Following the Civil War, Jefferson City's large residences scattered along High and Main streets, now East Capitol Avenue — from the statehouse to the penitentiary to the cemetery. These dirt streets, not paved until 1880s, were divided by alleys — narrow lanes lined with wooden dwellings. Reminiscing on the roads and boarded walkways at the turn of the century, Julius Conrath said "after a rain, High Street, Main Street and in fact all the streets were seas of mud. Hogs wallowed on High Street in the mud" (NT: Nov. 21, 1965).
Out of all this flowing mud erupted "Hog Alley," the capital's red-light district and a haven for all termed evil: gambling, drinking, fighting and prostitution. The three blocks of Hog Alley, named for scavenger hogs penned in the alley, stretched from the old Carnegie Library on Adams Street to the parking lot of the Jefferson Office Building. If you walk past Bones Restaurant, you are walking in "Hog Alley."
Jobs were limited in the capital after the Civil War, especially for freed slaves. The alley itself was "planned housing"—called "Negro Dw'gs" (Dwellings) by Sanborn maps — built by white owners directly behind their "respectable" homes and businesses east of the Capitol for their servants or laborers. Living in the alley dwellings ensured cheap, albeit unhealthy and unsafe, segregated accommodations, but ensured employment. According to Gary Kremer (Heartland History I), the 1880 census lists 635 black people living in the city with 82 percent in the downtown area, the highest concentration in Hog Alley.
Besides "Negro Dw'gs," several businesses were located on both sides of the Alley: a tailor, barber, cabinet shop, brick cigar shop, a furniture/undertaker business, even a sausage factory. On each side of Madison Street entrance stood the five-story brick Madison Hotel — containing its own bar, billiards and barber — and the three-story City Hotel. The latter hotel bar became a focal point for drunkenness and fighting in 1867 when an argument escalated into a black/white fight with thrown brick-bats that swept into the alley, spreading its "immoral" reputation.
In addition to crime, Hog Alley became the city's unofficial red-light district. Employment was especially difficult for unmarried or widowed black women, often necessitating their resorting to prostitution to provide for their families. Bettie Barnes, a former slave, resided as a young adult in Hog Alley, where she was arrested for theft, prostitution and failure to pay the city dog tax. Reflecting the capital's prejudices, the local paper reported on her suicide: "Bettie Barnes, the notorious colored wench who has disgraced this town for a number of years, yesterday took a dose of morphine" (People's Tribune: April 27, 1881).
Of course, not all Alley residents were criminals or ladies of the night. The 1880 Census records well-respected black people, employed as domestic servants, living in the Alley, including Fannie Smith and Newton Wright working for lumber merchant Louis Lambert at 329 E. High St., and Mahala Carter, a servant for Wm. Q. Dallmeyer at 289 E. Capitol Ave. According to historian Dr. Robert Young, the well-known freed slave Uncle Billy Hart inhabited an East Main rear alley log house most of his life.
Besides Alley houses, several black-owned businesses sprouted around Hog Alley, attesting to the respectability and responsibility of the African-American community. Howard Barnes, known as one of the best cooks in the city, and John Lane, former slave, operated "Delmonico's," a hotel/restaurant at 212 Madison St. (Hotel Governor), around the corner from the Alley. Another popular establishment fronting the Alley on Monroe Street was the "Silver Moon Hotel and Cafe," where traveling African Americans could safely stay in a racially integrated capital. The historic Silver Moon was razed for parking lots.
The city ignored the crowded, unsanitary conditions in the downtown ghetto, as police ignored the crimes, blaming the disgraceful situation on the Alley itself: "The breeding place for all manner of diseases that have their origin and flourish in the midst of filth" (People's Tribune: May 1882). It was fear and ignorance that finally cleaned up the "intolerable nuisance" of Hog Alley in 1882. A local physician had mistakenly blamed the deaths of one black family's three children on smallpox; the coroner later determined cause was stomach inflammation. Panic-driven officials herded the black residents out of their Alley homes, boarded the buildings to deter occupation and blocked entrances with armed guards, thereby imprisoning remaining residents.
However, it took another 10 years to clean out the hogs. The Hog Ordinance was enforced, Alley structures were razed, some streets were paved, signs were posted at Alley entrances to keep "undesirables" out, and Hog was sanitized to Commercial Alley.
By 1915, the Alley residents and businesses had moved on to other segregated neighborhoods around Lafayette Street, rebuilding successful lives around the "Foot" and Lincoln Institute — until the next "cleansing" erupted with urban renewal in the 1960s.
An unabridged version of this article is available in the online November 2017 newsletter at historiccityofjefferson.org/resources.
Carolyn Bening is a retired high school/university teacher, historian and genealogist. She is a former writer and assistant editor for the Historic City of Jefferson's Yesterday and Today Newsletter.