Kelly’s

Kelly's "House of Ill Fame"


History

Kelly’s was a local “House of Ill Fame” located just outside of Tower, across the river. It probably operated between the late 1880s and the early 1930s. It was opened by the famous brothel owner, Daisy, who arrived during the earlier gold rush. Before she moved to Tower, she ran the brothel on Lake Vermilion, out on Daisy Bay, which was coincidentally named after her.

Stories say that it was a very popular place in its day, attracting a lot of the working men of the city. Reportedly, locals called it “#9” because of its phone number. But much like any saloon, Kelly’s was a rowdy place. The frontier had all sorts of seedy characters who didn’t get along. Fights were fairly common and some were violent enough to make it into the Vermilion Iron Journal, Tower’s newspaper at that time.

Stories from recent owners of the property it was located on suggest that it was burned down by a jealous wife after she had discovered her husband’s infidelity. The current owners of the property have been able to figure out the general layout of the building from relics that surface every year in the ground-freezing-and-thawing action of the seasons. An explicit token similar to a drink token from a bar was found in the ruins, as well as a stone door knob and a few other interesting artifacts. It is likely that the stone door knob was used on the door of a favored employee’s living quarters, and there are other signs of lavish gifts bestowed. Many perfume bottles have also been found, some very ornate and some more plain.

 

Location

Kelly's "House of Ill Fame" - current day

Because of the type of business it was and clientele it kept, it was not built within Tower city limits. Instead, it was built on the outskirts, on the edge of Kugler Township near Tower, roughly at the center of this map. This property is private so if you decide to visit it, please ask the owners for permission!

 

Environs

Kelly's "House of Ill Fame"

At the point these photos were taken for this map, between 1937 and 1941, the site of Kelly’s was a bare field. LakeVermilion.net suspects that the building had burned in the early 30s. They would be located roughly at the center of this map, similar to the modern map above. This area of Tower and Kugler has changed a lot over the years and continues to change with new developments – at one point the south entrance into town (south on Spruce Street and across the bridge to Highway 135, near the Ancient Cedars hiking trails) was the main entrance to Tower.

One local citizen told LakeVermilion.Net that the field next to it, along the highway, was a fairground around that time as well.

 

Photos

Photo of Tower from April 24, 1912 – from the north hill, looking south. The bridge over the river in the photo is located next to the current Ancient Cedars walking trails. Photo was provided by the Iron Range Historical Society – find them at ironrangehistoricalsociety.org!

Kelly’s is likely the building across the river in the background in this photo, as displayed in the article’s introductory image. The road heading south out of town is Spruce Street, which originally connected directly to the Vermilion Trail, Highway 135.

Fancy Doorknob from Kelly's "House of Ill Fame"

This is a stone doorknob that was found in the former resort’s site, described above. The current owner of the property was kind enough to let us add this to the Lake Vermilion Archives artifact collection.

 

Newspaper Articles

Life on the Vermilion Range before 1900 – Anthony C. Schulzentenberge; St. Cloud State University – Page 60/94 of the PDF (Page 56 of the scanned document)

Excerpt
“From the many newspaper accounts of lawless activity, it must be concluded that saloons and drink were contributing factors to much of the trouble. Saloons could be very respectable places, but such, it seems, was not the case with most of those that existed on the early Vermilion. The saloons were the homes of most of the “sharpies,” toughs, and gamblers that found a home in early Tower or Ely. Much of the pay of the hard-working people would be quickly lost in these places, and what they managed to save might be taken from them by one of the toughs as they walked home on the poorly lit streets. Many of the places were really dives, and shootings, knifings, and fights were very common. Most of the real dens of iniquity were forced to exist outside the city limits, and under the guise of dance halls, they were really houses of prostitution. A few of the most notorious ones were Kelly’s near the river in Tower and the “shop across the swamp” in Ely.”


Vermilion Iron Journal, Feb 28, 1889
A SHOOTING AFFRAY.

“Curley” Bedford Shot Yesterday Afternoon by “Billy” Wolcott, at Kelly’s House of Ill Fame.

The continued dogging and teasing of the latter by the former is the alleged cause of a few words, which resulted in the shooting of William Bedford, a woodsman, by Billy Wolcott, a cook from one of the logging camps near here, between 4 and 5 o’clock yesterday afternoon, at Kelly’s resort on the outskirts of the city. The ball struck one of the ribs in the left side and came out in the back, but whether it passed through the lungs or only shattered the rib the doctors at this writing have not been able to ascertain. The patient is very low but it is thought the wound alone will not kill him, unless inflamation sets in. Drs. Noble and Hutchinson attended him at the Pioneer Hotel, where Bedford was removed, shortly after the affair. The weapon used was a 32 calibre.
Wolcott at once gave himself up to James Beatty, a member of the force, and was placed in the city lockup, to await his examination. District Attorney Sherwood was notified by chief Owens and the prisoner will have his hearing before him unless he is unable to get here, in which case the matter will be brought up in the justice court this afternoon. A Journal representative called on the prisoner this morning, and almost his first words were “How is Curley?” He claims to have told Bedford that he wanted to keep away from him, that he could not fight but would not be hurt. The same two men had some trouble before, about a year ago in Dominick’s saloon on Third street and revolvers were pulled then. The prisoner had the appearance of one who had slept very little during the night, and he wanted no breakfast. He has not fully decided, but may waive examination, in which case he will not be tried until the April term of the circuit count. Both of the participants in this affair are considered tough citizens and are no credit to the town. Their sympathizers are few if any.

 

Other Sources

Stories from William Macomber
Stories from Deb Lundstrom and Lisa Anderson

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