elegant brothel – complete with burgundy carpeting, gold-flocked wallpaper and a player piano. The forest green house with cream trim was a simple but elegant example of Victorian architecture with a mansard roof trimmed with wrought iron. Each of the nine girls operated out of a well-furnished attractive room. The state issued licenses and medical check-ups were given to the workers. Patrons from all classes and occupations frequented the flourishing bordello – enjoying gambling, dancing, and occasional bathtub champagne.

 Miss Laura, the madam, was an excellent marketer. She gave tokens to the frequent “flyer”, and when he reached six, she gave him a token allowing him free choice of any girl in the house.

 However, by 1910 the golden days had passed. Prostitution was seen as a shady business. Miss Laura’s House had passed its prime. As it declined, the elegant building was abandoned and decayed. As it stood on the brink of being demolished in 1963, Donald Reynolds, a wealthy local businessman, purchased the house to save it from the wrecking ball and to preserve this part of Fort Smith’s history.

Fast forward -- 1973 Laura’s House was selected for the National Register of Historic Places. 1992 it reopened with offices upstairs for the Fort Smith Visitor Center. As the volunteer guides say, “Our brothel still caters to out-of-towners.” Miss Laura’s is open to visitors and still takes care of them but not as well as they used to!
A Room Upstairs

Entertaining in the Parlor

The Madam

Frequent Flyer Token

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