at the corner of State and Joliet, Nov. 17 1935, showing earthquake
damage. During the gold-rush era, it was owned by Josephine
"Chicago Jo" Hensley, and was likely a brothel. Hensley
also owned the Red Light Saloon, the Coliseum variety theater,
and had other commercial interests in the Helena area, including
historian B. Derek Strahn, writing for the website
Montana", gives us the lowdown on Chicago Joe
and two other successful Helena prostutute/madams:
Helenas prosperous aura was its extensive red light
district, which flourished between Wood and Bridge Streets.
Initially, a number of proprietor prostitutes
working alone out of small houses that they owned, defined
the district. By the 1880s, however, a few increasingly
powerful madams consolidated ownership of the tenderloin,
erecting several large parlors and colorful bawdy houses.
By 1886, no less than 52 white prostitutes worked in Helenas
demimonde, which for more than 20 years had constituted
the towns largest single source of womens
employment outside of the home.
of the most prominent madams in Helena during this time
was Josephine Airey Chicago Joe Hensley
who, beginning in 1871, shrewdly manipulated a series
of business deals to become the queen of the citys
red light district. Mortgaging everything, including
three dozen pair of underclothes, she rapidly
became the largest landowner on Wood Street. At the peak
of her success, Chicago Joe had invested more
than $30,000 to erect the Coliseum, a vaudevillian variety
theater, and other sizable building projects. But the
nationwide Panic of 1893 found her financially overextended,
and virtually all of her property ultimately transferred
to others. She died of pneumonia a few years later at
the age of 56.
HELENA NEWSPAPER CLIPPINGS FEATURING CHICAGO JOE
ON THE CLIPPINGS FOR LARGER VIEWS IN NEW WINDOWS
NEW SUPPLY OF GIRLS AND A MISUNDERSTANDING - 1884
MORPHENE OVERDOSE -1884
DISPLAY AD IN THE DAILY INDEPENDENT
Chicago Joe had a few problems with her hubby...
NOTICE IN THE JANUARY 10, 1883 DAILY INDEPENDENT
Hensley's dresser box
"CRAZY BELLE" CRAFTON
MOLLIE BYRNES, AKA MOLLIE WEINSHEIMER
Castle" was located on the NE corner of State and Joliet.
It has long since been demolished. The Bluestone House,
still standing two blocks to the north of the site, is often
mistaken for "The Castle".
east up State Street, ca. 1890.
Mr. Strahn's article continues...
Crazy Belle Crafton Byrnes was another
significant player in Helenas red light distirct.
Born in New Orleans, Byrnes settled in Helena in 1881
and set up operations in the heart of the demimonde. By
May of 1884, she secured the old Kiyus Saloon property,
while renting several other residential properties in
other parts of the city. Two years later she financed
the construction of a grand, $12,000 bordello that soon
became known as the castle. By 1899, Byrnes
sold her flagship property to a local hotel owner. When
she died of acute alcoholism a year later, her estate
was valued at $20,000 cash in real and personal property.
1901 Anaconda Standard article on the legal
battle over Belle Craftons' estate.
CLICK TO ENLARGE
successful Helena prostitute was Louisa Couselle
who, like Hensley and Byrnes, regularly bought and sold
property while extending mortgages to others. Sensing
opportunity in uncharted waters, Couselle soon relocated
to Bozeman, where competition was virtually non-existent.
With impressive financial resources at her disposal, Couselle
purchased a total of 15 lots, laying the foundation for
a rapidly-growing tenderloin that would flourish one half
block north of Main Street between North Rouse and North
Bozeman Avenues. The
enterprise was very profitable, and by 1878, Couselle
was of greater economic means than roughly 95 percent
of Bozemans citizens. Her stature was so impressive
that The Avant Courier Annual Almanac listed her as one
of the 59 heavy taxpayers of Gallatin County.
tradition of South Main brothels continued until 1973, when
the establishment of the legendary Dorothy Baker was closed
down. The well-trod entrance to "Dorothy's
Rooms" was on Jackson St.
THANKS TO PROF. PAULA
PETRIK, ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR OF THE CENTER FOR HISTORY &
NEW MEDIA AT GEORGE MASON UNIVERSITY, FOR HER VALUABLE INPUT
AND KIND ASSISTANCE. PROF. PETRIK IS THE AUTHOR OF
STEP BACKWARD: WOMEN AND FAMILY ON THE ROCKY MOUNTAIN MINING
FRONTIER, HELENA, MONTANA, 1865-1900"