Ketchikan Alaska – Dolly’s House

Dolly's House on Creek Street

Creek Street in Ketchikan, Alaska

Creek Street in Ketchikan now houses all manner of touristy shops.  In the past these houses held quite a different sort of businesses.  From the early 1900’s to 1954 the red light district of Ketchikan flourished along Creek Street.  One house still sits as it was in that era with all the furnishings intact.  People can take a tour of Dolly’s house, now known as Dolly’s House Museum.  Creek Street is an easy walk from the cruise ship docks for most people through several blocks of shops on level ground.

the sort of stuff a whore has

some of Dolly’s things

The self-guided tour starts with a bit of history about Dolly Arthur, born in 1888 as Thelma Copeland.  She left her family home in rural Idaho at age 13, living in Montana and Vancouver BC before making her way to Alaska.  By her late teens she realized she could make more money from the attention of men than she could working as a waitress.   In 1919 she wound up in Alaska, having discovered a way she could make a significant amount of money for that era.  Dolly spent her first year in Ketchikan at the Star, the only house on Creek Street actually classified as a brothel because it employed more than two women.  Then she bought her own house.

these Dollies pedal tours, not themselves

not the real Dolly

At a time when the average Ketchikan worker made $1 a day, Dolly charged each man $3 and didn’t close her door for the night until she had made $75.  She bought her house for $800 and paid it off in two weeks.  Eventually she bought other houses along Creek Street, which she rented to other working girls.  They referred to themselves as “sporting women” rather than whores, and prospered in a town with many single men and few women.  Though most Creek Street residents worked in pairs, Dolly worked alone in her own house.   Through all her working years she never got an STD.

Creek Street was referred to as the place where men and salmon went upstream to spawn.  While single men openly walked the boardwalk through the bordellos, married men used the more discreet Married Man’s Trail through the woods.  The girls knew married clients by the mud on their shoes.

inside Dolly's House

Dolly’s table and china

During prohibition Dolly made more money selling small amounts of liquor for large sums to her gentleman callers then she did through prostitution.  Authorities never caught her with alcohol.  She kept just one bottle in the house at a time and hid the rest under the dock.  In a raid she could easily discard the one bottle without losing her entire stock of moonshine.  Many of the Creek Street houses had trapdoors where they could receive alcohol deliveries under the dock in the dark of night.

the dock at Creek Street

reflections of Dolly’s House

When indoor plumbing became available she had her house done right away, with a men’s room downstairs and a full bath on the second floor.  Plumbing on Creek Street in its heyday did not include hooking up to sewers though.  Before the 1960’s everything just went out into the creek to wait for the tides to take it away.

what to do with useless condoms

Dolly’s shower curtain with decorative flowers made of silk condoms

The Dolly’s House Museum has many of Dolly’s things on display including furnishings and dishes.  Not one to let things go to waste Dolly decorated her shower curtain with roses made from silk condoms, as they were useless for other things.  The shower curtain also remains as part of the tour.

old fashioned kitchen

modern appliances – when Dolly bought them

Ketchikan eventually outlawed prostitution and Dolly’s was the last Creek Street house to close.  Dolly retired at age 72, but remained living in her house until nearly the end of her life.

Dolly's boudoir

Dolly’s office…the place she made her money

Creek Street fell into disrepair for a time, but when tourism hit the town as a major industry somebody realized the historical value of Creek Street and the attraction that the area would hold for visitors.  Many of the houses were restored or rebuilt.

a former whorehouse

Dolly’s House

While wandering about Ketchikan on our port stop there on the Holland America Westerdam, my sister and I felt it was worth the mere $5 admission to take the tour of Dolly’s House.  There are not many attractions you can see in a cruise ship port for just $5.

Westerdam in Ketchikan

Westerdam photo taken from the Married Man’s Trail

More Blogs About Ketchikan

Duck Tour

Snorkel Alaska

Trolley Tour

Rainforest Hike

Walking Tour

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2014

About LBcruiseshipblogger

MyCruiseStories blog tells stories about adventures in cruising on ships big and small. Things to do onboard and in port. Anything connected to cruising. Also food, travel, recipes, towel animals, and the occasional random blog.
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15 Responses to Ketchikan Alaska – Dolly’s House

  1. sharechair says:

    wonderful!! I hoped Alaska would be our next cruise…as we visit our son in Seattle (so many cruises leave from there). But we decided that for our next Seattle visit we would drive cross-country. So, Alaska waits. I’ll visit through your wonderful posts!

  2. That was a fun history lesson. Was it mentioned on your tour that she never got an STD? If so, I wondered how they determined that? That could have been Dolly’s spin.

    • Ketchikan isn’t all that big now and was probably smaller in her day so odds are somebody would have known if she’d ever been treated for one. There’s not likely any proof one way or the other at this point unless somebody’s got her medical records stashed somewhere. I don’t actually remember if that tidbit of info was from the tour or the internet or both. News like that probably would have spread among her customers though….along with other things.

  3. Art Downing says:

    I guess I missed this on my brief walk through Ketchikan but sounds like an interesting bit of history. I wonder who got all her money when she died. It doesn’t sound like she had any living relatives, at least not in Alaska.

    • If you just stayed among the shops closest to the ship you would miss Creek Street. I found info that said she donated the house for a museum, but nothing about the money. One can speculate she left it for running the museum, but that is just a guess.

  4. So $3 each and making $75 per day, that’s TWENTY FIVE men per day!!!!!!!!!! Very interesting post though.

  5. Chris says:

    So many inappropiate jokes… Nice post.

  6. Sealani Weiner says:

    They raised the price to $10 when I was there in September. I was there for hours asking questions and reading her history. She had been molested by her stepfather as a small child and ran away at age 13. She was also an insulin dependent diabetic, (you can see the equipment in the cabinet in the upstairs bathroom,) which makes it all the more remarkable that she didn’t get a STD. Dolly left her money only for the house museum; she wanted people to know that a woman could run a business and do well. I don’t have my notes available, but I seem to remember the guide telling me that Dolly could see up to 17 customers a day.

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