"The railroad is coming! It is a fixed fact. . . . Some of our contemporaries say that when it is completed, `Gentiles' will swarm into every part of Utah," wrote Deseret News Editor George Q. Cannon. Salt Lake City was anticipating a tie-in to the rails that had joined east and west at Promontory on May 10, 1869.
Utah Territory had nothing to fear from good, law-abiding, hard-working people of any religion, he wrote. But he predicted that the railroad would bring in its wake "the rowdies, the gamblers, the patrons of drinking saloons, the speculators, the idlers, the men who, too lazy to earn their own living, expect to live in some shape at the expense of the community."Cannon was right. The railroad brought a new breed of men - and women - to Utah, but the vile element he foresaw did not primarily afflict Salt Lake City. Corinne and Ogden became Utah's first large railroad towns and as "outsiders" poured in, the two terminal cities earned such nicknames as "The City of the Ungodly," and "Hell Hole of the Earth." In 1870, Corinne had Episcopal, Methodist and Presbyterian churches with a combined membership of 14, according to a master's thesis, "Ogden's Notorious `Two-Bit Street,' " by Lyle J. Barnes.
In 1860, Ogden was a quiet pastoral community of about 1,500. By Aug. 2, 1869, with the railroad only a few months old, Officer Doxey of the local police warned "There was some loose women in our town that would bear watching." By 1900, about a quarter of Ogden's residents were foreign-born, and although the "foreigners" were be no means solely responsible, the city's crime rate had shot up alarmingly. Ogden's days as a pastoral Mormon backwater were over.
By 1889, non-LDS residents outnumbered LDS. There was a shift of political power and a related relaxation of liquor and vice laws.
Some of the Chinese and other Asians who had labored on the railroad construction stayed on, sometimes to engage in gambling and a thriving opium trade. In 1916 when the city tried to crack down on gambling dens, 10 of 11 raids were against Chinese or Japanese establishments.
Among themselves, the Chinese enforced the Rule of the Tong and summary judgment sometimes was executed by members of the rival Hip Siong or On Leong fraternities. There were "hatchet men" who actually had hatchets up their wide sleeves, Barnes wrote.
Despite laws belatedly designed to curb the trade, opium remained readily available. For those who preferred an alcohol high, a half dozen breweries sprang up starting in the 1870s. During the 1920s, when the national attempt at prohibition was in effect, Ogden became a hotbed of bootlegging.
Utah actually went "dry" in 1917, two years before the national prohibition edict was imposed, but neither state nor national laws had much influence in Ogden where, "the saloons never close," Barnes said. At the height of prohibition, there were two stills - one with 80-gallon capacity and the second 40-gallon, in the same 25th Street building, and they had counterparts in other places along the street.
There were suspicions that Ogden police themselves were involved in bootlegging. The Internal Revenue Service inquired what had become of about 164 quarts of confiscated whiskey. After an investigation, the department was reorganized. The local police were, in fact, investigated off and on for years. In 1916, a grand jury probe suggested police work was slipshod and jurors accused the department - among other things - of "licensing" vice, pocketing bail money and accepting bribes, but nothing came of the jury's concerns.
Up and down 25th Street, brothels occupied many of the addresses for years, and panderers carried on a profitable business.
One of the most notorious of the "madams," Gentile Kate, who kept a house at 150 25th St., was a "respected part of the business life of the town, a speculator in real estate, the most liberal customer of the stores and an unofficial great lady," Barnes recorded.
Kate, understandably, had a distaste for Mormons, and when Brigham Young died, she purchased his carriage, specially decorated with LDS symbols, and ostentatiously paraded the streets of Ogden in it.
The stories about crime on Ogden's Two-Bit street became legend.
In 1893, Basque sheepherder Eugene Borel passed through Ogden en route to San Francisco with $1,800 in his pocket, his earnings from hard work in Wyoming. George Lewis, a local gambler, learned of Borel's cash cache and saw to it that he was unlucky at the tables. Then the gambler magnanimously gave the angry sheepherder $5 and a ticket to continue on to the Pacific coast.
A week later, Borel returned with a gun, demanding his money. When Lewis put him off, Borel shot him. In a trial during May that year, the jury acquitted the Basque. Lewis, it was learned, had been an associate of such despicable characters as Soapy Smith, Tex Ricard and Wyatt Earp and probably deserved to die.
In 1916, Fanny Dawson ran a successful murder business out of 352 25th St., next to the Park Hotel. A divorcee who had come to Ogden from Idaho with two children, she hired Patrick "Paddy" Flynn to scout around the gambling halls and ferret out gamblers who seemed able to lose large amounts of money without flinching. Flynn then enticed these rich gamblers to Room 4 of Fanny's place where she served them poisoned drinks. How many were despatched by her company was not known, but the number was ample, Barnes wrote.
Finally, after the body of Patrick Quigley was found behind the Senate Cafe, one of Fanny's accomplices ratted. The victim had been offered a sip of poison for the sake of the $8 in his pocket. While Fanny's two children waited in Room 4, their mother was interrogated by local law officers. She never returned to the children, Barnes wrote.
Barnes' review of arrest records after the turn of the century showed that the same names often recurred for the same crimes.
As Ogden's reputation as an "open city" became established, some city officials actually preferred it that way. It was easier to deal with vice on the surface than it would be if it went underground, argued people such as Mayor Herman Peery, who served from 1934-38. Taxpayers got some relief, he said, from the revenue produced by fees and forfeitures related to vice.
But during World War II when the military came to Ogden, military brass tried to persuade the city to clean up a bit. And there was growing pressure from Ogden's law-abiding residents and businesses that were embarrassed by the activities on 25th Street.
Serious anti-vice crusades began in the late 1940s and by 1950 there was a decided change in policy. Weber County Sheriff Mac Wade, who was in office from 1947-54, led the charge. To critics who complained he wasn't moving fast enough, he responded that he "couldn't undo in two years what had been going on for many years."
Gradually, the Victorian-style buildings of 25th Street, most faded with age, were vacated or replaced by legitimate businesses and government offices.
The windows of the once-notorious street, one writer said, looked out with "tired eyes" on their dingy and defunct little enclave and remembered the scandalous past.