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Sex workers who once drew travelers to Marysville live on at the Brothel Museum | Bartell's Backroads

Maryville's Silver Dollar Saloon has quite the history, which the bar's owner has preserved in what used to be a popular city brothel.

MARYSVILLE, Calif. — The Silver Dollar Saloon in Marysville is famous for its stiff drinks and good eats, but upstairs at the Grand Hotel, the establishment was famous for something else, according to co-owner Joseph Ferrie. 

“It was one of the longest running Illegal brothels in the United States,” Ferrie said.

Just to be clear, the Grand Hotel no longer employs or houses sex workers. Ferrie says the illegal brothel part of the business ended long before he took over. 

“It was from 1860 and the latest I could find records on it was 1978,” Ferrie said.

Although they are not talked about much, brothels were a big part of Marysville history during the gold rush era. An estimated 50 bars and around 40 cathouses, as they were called, lined the streets. That’s because Marysville was the last stop for steamboats on the Feather River, and it just so happened the Silver Dollar Saloon and Grand Hotel were the first stop for many gold miners. 

“They would walk over here and the girls would hang out the window and entice them in,” Ferrie said.

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When Ferrie and his wife took over the Silver Dollar saloon in 2018, the Grand Hotel above them was just a storage room and a time capsule of the brothel’s past. So, they fixed it up to honor all the working girls and the madams. 

“One of the first ones was Lotta Crabtree, who was a very famous actress,” Ferrie said.

Each one of the rooms has a picture of the girls who worked here and next to the front bar is a show room of sorts. 

“They would tap their toe and it would draw the attention to them so they would get picked,” Ferrie said. 

Hidden at the end of the hall is the old speakeasy, equipped with the original doorbell. 

“There is a sensor here that goes off in the office and lets people know when [customers] want to frequent the services,” Ferrie said.

The Brothel Museum is open by request and you can even rent out the conference room for special events, just watch out for the ghosts. 

“One of them is a woman in a white ballgown and she likes to scare the heck out of my kids,” Ferrie said.


SEE MORE BACKROADS ADVENTURES: At the National Yo-Yo Museum in Chico, one man keeps his love of the familiar toy on display. Stop by and he may even teach you a trick or two. 

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