Dr. Know: Did Portland really have a floating whorehouse?

I hear that back in the gangster days, Portland was home to a floating whorehouse. Now that weed is legal and taxable, should we bring back this idea and tax it, too? It could be our version of riverboat gambling!

—Honest John

I swear, you people will do anything to get out of paying the street fee.

It wasn't in the gangster era (unless you're thinking of famous 19th-century gangstas Li'l Harelip and MC Tubercular Cough), but rather in the hard-whoring 1880s when area madam Nancy Boggs erected (huh-huh) a two-story tavern/bordello on a sawdust barge.

The object of this was not to avoid arrest. Old-timey cops tolerated brothels as a prime source of city liquor-tax revenue— and many were on the take, whether for cash or other favors. The real point was dodging those taxes.

Back then, Portland and East Portland were separate cities. By plying her trade on the Willamette, Boggs could avoid paying taxes to either. If she caught wind of a raid from one side of the river, she'd find a lonely steamboat captain to tow her to the other, while the cops could say they tried.

Eventually, though, the two cities coordinated a joint raid, which Ms. Boggs allegedly fought off with a steam hose from the ship's boiler. "What could we do?" said the cops, more or less. "You saw; the lady had a hose."

Late that night, though, someone paddled out to the unpowered pleasure barge and cut the anchor rope. Adrift and in peril, Ms. Boggs rowed a dinghy to Albina, where one of those lonely sea captains happily rescued the floating brothel.

It's said that the main structure of the bordello was eventually brought ashore and turned into a house, which is now the Fulton House Bed & Breakfast. I don't recommend staking your life on the veracity of this claim, but there it is.

QUESTIONS? Send them to dr.know@wweek.com

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