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Monday, April 13, 2015

Miss Laura’s Social Club

When dh and I choose which Cowboy Action Shoots to attend, we always keep one eye on the history of the area. After all, any excuse for a research jaunt, right? Recently, we went to Fort Smith, Arkansas and there was so much cool stuff to explore in what was known as “Hell on the Border.”

In 1903, Miss Laura Zeigler borrowed money from a respectable Fort Smith banker and opened The River Front Hotel, a brothel on Front Street, known as The Row.  Soon renamed, Miss Laura’s Social Club became the most celebrated establishment in town.  Business was so good in fact that she paid off her loan in only 17 months.

Miss Laura’s “daughters of joy” were known to be refined and healthy, and Miss Laura herself was a “poised and attractive lady” who packed a loaded .45—the better to rein in a rowdy customer.

Dancing, singing, gambling, even champagne when business was good, Miss Laura’s was the place to be for patrons of all classes. Her Social Club even boasted the first player piano in Fort Smith.  

Life was good until 1910, when the glory days had passed and civilization came knocking—demanding the doors to the pleasure houses on Front Street be closed for good.

On January 7, 1910, an accident in the form of an oil storage tank explosion aided the cause.  Pushed by strong winds, fire engulfed the brothels, sending scantily clad ladies and the rather embarrassed customers into the street.  The flames came within 75 feet of Miss Laura’s before the wind changed direction, sparing her place.  The incident lives on in memory as “the night of the lingerie parade.”

In 1911, Laura Zeigler sold the property for $47,000 and dropped out of Fort Smith history. But the social club remained. The building now serves as the Fort Smith Visitor Center. And it’s definitely worth a trip.

Tracy G.


  1. Oh my gosh.. what a great blog. 1903 seems almost modern in a sense of time, yet the dawn of a new century, ladies still had to find a means of supporting themselves. Lots of good fodder for stories here..

    1. I'm glad you enjoyed the blog, Nancy. Story fodder... That is good stuff!

  2. Ah Tracy, the stories about one of the oldest professions are endlessly fascinating to me. This one is no exception. What a wonderful chance to visit such places. Thank you for sharing the stories and information you glean. I for one appreciate it. Doris

  3. Tracy, I love this. I can see this scene in a story! LOL All those women in their ...AHEM...unmentionables running out into the street and the men who weren't supposed to be with them following them out...I bet there were some divorces soon after! LOL And $47,000 was a ton of money in those days...Miss Laura was RICH! Great post!

  4. Now there's an interesting history for a visitor's center. LOL $47,000 must have set her up for life. I just love the inventive ways women made a living in the old west. They were tough and smart. I wonder--did she keep that .45 in her purse? Enjoyed reading this blog, Tracy