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East Bird Street building possesses storied past

This 1967 photo of East Bird Street, taken by Bill Partee, shows 111 Bird Street at far left. The building to its left is still standing. The three buildings on to the west have been demolished. The lot at the far right is now used as a community garden. STEVE CHOU COLLECTION


Richard Turner opened The Bordello bed and breakfast at 111 Bird Street in 1983, leasing the building from the city of Hannibal, Mo., which had – for two decades prior – utilized the building to house its utility offices.

By 1994, new owner Mike Straube had softened the image of the establishment, renaming it the Riverfront Inn, “a respectable place where you can sign your real name when you check in.”

When Pam and Mike Ginsberg set up business at 111 Bird Street, they renamed their new restaurant and B&B “LulaBelle’s” once again focusing on the theme of building’s original use.

Which was: A brothel.

Building’s past

Three years prior to the arrival of the 1920s, the two-story building at 111 Bird St., still standing in 2017, was constructed on what was then known as East Bird Street in downtown Hannibal.

In 1917, United States was heavily involved in the Great War on European soil. The following year, the U.S. experienced one of the worst flu epidemics in history. In June of 1919, the signing of the Treaty of Versailles marked the end of the Great War. And beginning in 1920, Prohibition made the production, importation, transportation and sale of alcoholic beverages illegal in the U.S.

Throughout all of these major events, the brothel on Bird Street remained open for business.

First proprietor

Miss Sarah Smith, formerly of Quincy, Ill., may have been the first “madam” to operate the bordello at 111 Bird Street, which was then referred to as Sarah’s Place.

The January 30, 1919 edition of the Quincy Daily Whig, made note of the fact that Sarah Smith had been fined two times in the prior three weeks, each time for selling liquor without a license. Her total fines amounted to $300.

On Aug. 29, 1919, the Quincy Daily Whig offered the following report of a court session where Sarah Smith was fined.

“Court spectators in the court of Judge Thomas S. Hagan found considerable amusement when Sarah Smith, formerly of Quincy, was arraigned for running a house on East Bird Street. Sarah intimated that the regular fines that were being imposed each month had brought her bank account down to a point where she was not certain whether she had enough on deposit to pay the $200 fine that was placed against her.

‘Are you guilty?’ asked Judge Hagan.

‘Guess I am,’ said Sarah, ‘for I am still at the same old number. I am losing money and am willing to sell out any old time. The next time I come into court I guess the city will have to feed me and soup is about the best that I will get from the city.’

But Sarah paid her fine and costs with a check and left.”

The crackdown on liquor sales was lead by Marion County’s young prosecuting attorney, Roy Hamlin. The newspaper reported: “Hamlin is determined that the unlawful sale of liquor in Hannibal must be stopped and he promises other cases of sensational nature within a short time.”

The crackdown boosted the county’s coffers, but did little to thwart activity in this part of town.

Roy Hamlin

Hamlin was trying to make a name for himself. A native of Franklin County, name recognition was paramount for young lawyers settling down into a new community. Elected prosecuting attorney in 1919, he went after the vice going on east of Main Street, and in doing so, he gained the recognition he hoped for. He served as prosecutor until 1927; and was a member of the Missouri State House of Representatives from Marion County from 1933 until 1960. He served as speaker of the Missouri State House of Representatives in 1950.

Management change

After a few years, Sarah Smith turned over the keys to the brothel to Adelaide (Mrs. Addie) Henry.

The Quincy Daily Herald reported on May 27, 1925, that Hannibal police officers had conducted a raid on businesses in the East Bird street area and 11 women had been brought to police court to answer charges. The raids were conducted by Officers Pete Turner and Night Captain Lower. “The raid resulted in eleven women appearing in police court Tuesday morning. The women were dressed in the very latest of fashion.

Those fined were Dollie Tinsley, 119 Bird street, $100; Opal Dresden and Florence Miller, both of the same address, $25 each; Jessie Davis, 116 Center street, $100; Marcelle Thompson, Violet Allen and Anna Belle Harvey, all of the same address, $25 each; Adelaide Henry, 111 Bird Street, $100; Marion Carvin, Carrie Dixon and Frances Carroll, $25 each.”

In 1929, Margaret Stewart was operating a business at 111 Bird Street, and in 1942, Frances Clark was in residence at 111 Bird Street.

This photo shows 111 East Bird Street during one of Hannibal’s historic floods. The buildings to the east of this structure were demolished, and a floodwall now borders the east side of the 111 East Bird Street property. STEVE CHOU COLLECTION.

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