Author discusses Steamboat’s seedy past
July 25, 2014
Steamboat Springs — About 75 people showed up Friday to hear about the seedy past of Steamboat Springs.
Laurel Watson was the featured speaker at this week's Brown Bag Lecture Series event put on by the Tread of Pioneers Museum. Watson is the curator of the Hayden Heritage Center and author of the new book, “The Yampa Valley Sin Circuit: Historic Red Light Districts of Routt and Moffat Counties.”
For Steamboat, the talk was focused on the historic Brooklyn neighborhood and its reputation between 1890 and 1916 as being a red light district.
“They were just known areas of a particular town,” Watson said.
The shenanigans in Brooklyn were fueled by the building of the railroad, which brought immigrants and the working class to the area.
Watson said Steamboat’s founders established Steamboat as a dry town, but the booze was flowing on the other side of the tracks in Brooklyn. Saloon owners had to pay $500 to open up bars in the narrow buildings on 14- by 70-foot lots. It was a lot of money at the time, Watson said, and helped pay for improvements to Steamboat.
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In addition to gambling and boxing matches, there were the women.
“They were called the inmates of Brooklyn, and they were treated very differently than other women,” Watson said.
She said men paid the women $1 for “their services.” To attract business, prostitutes at the time were known to pass out cards. Think baseball cards, but replace the bat-swinging major leaguer with a scantily clad woman meant to entice the men.
“When they’re out on the range, it gave them something to think about,” Watson said.
Watson said the “necessary evil” of the prostitution industry was in no way glorified.
“It was horrible,” Watson said. “It wasn’t pleasant. It was a very harsh life. A lot of women killed themselves.”
Watson said they were treated as pariahs, and some women resorted to selling their bodies because that was all they had to make money.
Hooliganism in Brooklyn also included the occasional shooting. Watson said she knew of one shooting that occurred during a card game. In another case, a drunken man was twirling his gun and shot himself. The bullet hit an artery, and he bled to death.
The debauchery in Brooklyn may have climaxed Dec. 31, 1916, the day before prohibition was set to go into effect.
“There are numerous stories of people the day before Jan. 1 of people getting wasted drunk,” Watson said.
After that, things quieted down in Brooklyn, and prostitution died with the era.
Watson said none of the original saloon buildings from Brooklyn exist today.
“I think there is a foundation over there,” Watson said.