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Creek Street in Ketchikan, Alaska

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Creek Street is a historic boardwalk perched on pilings along the banks of Ketchikan Creek near downtown Ketchikan. Creek Street was a significant red-light district until the passage of the Anti-Crib Laws in the early 1950s. It is now a quaint neighbourhood that provides visitors with an opportunity to tour Dolly’s House, view totem poles, shop at locally-owned stores and galleries, and enjoy local art and culture. Salmon gather by the thousands to spawn upstream in the summer months. During the heyday of Dolly Arthur, police raids on brothels were frequent on Creek Street. Men looking for a quick exit to avoid hefty fines for being caught at one of the brothels used the Married Man’s Trail for an escape route. The trail heads upward, winding through trees providing scenic views of Ketchikan and the harbour. Cape Fox Lodge is located at the top of Married Man’s Trail.

Dolly Arthur

dollyarthur1Born in Idaho in 1888, Thelma Dolly Copeland left home at the age of 13 because of an unhappy childhood. She first moved to Montana and then to Vancouver, British Columbia where she worked as a waitress. Dolly, a tall beauty with a large group of male admirers, realized at the age of 18 that she could make more money from the attention of men than waiting tables.

In 1919, she moved to Ketchikan and changed her name to Dolly Arthur. She established a popular bordello at 24 Creek Street where fishermen, loggers, miners and townspeople gathered nightly to drink and party. Music filled the air and lights glowed from the windows, as ladies paraded themselves behind lace curtains enticing prospective clients into their bordellos on Creek Street.

While drinking was illegal, prostitution was not, and the women of Creek Street registered their businesses with city police. Set against the slopes of Deer Mountain, Creek Street was a popular destination for men seeking companionship from the 1920s to 1940s. Although the boardwalk brothels are long gone, Creek Street thrives today with its curio and souvenir shops.

dollyarthur2Dolly’s House is now a museum filled with memorabilia of her life. The rooms have not changed, and are filled with her possessions, which include a birdcage, queen-size bed, sewing machine, typewriter, Victorian painting, and faded brocade-covered sofas and armchairs.

A longshoreman named Lefty lived with Dolly on and off for 26 years. He had numerous affairs, for which Dolly forgave him and is said to have financially bailed him out several times. Dolly continued to live in her house even after the brothels closed in the late 1950s. As she aged, she became frail and spent the last year and a half of her life in a nursing home where she died at 87 in 1975. West Coast newspapers carried her obituary, paying tribute to a woman whose indomitable spirit exemplified the boisterous early years of Ketchikan.

Read more about Ketchikan.

 

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