How the Phoenix Hotel became a house of disrepute – Part II


By Danny Crownover

Last week The Vagabond wrote that back on Feb 16, 1909, Gadsden was to have another hotel at a neat new place on the southeast corner of Chestnut and 5th streets.

The new place became known as the Phoenix Hotel and was run by Miss Theo Barry. She was related to the city’s police captain W.L. Thomas, who was associated with her in the business.

No one, however, foresaw the hotel doing a brisk business and falling into a house of ill repute.

The medical building across the street on the northeast corner became a busy place because of the goings-on at the hotel, treating the diseases brought about by the ladies of the evening and their clientele.

On Aug. 29, 1912, Mayor Bellenger returned from out of town and immediately announced that he would suspend Captain Thomas, who was involved in sensational gambling charges. The may-or said he knew nothing about the case except for what he heard on the streets and that Thomas would be suspended pending an investigation. The mayor added that an anonymous letter started the trouble.

The next day, Thomas went before two members of the committee appointed to investigate the charges against him. He strenuously denied everything. Thomas stated that if there was any card-playing or whiskey-selling in his hotel, he did not know it. He did not know that suspected parties were visiting his place.

The following Sept. 3, charges were preferred by the committee against Thomas, and he soon be tried in court. More than a score of witnesses were on a list to be summoned for the trial, and the investigation was expected to cover a wide scope before completed. Thomas maintained ignorance and innocence of the whole “hulaballo,” and that he could prove it.

A week later, the trial was postponed.It seems that Thomas had not been served with a written notice of the charges against him within the legal limit of five days. Also, ex-policeman D.L. Garner, the clerk at the hotel when the alleged gambling was going on, was the main witness for the defense, and he was absent.

The trial attracted a great deal of attention, and the courtroom was overflowing. All witnesses were present, but the seven not summoned were absent. These were the witnesses upon which the city hoped to secure a conviction. The courtroom crowd received a great deal of enjoyment out of the roll call of the witnesses.

The Prosecution of Captain Thomas was later proclaimed unsuccessful, and tales of gambling and prosecution at the Phoenix Hotel continued until the 1930s, when the building burned down.  

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