Cape’s House of Ill Repute

The sign on the front of the three-story brick building on the southwest corner of Independence and Frederick proclaims that the Cape Girardeau Historic Preservation Commission has deemed it “One of Cape’s Original Treasures c. 1910.” (Click on any photo to make it larger, then you can click on the left or right side of the image to see the rest of the photos.)

Looks pretty ho-hum to me

Ho-hum. Looks pretty much like a bunch of other old buildings in Cape. Still, on a visit in the fall of 2009, I felt somewhat obliged to knock off some record photos of it.

While I was researching something the other night I saw a National Register of Historic Places application for the “Wood Building.” Like the obligatory photos of the building on Independence, I felt compelled to stick a copy in a directory named Cape Historical.

Many of original features remain

This evening I stumbled across the Wood Building file and discovered Wood was the name of the folks who built it between 1908-1910, not the type of building material. Still, the application was a bunch of the normal architectural mumbo jumbo that means something to somebody, but not me.

Owned by Woods family until 1979

I plowed through the formal stuff until I got to page 9, where we started getting into the history of the building. William L. Wood and his wife, Mary, moved from Perryville around 1895 with their two sons, William Jr., 5, and Charles, 9. The Rudolph Stecher Brewing Company of Murphysboro, Ill., rented the entire first floor.

The property stayed in the Woods family until 1979. During its long history, 1 South Frederick has nearly always been a saloon. It’s been known as the Central Inn, Central Hotel, Central Bar, Central Tavern, Corner Inn, Corner Pub and, most recently, Mac’s Tavern.

Upstairs had the action

The sections of the building with the addresses 3 South Frederick and 607 Independence have housed such diverse businesses as The Creamery, The Central Furniture Company and Kos Potato Chip Company. The second and third floors served as a boarding house and hotel, as well as a front for a house of ill repute.

You should download the application

That’s pretty interesting, but the National Register application spins an even better tale. I’m not going to spend time typing. I’m going to point you to the Wood Building document and let you read it for yourself. The good stuff starts at Section 8, Page 9 (Page 11 of the pdf).

Official corruption and collusion

Here’s an overview from the application: “With the arrival of the Houck and San Francisco railroad systems in the late 19th century, Cape Girardeau’s sluggish economy prospered… As had happened in countless other communities of that period, saloons and “houses of ill fame” were woven into the social and commercial fabric of Cape Girardeau by the early years of the 20th century, and the Wood Building – with its infamous reputation – is especially noteworthy … because its history demonstrates tensions that existed between various groups, including area residents, madams, the local constabulary, attorneys, judges and other local officials, and organizations such as the Citizens Committee.”

Operated across from city hall and police station

“Moreover, because it operated within one hundred yards of a police station and city hall [you can see it reflected in the window of one of the photos], and because cases involving activities at the Wood Building were most frequently dismissed when they entered the court system, its history suggests a probably pattern of official collusion and corruption. At the center of many controversies, the Wood Building is associated not only with local attitudes toward prostitution, alcohol and other social vices, but is a reflection of state and national trends as well.”

Who passed through this doorway?

Reading through the next three or four pages of legal shenanigans will show you a side of Cape we didn’t learn in history class. It’s almost as fascinating as reading about a murder mystery associated with the New Rigdon Laundry in about the same era.

The application concludes, “Neighborhood taverns played a prominent role in the development of American cities. The efforts of alcohol activists notwithstanding, saloons and taverns were common places of recreation and relaxation in turn-of-the-century Missouri, especially in larger towns and cities and in communities that featured large German populations. They gave boisterous welcome to every male adult, regardless of his private conduct, his clothes, his manners, his previous record, or his ultimate destination.”

 

 

101 North Main Street

I was walking east on Themis toward the Common Pleas Courthouse trying to spot the old Teen Age Club that got to bouncing so hard one night that the city inspector shut it down because he was afraid the floor might collapse. On the opposite of the street was a nondescript red brick building that had a plaque on it. (Click on any photo to make it larger.)

The Rotary Club plaque read, “Telephone Service. In 1877 the first long distance telephone line in Missouri was completed December 18, 1877, between Cape Girardeau and Jackson. In 1896 here in a 10′ x 12′ second floor room the city’s first telephone exchange was established by A.R. Ponder, L.J. Albert, J.F. Brooks and M.A. Dennison doing business as the Cape Girardeau Telephone Company.”

As a former telecommunications manager, I was vaguely intrigued.

I flashed back to when I was offered the telecom job just before I left on vacation to head back to Cape in the early ’90s. I knew absolutely nothing about phone stuff, but I remember thinking as I was going through little villages like Old Appleton, “Wow, if I take this job I’ll have a bigger  phone system than this town.”

That call to Jackson

I put the story on the back burner for a slow day. When Friend Shari Stiver and I took a stroll down Main Street one day when we were both in town, she said she’d like to swing by to look at the old telephone exchange, which had also been the Sturdivant Bank, the oldest bank in Southeast Missouri.

“The call may have originated in Cape,” she said, “but do you have any idea where it terminated in Jackson?”

Somehow or another, knowing Shari, I was pretty sure I was going to find out.

“The first call rang in my great-grandfather’s kitchen,” she elaborated. “He was the J.F. Brooks mentioned on the plaque. He was the engineer who laid out the railroad for Louis Houck. Houck wanted to be able to get hold of him, so he had him pull a phone line between Cape and Jackson.”

Major Brooks “advanced” down to Advance

“Are we talking about the Major James Francis Brooks who Houck told to ‘advance’ down the line another mile to a stand of mulberry trees where land for a train depot could be bought for $10 an acre instead of $30 an acre in Lakeville?”

That “advance” turned out to become Advance, Missouri, Mother’s hometown.”

Yep, it was the same guy. Major Brooks’ engineering ended up resulting in the establishment of many of the small towns like Sturdivant, Brownwood, Blomeyer and Delta.

Brooks came west on a spotted pony

Shari added that her great-grandmother, “Bookie” (Florence Adele Turnbaugh Brooks) played telephone operator after the initial excitement of the first couple of calls died down. Maj. Brooks got his engineering degree at Vineyard College in Kansas City after he rode his spotted pony west with a wagon train to get there.

The Turnbaughs were Southerners who owned slaves, which Shari suspects caused some heated discussions over a bottle of whiskey on the front porch of the Turnbaugh house in Jackson.

Brooks created SEMO terraces

The excellent history, A Missouri Railroad Pioneer: The Life of Louis Houck (Missouri Biography Series), describes how Houck was concerned with preserving the pastoral beauty of Normal School (which became SEMO) and reducing water runoff so he hired Maj. Brooks to landscape the terraces on the east side of Academic Hall that are still visible today.

The book said that part of the project was to build a two-foot sandstone retaining wall along Normal Avenue, “although admittedly this last project was more to stop wayward farm animals from straying onto the grounds.”

101 North Main condemned

The landmark building has been condemned by the city. You can read the details of the wrangling in this Missourian story by Melissa Miller.

Cable reinforces wall

As much as I love old buildings, I can see what the concern is. When you look through the gallery of photos taken over a three-year period, you can see that the upper level has deteriorated to the point that a covered walkway had to be constructed to protect passersby from falling wayward bricks.

A double cable around the top of the building keeps the walls from sagging outward. I don’t know that I can argue with a Missourian commenter who wrote, “Look how the front is shifting out. If it falls about all the plywood awning will do is separate the bodies better from the rubble.”

Sign says Cape Wiggery

I’m not sure what the last business was to be in the building. The sign still says Cape Wiggery Shop. The 1969 City Directory said Kay’s was in there.

Interior has been cleaned out

The inside, at least from looking through the window, looks pretty clean.

It’ll be missed

I’ve made some iconic pictures of the building over the years, so I’ll miss it if it’s pulled down. It would be nice to think it could be saved, but it sure has the sniff of a parking lot about it, based on what I’ve seen and the news stories.

101 North Main photo gallery

Click on any photo to make it larger, then click on the left or right side of the image to move through the gallery. (Thanks to Shari for the Jackson house picture and for sharing the story of her great-grandfather.)

It’s Cold, Snow Foolin’

I can see from the weather reports that Cape is colder than West Palm Beach, but we still had ice on our bird bath this morning. The difference is that you folks EXPECT cold weather. It comes to kind of a shock to us South Floridians. Our last ice-on-the-bird-bath experience was last February and our last snow (although some folks claim it snowed or sleeted here yesterday) was 1977.

Here are some pictures from the late 60s of an ice storm that blew through Cape County.

Houck Railroad Cut between Cape and Jackson

This is the old Houck Railroad cut on Old Jackson Road between Cape and Jackson before my dad had a contract to widen the road.

Dad’s construction company won the job to blast the rock of the cut so the road could be made wider. One day he came home in a crankier than usual mood.

It seems that someone miscalculated the load of explosives for one of the blasts and a huge boulder went flying though the roof of a nearby house. Nobody was hurt, but it became a piece of family lore forever after. You can’t go past that spot without someone commenting about “the day that….”

Here’s a more recent picture of the cut and an account of a bike ride through it, including a trip over a bridge I’d rather forget.

Cape LaCroix Creek Bridge

This looks like the new Cape LaCroix Creek bridge on Route W – Old Jackson Road – shortly after it was built. The view is to the southeast.

If I’m correct, the road running along the bottom of the treeline was a shortcut that followed the creek and bypassed the normal intersection of Old Jackson Road and Boutin Dr. and came out near the Heartland Care Rehab Center. The road has been abandoned for years.

I am told that there was an abandoned old house on that road, just after you crossed a steel bridge, that had a short lane that provided an observation platform for young folks who wanted to watch satellites pass overhead. Google Earth shows that the bridge might still be there, but there are trees hiding where the house used to be, so I couldn’t tell if it had finally fallen in.

Location of Bridges


View Cape LaCroix Creek bridges in a larger map

Here’s a gallery of other ice photos

Click on any image to enlarge it, then click on the left or right side of the picture to move through the gallery.

 

Copyright © Ken Steinhoff. All rights reserved.