The Rowdy Southend: Illegal Gambling, Alcohol, and Prostitution near the Rouge Plant during the 1920s-30s

The Rowdy Southend

A virtual exhibit sharing a selection of images and documents related to Dearborn Southend gambling, alcohol, and prostitution from the DHM collection and newspapers

While illicit alcohol and various vice behaviors were found all over early Dearborn, nowhere was it concentrated more than in the city’s Southend near Dix Avenue. Due to the neighborhood’s distance from the rest of the city, officials often tolerated the area becoming a “Red Light” District full of vice. A dense population of single Ford Rouge Plant workers living in hotels and boarding houses in the neighborhood ensured various alcohol, gambling, and prostitution businesses had a regular flow of customers. In a 1969 lecture, former Mayor John L Carey alleged some twenty-four houses of ill repute operated in the Southend during the 30s with gambling and anything else they could could get away with.

Mayor John L Carey was partly elected in 1935 under the promise of cleaning up the Southend. The key component of this virtual exhibit are complaint letters and reports he received related to places of vice that were given to the Dearborn Historical Museum. In a 1969 lecture, Carey noted he received no help in cleaning up vice spots from the Police or Ford Security. According to Carey, honest officers told him about the vice, “Yes its going on. It’s there. It’s rotten, but we’re stymied.” Papers included in this exhibit sometimes seem to back up the perceived lack of assistance by the police. Carey alleged he was finally able to shut down many of the vice spots by going after the banks that owned their buildings.

In 1941, Dearborn Police Chief Carl Brooks, Inspector Charles Slamer, other officers and various underworld figures were indicted for an alleged conspiracy in the operation of vice houses and gambling resorts. Carl Brooks died of a heart attack a few weeks later and Charles Slamer died mysteriously not long afterward. Later in 1941, a New York publication known as Scoop Magazine accused Harry Bennett, head of Ford Security, as being part of this corruption. All of these news stories helped Orville Hubbard become elected as mayor later in 1941.

Browse this exhibit to look over photos related to Southend bootlegging and gambling, related documents preserved by Mayor John Carey, selected bits of oral histories, and selected relevant news articles.