Thursday, November 23, 2017

A Sporting House

November 2017. I look out from our Minneapolis Mill District apartment.

Ahead, I see St. Anthony Falls, the only significant waterfall on the Mississippi. A hydroelectric plant, established in 1882, still generates enough power for thousands of homes.

Minneapolis grew up around these falls.

Across the river I pick out the Pillsbury "A" Mill. Completed in 1881, it was the most productive flour mill in the world for 40 years.

My eyes follow the gorgeous curved lines of the 1883 Stone Arch Bridge back to my side of the river to the Washburn "A" Mill, part of a complex dating back to the 1870's.

I look down to 11th Avenue South which runs in front of our home. It draws my eyes away from the Mississippi and up the road to a Romanesque brick building (pictured at the top of this post) at 212 11th Avenue South. It seems strangely out of place.

May 1899. Dusty mill workers head along 11th Avenue South past stables, workshops and the substantial Romanesque brick building towards the streetcar line at the end of the block. A Minnesota Electric Company cart pulls away. A well-dressed man walks up to the door where he is admitted by an elegant black woman, the owner of the purpose-built brick building.
Building inspection log for 212 11th Avenue South, starting 1890.
The year "99" is 1899.
The woman, Ida Dorsey, was operating a successful brothel. Although illegal, Minneapolis building inspection records euphemistically recorded the nature of the business: "Sporting House" and "House of Ill Fame." The local paper reported Ida's payments of monthly fines, and would sometimes print the address of the "Sporting House." She was left alone to conduct her business.
I go past the "Sporting House" nearly every day and was curious about its history. I Googled the address, which brought me to Minneapolis Madams: The Lost History of Prostitution on the Riverfront. Hennepin County Library's online resources brought me to the Housing Inspection log for the property where I learned about the Sporting House and other legal and illegal businesses in the neighborhood at the end of the nineteenth century. 
The Pillsbury "A" Mill is now artists' lofts, the Washburn "A" Mill is a museum. Stone Arch Bridge (see Scenes from a Bridge) originally built for rail, now has bicycle and pedestrian paths. The Sporting House is now apartments.

No comments:

Post a Comment