Blair Hawkins | Charlottesville, Virginia |

Legendary Madam Of Charlottesville. Wednesday May 24, 2017.

Marguiretta de Crescioli and her opulent brothel may have been lost to history except for all that money found in the rubble of an urban renewal demolition decades after her death.

There were many legends and variations of her name. Everyone had a memory and story to tell. Some have artifacts like a coin found in the days after word got out about the big money. The upscale brothel became an institution, making loans and buying houses to help people out of financial difficulties.

The money was first found November 22, 1972. A "workman was bulldozing the rubble after the house had been torn down...struck something solid which turned out to be a metal box containing approximately $700 in cash...At about 9 p.m. [Nov. 24] Darlene Harris, 16, found a small wooden box three feet below the ground at the base of a large oak tree.

"Imprinted upon the box were the initials "D.C" taken to stand for Marguerite's last name De Crescioli. The box contained about $7,000 in $100 bills, five dollar silver certificates, and coins. The money was tightly rolled in various denominations, each roll totalling $100.

"By noon Monday, hundreds of people, some armed with metal detectors, were scouring the site, which resembled a battlefield [...]" ( "Marguerite's", The Declaration, Apr. 7, 1977.)

Sweet Marguerite's on Fifth Street was not the only house of prostitution. It's the only one anybody remembers.

"The keeping, frequenting, and renting of “houses of ill fame” for the “purpose of prostitution or lewdness” was illegal; engaging in prostitution was punishable by fines or jail sentences. On October 29, 1912, in a single raid, police arrested 25 women on charges of prostitution in 8 different brothels (Figure 2).

"No men were arrested. Some of the women had operated as prostitutes and madams in the district for decades, building their business with patronage from university students. Martha “Mattie” Thompson worked here for over 40 years as a prostitute and madam, from the early 1880s until her death in 1925.

"Also arrested that night was Ada Miller, who built a large brothel in the mid-1890s, which she operated for over two decades. Annie Williams, who was also arrested, worked here from 1900 through the early 1920s.

"In 1922 Williams sold her brothel and left Charlottesville; Marguiretta L. Baccigalluppocrescioli, who had worked in the district as a prostitute since 1916, succeeded Williams as the brothel’s proprietor and continued in business until her death in 1951."

("Charlottesville’s Landscape of Prostitution, 1880–1950" From: Buildings & Landscapes: Journal of the Vernacular Architecture Forum Volume 22, Number 2, Fall 2015 pp. 36-61. Source)

Marguiretta de Crescioli is the legal name on many documents. The madam died testate Jan. 7, 1951, her will dated Oct 16, 1946, probated Mar. 1, 1951 and spread in Will Book 6 Page 474.

Upon her death she owned the home of John West at 313 West Main location of latest hotel. The freed slave became a land developer and built Vinegar Hill during the Golden Age of Race Relations. ("Hayes sold the property to Marguiretta ... for $10,000 (Deed Book 155 Page 233, Feb. 27, 1947." Source with deed timeline).

The brothel itself off Garrett Street near the downtown train station was built 1861 and torn down 1972. It changed ownership 15 times. Built as a "sporting house," each of the 7 bedrooms had its own bath. It had already been a brothel up to a couple decades when Marguiretta bought the house in 1922.

Back then almost every large house had been a brothel at some point. None of the houses was built for the purpose of prostitution. And the houses spoke of an ealier age of explosive growth in the late 1800s.

Upon Marguiretta's death 1951, Blind Jennie Donaldson and her husband bought the house as a home for the elderly. My memories are selling candy to the old black ladies to benefit some church activity. I waited on the porch as they got the money. For a time the blighted properties were all gone. But the nice places were still there. If they could have stopped and built around the landmarks, urban renewal would have a positive meaning today.

Blind Jennie moved across the railroad and bought what became the South Street Inn built 1856. It too served as a bordello at some point. Blind Jennie passed away 1984.

That was the end of an era where women and minorities seemed more empowered than they are today. And Madam Marguiretta was the successful business leader whom we remember fondly.

Blair Hawkins | Charlottesville, Virginia | | Résumé | Top