Lancaster’s pool halls were linked with commercial sex and gambling in the early 1900s. Pool games were cheap–about a quarter per table–and the cost could be split between the number of players. Working-class men gathered in pool halls to watch and bet on games. They could also access slot machines and share tips on nearby brothels. For all these reasons, pool halls were suspicious places in the eyes of middle-class reformers. 

The Palace Pool Room was owned by the Dorsheimer brothers—George and Dan. At 153 N. Queen Street, it was on the site of the old Brimmer livery stable.

Brimmer Livery Stable, 153 N. Queen Street, around 1880. Courtesy of LancasterHistory

When a group of anti-vice investigators visited Lancaster for one month in 1913, they noted this pool hall as a hub for gambling and commercial sex: 

The Palace Pool room is a hangout for pimps and sports. They play gambling pool and gamble on bowling there.

Investigator’s Report, 1913

Who was a sport? In the early 1900s, “sport” was the word for a man who celebrated his promiscuity, frequented prostitutes, and ignored calls for self-restraint (even in the face of warnings about disease). “Sports” enjoyed male camaraderie in pool halls, tobacco shops, and cheap theaters. They were “loafers” who wasted time and money. Lancaster sports liked to hang around the lobby of the Wheatland Hotel (across from the Palace Pool Room on N. Queen Street) and ogle the young women who passed by. In 1914 the “Common Sense Orator” from Philadelphia called out sporting culture when he lectured young men in Lancaster about how to improve their lives. He recommended that they respect their parents, read good newspapers instead of dime novels and “sporting truck” [here truck means “stuff”], and “quit loafing on street corners and around pool room joints.”

The Wheatland Hotel, on North Queen Street, was a hang-out spot for sports. Photo courtesy of LancasterHistory

The Palace Pool Room got into trouble with law enforcement several times.  On Christmas Eve in 1911, the police raided the pool room because it had been open on Sunday, in violation of Sabbath laws, and had allowed boys under the age of 18, which was also against the law. A newspaper report indicated that police shut the pool hall down at 1 am on Sunday morning. But the Dorsheimers were defiant and announced they intended to be open all day on Sunday. True to their word, they opened at 9 am on Sunday. When police arrived that morning, they found 104 young men, “many under 18 years,” in the pool hall: 

About a dozen [of the young men] tried to escape through a rear entrance. Fifteen young men found shelter under the pool tables at which they were playing. 

Lancaster News Journal, 25 Dec. 1911

George Dorsheimer was arrested, made bail, and later paid a fine.

A few years later, George Dorsheimer was charged with statuatory rape after he had sex with fifteen-year old Annie Harsh at the pool hall. He was eventually sentenced to 10 months in jail for adultery, a lesser charge than statutory rape. At this time, judges often felt statutory rape charges were too harsh and looked for ways to reduce them. A few months later, Annie Harsh was sent to Sleighton Farms—a reform school for delinquent girls in Darling, Pennsylvania—after being accused of theft and indecent conduct at a park. The judge noted that she  and her teenage friend had stolen $16 from a man in Reading and been disorderly on the streets of Lancaster and at People’s Park. Newspaper accounts of her case stated her involvement in an “affair” on North Queen St. which was likely a reference to the statutory rape case at the pool hall. It was not unusual for judges to punish the teenage girls involved in statutory rape cases, even though these laws were initially proposed to protect girls and women. 

Some reformers believed girls and women needed to be defended against the abuse of “sports.” But, in the early 1900s, city officials also pushed for the punishment and confinement of young women as the solution to vice. Sporting girls had different prospects than sporting boys.

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