From brothels to sawmills - an historical look back at Williams
To commemorate Arizona's Centennial, the News will be publishing a series of historic photos of Williams and the citizens who shaped this community since the 1880s. We are also seeking interesting stories detailing the community's past throughout the years. The Centennial will be officially celebrated Feb. 14 in Williams. If you have items of interest, contact the News at (928) 635-4426.
WILLIAMS, Ariz. - Laura Cole, a beloved Williams pioneer, shared many memories over the years of what it was like to grow up in Williams in the 1920s. Laura Frazier Cole came to Arizona in 1924 with her family from Cement, Okla. She was raised on a ranch southwest of Williams and attended Williams Public Schools.
In 1933, Laura married Clarke Cole. The couple had two daughters, Norma McDowell and Dixie Waller. She worked for the city of Williams as City Clerk for 27 years and retired in 1976.
Following retirement, Laura remained active in the community. In 2001, she spent hours sharing her childhood memories with Williams High School art students. The students - under the direction of teacher Bonnie Dent - illustrated Laura's stories, and created a book highlighting Laura's life.
Laura died June 23, 2011 following a brief illness at the age of 97. In May 2008, Williams-Grand Canyon News Associate Editor Ryan Williams interviewed Laura for the Life at the Junction radio show aired on 89.5 KJAZ. Following are portions of that interview and Laura's book, in Laura's own words.
"I came to Williams in 1924 when I was 10-years-old, so I think that makes me almost a native, don't you think?
"Downtown there was a hitching post on the street about where the Canyon Club is now. There was a rooming house upstairs called the Fashion Apartments. The apartments are still there and are called The Red Garter. There was a balcony on the north side and that was the place where the 'ladies of the evening' would ply their trade. They would go out on the ornate wrought iron balcony and wave at trainmen going through town, and at cowboys down on the street.
"At that time there were employees of Fred Harvey who were called Harvey Girls and who lived at the Fray Marcos Hotel at the same site as the present hotel. Those girls were hired under very strict rules and standards and were not allowed to come across the tracks in the evenings because the 'ladies of the evening' were out on the balconies in the 'bad part of town' and would be a bad influence on the Harvey Girls.
"The school was in the same building that is still standing, vacant now, on Sheridan Street. Because we lived so far out of town, there wasn't much time for me to go anywhere but school during the day. My mother got a ladies magazine that was small, more like a pamphlet, every month. I think a subscription to that was something like $1 a year. I saw in the magazine that if you sold subscriptions to the magazine there were prizes available. One of the prizes was a scooter. I wanted a scooter in the worst way.
"Money was hard to come by in 1924 and I didn't want to ask my parents for money for a scooter. I begged and begged my parents to let me sell magazine subscriptions and try to win a scooter. My mother pointed out that I wasn't in town that much, and the only time I would have would be during the noon hour. I told her I could eat fast and have the time to sell subscriptions. She finally reluctantly agreed.
"I don't know why I chose the downtown area, but as I think back, it was probably because I was downtown with my friend when I stayed in town with her and we knew people downtown. I didn't know people in residences. Anyway, I went downtown to sell my subscriptions. I would run around as fast as I could selling my magazines. I sold one to a man in the blacksmith shop and another to a man in the drugstore.
"I looked from the blacksmith shop across the street where there was an open door. I ran over there and knocked on the door. The lady that came to the door was huge. She almost filled the entire doorway. She kind of scared me, but I gave her my best sales pitch. She opened the door and 'scooped' me inside.
"She said, 'Now honey, you just sit down and have a piece of cherry pie while I go find my purse.' I was eating my pie when the door opened and a real pretty lady in a fancy housecoat that we called a kimono was walking down the hallway. She came in and asked me what I was selling. I told her and she sat down at the table with me and visited with me and asked a lot of questions about the magazine and told me she would buy a subscription, too. I was overjoyed. I thought, wow, I've sold two subscriptions in the same place.
"The big lady came back and bought a subscription and told me to go across the street to Mr. Martin's plumbing shop and tell Mr. Martin that 'Big Bertha' said he would buy a subscription, too. I went across the street to the plumbing shop and Mr. Martin said that he was a single man who didn't have a wife, and would not have a need for a ladies magazine. I thanked him anyway and said that a lady across the street whose name was Bertha said to go there.
"Mr. Martin said, 'Oh, Bertha sent you here?' Then he asked me how many subscriptions I had left. I can't remember how many I had left, probably five or six. Mr. Martin said, 'Well, I really don't have any use for all of the subscriptions you have left and you can give them to your mom, or friends or your teacher, and they will think you are really someone special.' He gave me the money for all the subscriptions I had left and I was on cloud nine. I will never forget Mr. Martin's generosity, but it was explained to me later that he was probably a good customer across the street.
"Some time later we were in town in our car and my mother and my sister and I were sitting in the car waiting for my dad. At that time it was the custom of the ladies from the bordellos to get dressed in their finest attire and walk up one side of the street and down the other. I looked down the street and saw the lady that had been at Bertha's and another lady that worked there. They were so pretty. The lady that I knew had on a red satin dress and high heels. She had a big feather in her hair that was an ostrich plume. Really fancy feathers in her hair. She was the prettiest woman I had ever seen in my life.
"I opened the car door and jumped out and started down the street. My mother said, 'Laura, where are you going?' I said, 'There comes a friend of mine. I know that lady. She is so nice and pretty. I just want to go talk to her and hug her.' My mother said, 'Laura, you get back in this car and you don't ever talk to those women!' I said, 'No, Mom, she's my friend. I know her.' My mother said, 'in the car and be quiet.'
"I had to get back into the car, and I was afraid my 'friend' would think I was terribly rude not to speak, so I got down on the floor until they passed so she wouldn't see my face. When we got home, my mother told me that was the end of my magazine sales and to not ever ask again to go into places like that.
"I never got to sell magazines again, but I got the scooter and it was beautiful. It was red. My sister (the wet blanket) said, 'Where are you going to ride that thing? In the dirt?' I did get to bring it to town sometimes and ride it on the hard streets or board sidewalks, or even on the few cement sidewalks in town. When I got to bring my scooter to town, I would ride as fast as I could go around town and thought I was really something special."