A bordello between the province of Québec and the state of Vermont: The Palace of Sin (1912-1930)
Did you know that border towns in the counties of Brome and Missisquoi had a substantial amount of bootlegging going on during the American prohibition that was declared in 1919? Frelighsburg and Abercorn were both major supply centres for bootleggers in the area. Many hotel keepers profited from the trafficking of booze. Meanwhile, prostitution attracted a steady male clientele from Montréal and Boston by train, as exemplified by the famed bordello known as the Palace of Sin belonging to the adventurer and businesswoman Lilian Miner, alias Queen Lill.
In 1910, Lillian Miner had already established a reputation as a “Madame” in Boston, but she had to hastily leave the city because the Boston police force wanted to eradicate any form of prostitution in the city of Boston. She returned and hid out at the family farm, in Stevens Hill, Vermont. A shrewd businesswoman, she scouted out another opportunity to get back her fortune and in quick order she bought the foundation and lot of a burned-down hotel in East Richford, Vermont, a property that straddled the Vermont-Québec border. A Franklin County prosecutor promptly sued Lill, citing a federal U.S. law prohibiting the building of any property on the border, in an effort to thwart her plans. Lill then hired a Boston lawyer to contend that the new owner was conducting repairs on the site she had bought and not a new construction of the hotel that had just been built on the Canadian Pacific Railway line connecting Boston and Portland to Montréal.
With the arrival of the U.S. Prohibition in 1919, the three-storey hotel became a popular stop for many businessmen and public servants from surrounding towns and cities. Divided into two sections, the hotel was able to avoid getting caught up in raids by U.S. police authorities. The second and third storey of the hotel served to provide moral and physical relief to the male clientele which, prior to 1920, was mainly comprised of railroad and local sawmill workers.
By 1921, the conductors of the CPR train made stops themselves on the doorstep of the Palace of Sin to drop off Montréal-Boston run passengers, with the Canadian Pacific Railway selling tickets for the occasion, known as the “$10 Drunk Ticket”. Despite having an influential network and a stable of lawyers, Lill was unable to escape a raid conducted by Canadian authorities with the help of the local police force in Vermont. At the request of Canadian customs and customs agent Francis Fyles of Abercorn, which was connected with the municipality of Sutton prior to 1929, a joint police operation surprised the occupants of the Palace of Sin at 3 o’clock in the morning of June 12, 1925.
Despite the arrest, Queen Lill continued to ply her trade as bordello keeper and liquor seller, but competition from Abercorn hotels, the 1929 stock market collapse and the ensuing Great Depression forced Lill to make some changes to her life. Married to Levi Fleury prior to 1924, a man from her native Stevens Hill village, Lill abandoned the “world’s oldest profession” to become the land owner of three agricultural operations, which she had bought since her “palace” opened. Lillian Miner loved to go for a drive in her magnificent Knight-Willis car, right up to her death in 1941. She is buried at the tiny cemetery in East Richford. Interviewed by a local reporter prior to her death, Lill was fond of saying, “Now I’m The Queen Hill.”
The end of Prohibition in 1933 also marked the end of the fascinating chapter on the U.S. border area near Frelighsburg, which resulted in the decline of a lucrative market on a border that returned to almost nondescript status. Read about the subject, «Alcool, crime et prostitution sur la frontière proche de Frelighsburg 1890-1930», Société d’histoire et du patrimoine de Frelighsburg, 2016.