Author Sheds Light on Steubenivlle’s Past, Infamous Red-Light District

Author Susan M. Guy gave a peek into Steubenville’s notorious former red-light district when she appeared at the Ohio County Public Library in Wheeling Tuesday, Feb. 17.

The Jefferson County native spoke at Lunch With Books about her book, “Mobsters, Madams & Murder in Steubenville, Ohio: The Story of Little Chicago.” Guy offered some tantalizing tidbits but left audience members wanting more, as she teased that they would have to read the book to learn the endings of these tales.

Guy related that her book was inspired by a project for the Tri-State Writers Society. Prior to the group’s meeting at a Steubenville museum in May 2013, she was assigned to write a short story about prostitution on the city’s Water Street.

After reading the story to the group, she said, “It got really interesting.” The response to her article prompted Guy to continue her research on the topic.

“When I saw the buzz that story created, I started collecting more stories,” she said. Eventually, Guy had enough stories – based on newspaper articles from the early 20th century – to compile in a book.

Guy, who likes to write “nonfiction, historical stuff,” focused on a madam who moved to Steubenville from Morgantown. Despite the woman’s notorious life, her grave in Steubenville’s Union Cemetery is marked with a large, impressive monument. Guy said she was surprised to discover that a photograph of the woman’s grave marker was featured on the city visitors’ center website.

The city’s Water Street “was a hopping place at the turn of the 20th century,” Guy said, relating that men spent their paychecks on gambling, prostitution and liquor. Two main “resorts” – the Ohio Valley House and the Park House – operated there, she said. The flourishing vice led to murders and other crimes.

Guy, who spent 15 years as a Cross Creek Township police officer and has been a state correctional officer since 1994, recalled the people always contended that “if you want to commit a murder and get away with it, go to Jefferson County.”

All of Jefferson County was a “little Chicago” with mobsters, murder and mayhem being commonplace in the early 20th century, she said. In 1922, the county led the country in murders of Prohibition officers, with many of the killings remaining unsolved, she said.

When Prohibition was enacted, “all the violence started” and “all the murders started happening,” she said. Guy opined that Prohibition led to the start of the American mafia.

Her book is dedicated to law enforcement officers who died in the line of duty. “Prohibition agents get left out in Law Enforcement Week,” she remarked. “It was a dangerous, dangerous time. It was a different, different time.”

Guy’s book includes a transcript – published in the Herald-Star newspaper in June 1926 – of a speech that Rabbi William Rosenblum gave to the Steubenville Chamber of Commerce before he moved from the city. In his speech, the rabbi decried the lawlessness, lax morals and unpunished crime that marked the city.

Rosenblum concluded that “despite its faults, Steubenville is a progressive city,” Guy related. The rabbi asked city leaders: “Are you building a city intelligent, a city beautiful, a city orderly, a city brotherly?”

Currently, a reprinted portion of Rosenblum’s speech is displayed in a downtown store window, she said. “This speech pertains to us today,” Guy commented.

Guy’s book was published last June by the History Press, a United Kingdom business that has opened a branch in South Carolina. She said her book is popular all over Europe.

Prompted by the favorable response, Guy said she would like to compile another volume of crime-related accounts from Steubenville’s historical record.