Remembering Long-Lost Longworth Street, Cincinnati’s Reddest Block

Longworth Street lives only in legend these days. This infamous avenue once ran from Vine Street westward out past Mound Street almost to the Mill Creek. Now, it’s all gone.

Longworth Street ran parallel to and halfway between Fifth and Sixth Street. Just north of Longworth is the long building that housed the Sixth Street Market. A few squares north lie St. Peter Cathedral and City Hall.

Map of Longworth Street Produced by Greg Hand Base map: 1891 Sanborn Insurance Map digitized by Ohio Web Library https://sanborn.ohioweblibrary.org/

Before 1880, houses of prostitution entertained clients everywhere in Cincinnati, from the East End to the far reaches of Over-the-Rhine. Between 1880 and 1917, Cincinnati suppressed houses outside a “segregated district” bounded by Plum, Fifth, Mound and Seventh. Within this district two streets gained particular notoriety, George Street and Longworth Street.

Longworth’s reputation was thoroughly scarlet. At one time, Cincinnati renamed several blocks of Longworth to appease residents who did not want to be associated with that wicked address. Everyone knew, however, that “Carlyle Street” was really sinful Longworth, and Longworth was plenty sinful. The Cincinnati Gazette made this claim on November 24, 1881 about just one block of Longworth Street between Plum and Central:

“In this one square are to be found more houses of prostitution than can be found from end to end of any other one street in the city. Decent people have long since deserted the neighborhood, so that now it is entirely given over to the demi-monde, who swarm within the houses on both sides of the street.”

This block (or “square”) was located just south of the Sixth Street Market, and within sight of City Hall and St. Peter Cathedral. In 1881, libertines could exercise their lust at 17 brothels without leaving this single block. Today it is totally covered by the Convention Center. The unnamed Gazette reporter unleashed his purplest prose in describing this cesspool of vice:

“Night is their day, and of a truth it may be said of them, they love darkness rather than light, because their deeds are evil. During the day there is not a more quiet street in the city than this, but as night approaches the inhabitants of these many houses begin to bestir themselves to make ready for the coming night’s orgie.”

On just one block, between Plum and Central, Longworth Street housed 17 brothels, a half-dozen saloons and an illegal gambling parlor. In this map, brothels are shaded pink and saloons are green.

Location of Longworth Street Photo illustration by Greg Hand. Base image courtesy of the Archives & Rare Books Library, University of Cincinnati. Used by permission

Here is a tour of the 17 brothels (and one bawdy house) located between Plum and Central on Longworth Street in 1881, by address and by madam:

121: Josephine Woods

Better known as “Joe” Woods, she started out as an “inmate” at another house on Plum Street before opening this “resort” on Longworth. One night, apparently angered by an incident at the Bellevue house, Joe fired several gunshots at her neighbor, Kate Riley, who was unharmed but filed charges.

127: Kate Riley

Kate and her sister, May, were two fiery Irish lasses, and they occupied the court docket and police blotter for 20 years, from 1875 to 1894, often for violent attacks by them or on them. Kate owned another brothel at 189 George Street, managed by May.

129: Kate Dugan

An ongoing feud between the two Kates—Dugan and Riley—kept the police and courts busy and newspaper readers entertained over several years as their “working girls” slugged it out in the parlors of their houses or on the sidewalks.

131: Adeline Miller

With more than 15 years’ experience as a madam, Adeline Miller owned a couple of brothels. At least one was managed by an adopted daughter. She bought this house on Longworth Street from Kate Riley.

133: Mollie Avery

Known as “Mother Avery” over her long career, Mollie ran this brothel and also owned the notorious Big Chief saloon on the same block.

135: Hattie Black

The Cincinnati Enquirer [27 September 1878] reported that “Among the many low, disreputable dives with which this city is infested there are none that enjoy a more unsavory reputation than that kept by a blonde female of uncertain years known as Hester Clark, alias Hattie Black.”

137: Jessie West

One day in 1885, Jessie West absconded with the entire contents of her bordello except for a piano, which sat in the otherwise empty house when a constable arrived with a writ to impound the furnishings.

145: Hattie Wilson

In addition to running a brothel, Hattie Wilson was occasionally arrested as a sneak-thief. She had a heart of gold, though. When two young prostitutes drowned in the 1884 flood, Hattie paid their burial expenses.

151: Gem Varieties

A veritable supermarket of sin, this notorious establishment combined elements of a saloon, a burlesque theater, and a bordello. Its reputation was thoroughly shameful, yet it inspired fond memories among its habitués.

126: Kittie Roney

Madam Roney ran the sort of place that police checked whenever an upstanding citizen reported a stolen carriage. Investigating officers usually recovered not only the carriage, but the horse, and often a couple or three inebriated felons attempting to induce some frail sisters to ride with them up Spring Grove Avenue. Kittie moved into this house after Nellie Busch, the previous madam, was murdered, stabbed by an unidentified client.

130: Jennie Riley

Although Cincinnati brothels were regularly “pulled” or raided, the attack on Jennie Riley’s house at 130 Longworth Street on December 1, 1886 stepped over the line and resulted in the alleged officers of the law prosecuted for malfeasance. One William J. Sanderson, a justice of the peace, led a gang of deputized street toughs as they demolished Madam Riley’s house and stole her beer and wine. Sanderson organized the raid as a favor to his mistress, who worked as a prostitute in another house. (There is apparently no relation between Jennie Riley and May and Kate Riley across the street.)

134: Lizzie Manley

Like most madams and prostitutes, Lizzie Manley operated under a pseudonym. Her real name appears to be Elizabeth Burgess. She presided over a succession of houses on Longworth Street for more than a decade.

136: Annie Shayne

Mrs. Shayne ran this house for several years. Her husband, Jim, was co-owner, but he was never on the premises, preferring to hang out at one of the nearby gambling houses.

138: Mary Lippincott

By 1881, Mary Lippincott was a veteran of almost 20 years in the oldest profession. She opened her first brothel during Civil War when thousands of soldiers passed through Cincinnati, and hosted several others in the years since.

146: Madame Florence

Madame Florence ostensibly told fortunes in the parlor of this address, but she rented rooms by the hour to streetwalkers and their customers—the 1880s equivalent of a “no-tell motel.”

148: Maude Wilson

Around the time this exposé appeared, Maude Wilson took over Carrie Blake’s brothel at 148 Longworth. A few years later, Maude was in the newspapers because one of her clients shot her. She recovered, but got out of the business.

150: Nettie O’Meara

The wife, unfortunately, of a notorious wife beater known as “Dog-Face” Butler, Nettie managed this successful house on Longworth Street before moving to a bigger resort on George Street.

152: Nellie Jackson

Although the Gazette says this house was Gracie Reid’s, all other sources show another madam, Nellie Jackson, as the owner. Perhaps Nellie sublet the place to Gracie for a time.

Did anyone occupy a building on Longworth that was not a brothel or a saloon? Indeed. There was a carriage manufacturer smack in the middle of the south side of the block, a couple of rooming houses for men, one seemingly rented exclusively to waiters and one for printers, some dressmakers, at least one gambling den, and a few isolated private residences.

By all accounts, saloons and bordellos were pretty noisy places. One wonders how anyone got any sleep on Longworth Street.

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