Sex Stopped Selling: The Most Famous Brothel In Texas Was Shut Down 50 Years Ago
On August 1, 1973, The Texas Town Of La Grange Had Its Most Famous Attraction Shut Down Forever.
There's tons of colorful and wild stories in Texas history but this one inspired a Broadway musical and a classic movie featuring Dolly Parton and Burt Reynolds but a lot of folks don't remember or know the TRUE STORY behind "The Best Little Whorehouse In Texas".
The 1978 Broadway musical The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas and 1982 movie adaptation Was Based On "The Chicken Ranch".
The Chicken Ranch was an illegal brothel that operated from 1905 until 1973. It was located in Fayette County, about 2.5 miles east of downtown La Grange.
In 1905, Jessie Williams, known as "Miss Jessie" (although born Faye Stewart) bought a small house along the banks of the lower Colorado River and opened a brothel. A few years later she sold her house and purchased ten acres outside the city limits of La Grange which would turn out to be the final location of the Chicken Ranch.
The Chicken Ranch Was Successful For Decades Thanks To Help From Law Enforcement And The Community.
Williams ran the brothel successfully until her death in 1961. Edna Milton, a former prostitute that worked for Williams assumed control of the Chicken Ranch and made it even more popular. What made it attractive was the rules the workers had to follow:
- They were prohibited from drinking or getting tattoos
- They were not allowed to socialize with the residents of La Grange.
- Before beginning their employment, the prostitutes were fingerprinted and photographed by the SHERIFF and underwent background checks.
- After beginning work, they were required to see the doctor in town weekly for a checkup.
At its peak in the 1960s, the Ranch earned more than $500,000 per year ($4.64 million in today's terms), with the prostitutes keeping an additional $300 per week for themselves.
A Houston TV Reporter Brought On Their Downfall.
In November 1972, the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) surveilled the Chicken Ranch and had it shut down for a short time. It reopened, and in July 1973 Houston television reporter Marvin Zindler began an investigation of the Chicken Ranch based on a tip he received from the Texas Attorney General.
Zindler's Reporting Forced The Ranch To Close
The Fayette County Sheriff and District Attorney refused to do anything about The Chicken Ranch so Texas Attorney General John Hill and then Governor Dolph Briscoe ordered the ranch closed.
On August 1, 1973, Fayette County Sheriff Jim Flournoy called Edna Milton and told her that she was no longer allowed to operate but that didn't stop the SHERIFF from going to Austin to attempt to meet with the Governor to KEEP IT OPEN with a petition opposing the closure carrying 3,000 signatures. The Governor refused to meet with him and the saga of the Chicken Ranch came to an end.
What Remains Of The Chicken Ranch?
Two lawyers from Houston bought the building and land and moved the main house to Dallas in 1977. It opened as The Chicken Ranch restaurant in September of 1977, with Miss Edna as the hostess. The building and furniture have since been auctioned off and the remainder of the original house has been left on the property in very poor condition.
To learn more wild details about The Chicken Ranch, The City Of La Grange has a page dedicated to its history on its official website.