UPDATED: 6-1-2011


Williams Court Alley has always been important in the day-to-day history of Parkersburg, yet nobody ever thinks much about it. Running parallel between Juliana and Market, it originally began at First Street and ended at Seventh, then took up again on Eighth Street and eventually reached Thirteenth Street. An unpaved alleyway stretched a block or so past Thirteenth.

At Third Street, Williams Court Alley was the western boundary of Court Square. For many years, the Monroe Hotel comprised the southwest corner of Court Square and Williams Court Alley and the U.S. Hotel (whose name was subsequently changed a number of times until it became the Mark Hannah in the early 1900s) stood on the northwest corner. The alley from First to Third was eliminated in the late 1960s by the Urban Renewal program and the construction of the Bureau of Public Debt complex.

Williams Court Alley was named for William Robinson, the son-in-law of Captain Alexander Parker—Parkersburg’s namesake. Robinson and his wife Mary donated the land for the Wood County Court House on Third Street. Aided by professional surveyor George Avery, Robinson also laid out the city’s streets, naming many of them (Ann, Juliana, et al) after members of the Parker family. Though Avery’s name was given to a street just east of Market, Robinson modestly put his own on a narrow alleyway.

But alleys are just as important as thoroughfares to the daily comings and goings of a town’s citizens. In the commercial district of Parkersburg, Williams Court provided both front and rear delivery access to various businesses. Between Ninth and Thirteenth it was an alleyway where tradesmen serviced family homes on the east side of Juliana and the west side of Market, and where rear buildings housed servants and carriages (and later cars).

But most Parkersburgers considered Williams Court Alley—especially the block south of Third Street—as somewhat notorious and disreputable. Parkersburg has a long history as a rough river town of whorehouses and saloons, and much of that activity occurred on or just off the alley. Early in the Civil War, when a local garrison of Union troops was suddenly called east along the B&O Railroad, their camp followers stayed behind. The women settled into red light districts on Seventh Street between Lynn and Latrobe, and in downtown near the hotels. According to local historian Ray Swick, Parkersaburg bordellos had such colorful names as the Red Onion, Noah’s Ark, Hawk’s Nest and Little Egypt.

Over the years there were dozens of Parkersburg madams, generally protected by organized crime or corrupt officials, but probably the most famous—and legendary—was Mabel Mackey, who in the 1950s ran a two-story establishment at 213-1/2 Williams Court Alley, less than a minute’s walk from Court Square.

In an early 2011 Parkersburg News article, reporter Jody Murphy finally told the long-suppressed story of Mrs. Mackey, who died in 1963. She was a legend in her day, known by name by everyone, even kids. Though hardly glamorous or sexy, she was an impressive middle-aged redhead who stood nearly six feet tall and weighed close to 200 pounds. She wore big glasses, work boots, cowboy hats, and either buckskin jackets or overalls. She owned a 180-acre horse farm in Ritchie County to accommodate her love of horses. But even there she couldn’t keep from working. She painted her two-story farmhouse pink and offered “pleasure cabins” on the hill behind it.

Mackey also had her personal humanitarian causes. She financially provided for many poor children, probably because she herself had been born into rural poverty back in 1904 as Maude Jane Mackey, one of eight children of a drunkard and, reportedly, a sexual abuser. She ran away from home in her early teens and settled in the wide-open steel town of Steubenville, Ohio, across the river from Weirton, West Virginia, where she later worked as a steel worker during World War II. In the late 1940s she moved to Parkersburg and opened her whorehouse, reportedly under the protection of Steubenville crime figures. Her companion, Carl A. “Dick” Durala, was a bag man and enforcer for the Steubenville syndicate who lived with her for many years until he went to prison in 1958 for fatally shooting a man at a party. Through Durala’s contacts, mobsters ran a circuit of women from city to city—Steubenville, Wheeling, Parkersburg and other towns along the Ohio River—to maintain a fresh supply of new faces. Though police periodically raided Mabel’s place, she thrived for fifteen years, nearly up until she died cancer at Camden-Clark Hospital in February 1963. Mabel Mackey was buried near her family at Nutter Cemetery near Macfarlan in Ritchie County.

Looking south toward Court Square from the New Commercial Hotel during the 1913 flood. The Monroe Hotel is on the right. The large building left of Williams Court Alley was replaced sixty years later by the Bureau of Public Debt. The courthouse is just out of frame to the left.   The Monroe Hotel at the southwest corner of Third and Williams Court Alley, on what was then Court Square, in the early 1920s.

Looking northeast, this photo on the corner of Second Street and Williams
Court Alley shows the entire line crew of the Monongahela Power
Company in 1912. The horse and buggy are the forerunners of
today's power truck. You can see the courthouse in the
background. Williams Court Alley was displaced
by the Public Debt building.


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