Cora Taylor Crane

Stephen and Cora Crane in 1899 | State Archives of Florida

The Court, the most celebrated red light district establishment, was operated by Cora Crane. Crane was the common law widow of esteemed author Stephen Crane. The Court was located one block east of the house where James Weldon and John Rosamond Johnson were born. It was a two-story brick building with 14 bedrooms, a ballroom, kitchens, a dining room and an annex with eight more bedrooms. Born into a relatively elite New York family in 1865 as Cora Ethel Eaton Howarth, Crane traveled extensively for her time and lived in a variety of locations across the world, including Boston, San Francisco, New York City, and Europe. She was known to pay for the burials of prostitutes who took their own lives.

She also served as a war correspondent during the Greco-Turkish War in Greece when she traveled there with Stephen Crane and is recognized as one of the earliest female war correspondents. She was also a contributor to magazines such as Smart Set and Harper’s Weekly, including during the time she was running her bordellos in Jacksonville and Pablo Beach (now Jacksonville Beach). Her obituary acknowledged both her role as proprietress of The Court and the fact that she was a “well-known writer of short stories,” stating “[s]he was a brilliant woman and she had a light, snappy diction in her writing that classed her among the leading writers of the profession. Her works were read by thousands of appreciative readers.”

Lyda De Camp

The 1910 Census identified the women working in Lyda De Camp’s bordello |

Lyda (or Lydia) De Camp was born in May 1869 in Kentucky. In February 1897, she caught the attention of noted author Stephen Crane, who inscribed a copy of his book Maggie “To Lyda.” In 1900, she rented a brothel at 949 Ward (now Houston) St. in Jacksonville. Here, she managed a woman named Thelma Earle who was born in Sweden in November 1868. In 1903, she had a large brothel built further east at the northeast corner of Ward and Madison streets. This two-story frame house had a bay window and porch facing Ward Street. While her brothel was not as elegant as her competitor Cora Crane’s The Court, it was well known to newspapermen frequenting the district. Women managed by De Camp in 1910 included Ada Fuller from Illinois, Virginia Earl from Virginia, June Darlington from Oklahoma, Margaret Cooper from Pennsylvania, Marion Morris from North Carolina, and Billie Lyon from Ohio.

Belle Orloff

The location of Belle Orloff’s brothel at 966 Ward St.

Known as the Russian Belle, Belle Orloff was born in Florida in 1884. She shows up in the 1896 city directory as the madam of The Club, a bordello that was then located at 717 Ward St. After the Great Fire of 1901, she relocated two blocks west to 966 Ward St.

During a visit to The Line in 1908, Temperance crusader Carry A. Nation had been cordially received at the New York Inn. However, at Orloff’s establishment, the two had a very heated argument, leading Nation to declare Jacksonville to be a “demonocracy.”

Taking a liking to a young Charlie Wall after he was kicked out of a local school for spending the night in her brothel, Orloff taught him the tricks of her trade. While he had a head for numbers, she played an instrumental role in Wall’s eventual rise as Tampa’s mafia boss during the early 20th century.