[Written by Megan Branon]
Victoria J. Ballowe was born in Tennessee in 1859.
For reasons unknown to us, her family decided to pack up and move to McCracken County, Kentucky and by 1870, her father was raising four children on his own. Two young boys, Lee & Robert, more than likely kept the household busy while the two daughters would have been learning to take on housekeeping duties.
Victoria and her sister Alice were only a couple of years apart in age and had an entire household to care for long before they should have faced such tasks. Without a maternal figure in the home, the girls may have been raised a little differently than their other female friends. Perhaps their father raised them as he did the boys or maybe they prematurely let go of their childhood. If either theory holds true, this would have left a lasting impression on the girls and perhaps shaped their course in life.
Nothing is really known about Victoria’s childhood or early adulthood. What we can assume is that she lived a life much like everybody else in a city that thrived on river commerce. However, she never married or had any children of her own. By choice or circumstance isn’t known with any solid evidence; perhaps a bit of both?
By the time Victoria was in her late 30s, she had already made a name for herself in Paducah.
In 1896, the local newspaper listed a group of women being fined by the court for running “disorderly houses”; among them was Vic Ballowe.
Vic appeared again in 1897, fined for the crime of “keeping a bawdy house” – business in the little river town was booming and so was the red light district.
The Paducah City Directory lists “Miss Vic Ballowe” at the address of 1042 Court Street in 1890, 1891, and 1902.
Paducah’s infamous Court Street played host to many saloons and brothels during the height of its day. River traffic was constant in those early years and the railways were a nice bonus for the city. Saloons handed out business cards with risqué poems on the back, keeping patrons interested in more than the whiskey.
Vic remained in the business and saved her income and valuable gifts from her clients; investing a couple times in real estate. She was a knowledgable businesswoman in a world that was still dominated by men.
Unfortunately, we have no real way of knowing exact details about Vic’s establishment. One thing we do know is that she hired musicians to play for her clients, sending $19 for a piano player to perform. This fact made the local paper in 1902 after the musician failed to show up.
Vic had him arrested.
Then tragedy struck her family in the cruel winter of 1905. Victoria’s sister had been staying at their brother Robert’s home with his family. Alice walked over to the fireplace to kick a chunk of wood into it but her dress caught fire as she did. Robert’s frantic wife did all she could to put out the flames that were quickly engulfing poor Alice, burning herself terribly in the process. It was of little use though, Alice Ballowe died as a result of the severe burns and trauma to her body.
Victoria, matriarch of the family, purchased a lot in Oak Grove Cemetery and there interred her beloved sister.
By 1910, Vic was making some changes in her life. She sold her property on the former Court Street, now renamed as Kentucky Avenue. The city was also changing and outlawing the brothels had been a priority for some officials.
Just how long Vic ran her house in Paducah is unknown but a conservative guess would be around 10 years.
In 1943, while living with her niece, Victoria left this world due to a case of pneumonia from which she could not recover.
Victoria’s very to-the-point will was written in 1913. She left everything to her nieces and nephews, instructing them to sell off her diamonds, other jewelry, real estate, stocks and bonds.
To her younger brothers, she left a meager $5 each; stating bluntly that they “have had more than their share.”