Sodom on the Trinity (Part 3): Holy War

During the late nineteenth century, campaigns to clean up Fort Worth’s vice district, Hell’s Half Acre (see Part 1), came and went as lawmen, preachers, editors, and civic leaders railed against the Acre (even as some prominent people owned property in the Acre).

But the Acre survived every raid, every sermon, every editorial.

And, as this Gazette article of 1891 shows, the Acre continued to be a stage for tragedy. The “resort” was a Rusk (now Commerce) Street brothel run by Mary Porter (see Part 2). Kittie Clarke had been in Porter’s employ about two years. Said Porter: “Frank Simons has been visiting my house, and always to see Kittie, perhaps for a year, and always insisted that she should marry him.”

As the nineteenth century ended, the Acre was still a dangerous place, as this Fort Worth Morning Register clip of November 1899 shows.

But with the new century came a new preacher and a new war. In 1909 J. Frank Norris became minister of First Baptist Church. In 1911 he declared a holy war on the Acre—on those who ran its dens of sin, on those who frequented them, on those in city government who allowed them to flourish. In his sermons he named names—big names.

Then came World War I. Before the Army broke ground on Camp Bowie in 1917, the Army insisted that its boys be allowed to train without the temptations of the bottle and the brothel. The Army, too, declared war on the Acre. The city enlisted in the effort.

This Star-Telegram story of March 1917 shows the dramatic drop in the crime rate after the crackdown.

In April 1918 the saloons of the Acre—and the rest of Tarrant County—were closed by the ten-mile zone law, which prohibited the sale of alcohol within ten miles of Camp Bowie and Camp Taliaferro.

The Acre could not fight a war on two fronts. Add to J. Frank Norris and Uncle Sam such factors as the temperance movement, demographic shifts, suburbanization, urban renewal—just plain ol’ change—and their sum achieved what earlier efforts had failed to do. Soon, saloon by saloon, gambling room by gambling room, and brothel by brothel, the Acre was gone. But vice would survive. It would simply file a change-of-address form and move—from Hell’s Half Acre to Jacksboro Highway.

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5 Responses to Sodom on the Trinity (Part 3): Holy War

  1. earl belcher says:

    Oh yes, the Jax Beer Hiway. Remember when the CIA murdered the hooker out there, she would get puney brains from consolidated drunk, get secret info, sell the info to Soviet spies.

  2. earl belcher says:

    Good ol’ Dr. J. Frank Norris. He has gone to his reward. But don’t worry, I’m here. And Alex Jones is in Austin ready to expose evildoers. As for all the other stuff it just moved up to the North Side and Poly. But more great writing from Mike. When we find the Cold Spring we will round up the wicked and baptize them.

  3. John Olthoff says:

    Mike thank you for chronicling an interesting part of Fort Worth history

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