Was Arnold’s A Brothel?

I’ve been increasingly curious about the original owner of 210 E. 8th. She was a single woman named Susan Fawcett who does not appear to have been a member of a prominent or otherwise established family. She bought the land in 1835 and had the building constructed in 1838. That seems pretty progressive for a woman of that time when most working women were, well, “working women.” And early city directories are curiously lacking business listings at this address despite the fact that it seems to have always had commercial spaces on the first floor; and the first two known uses of the building are as a boarding house and a men’s salon. Susan was lucky at love. A few years after running whatever business she was running at the Arnold’s location she got married. Although downtown land was at a premium at the time, she and her new groom wanted to rid themselves of the building for some reason and sold it. There may be other explanations for the building’s early history, but the case for Arnold’s being the site of one of the city’s early brothels seems pretty strong.

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3 Responses to Was Arnold’s A Brothel?

  1. Todd Hepburn says:

    i played at the robin hood lounge in pleasant ridge in the early ’80s, my 2nd solo piano gig. it was owned by a friend of the hepburn family, don devarco. the rumor when i was in high school was if you went to the bar and asked for change for a penny they would send you upstairs to where the ladies were. never had the guts to find out if it was true.

    i’m now noting the irony of the fact that early in my career i might have played in a bar that might have been a whorehouse and now in my more mature years i am playing piano in a much older bar that might have been a whorehouse.

  2. Victoria says:

    It seems improbable that Arnold’s could have been host to a “house of ill repute.” I heard that it was owned by a family that lived upstairs. I never went there on my own until the mid-1970s, and by that time Jim Tarbell owned it, and was in the process of restoring it. When my grandmother died in 1971, I remember finding a matchbook from Arnolds when I was helping to clean out her house. I don’t know why I remember so clearly, but the matchbook cover advertised that they did catering. I can’t imagine my grandmother going anyplace, even just for a beer and a sandwich, that ran a whorehouse, but you never know. After watching Butch Cassidy, my other grandmother confided in me that before she married my grandfather in 1915, she dated a boy who gave her rides on the handlebars of his Harley. It is hard to imagine my staid and very religious grandmother gathering up her skirts as a young woman to ride on the handlebars of a boy’s bicycle, much less his motorcycle. My grandfather related to me that in his younger days he frequented a speakeasy in Cleves, Ohio which had a roller rink as its front. I guess anything is possible.

    Just as an aside, in the 1970s the Jockey Club in Newport was rumored to have a brothel upstairs.

  3. Mike says:

    Victoria:

    Thanks for the comment. Arnold’s continued to have a mildly seedy reputation into the early ’70s, but just as a dive bar. The brothel part of the business seems to have stopped in the early-to-mid 1900s, before Prohibition. However, since writing this original post I have become increasingly convinced that 210 E. 8th was built as a brothel. In the 1830’s, there were essentially three vocations open to single women: sewing, house cleaning, and prostitution. The first two paid starvation wages, so it was common for even “decent” women to engage in the third vocation on the side. There is only one way that the original owner could have raised enought money to buy the land, then pay to develop it a few years later. In nineteenth century moral terms, she was a fallen dove. She was also a smart, independent business woman. Much of what we perceive about prostitution in the nineteenth century is incorrect. Streetwalkers lived a miserable life, but brothel workers and owners were not only affluent but often improved their social standing by being prostitutes. If a family lacked the connections, money, or inclination to help find their daughter a husband — the only true route to financial and social comfort — working in a brothel could be a step toward marriage. It worked that way for Susan Fawcett. She married a man named Samuel Brown and they moved to Rock Island, Ill. Brown appears to have been arrested for a gambling-related offense while Susan ran the brothel. He was probably one of the men who rode the steamboats, living from city to city on cards, cons, and the occasional odd job. I suspect that they met in her brothel, there was chemistry between the Madame and the con-man, and they decided to go straight and move to a place that was near the end of the line for steamboat traffic.

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