For a series of 'Then & Now' interactive looks at Newport during its "Sin City" era, scroll to the bottom of the article.
NEWPORT, Ky. – From its beginnings as a military outpost in 1803, Newport had an aura of sin.
Sitting at the edge of civilization in what was then the American West, the Northern Kentucky city developed into a lawless slip on the Ohio River – a place where drinking, prostitution, gambling and gunplay were the natural order.
The area we know now as home to an aquarium, an IMAX theater and a family entertainment center was a pocket of lust and crime for almost two centuries – and that way of life persisted into the 1960s, 70s and even 80s.
“You could pretty much do what you wanted – and the guys with some money really did what they wanted,” retired Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky reporter Terry Flynn said. “Across the river, you still had a much stronger political machine. But in Newport, nobody cared. They just gambled.”
At a time when Las Vegas was merely a crossroads in the Nevada desert, Newport became “Sin City” – a place where if you could dream it, and pay for it, you could do it.
HOW TO USE OUR TOOL: Click and hold the white circular “slider” tool at the center of each photograph. Then move the slider left and right to see an image from Newport's Sin City years and an image of that same spot today.
The Antique Shop at 8 E 6th St. in 1972
Then known as The Antique Shop, this little business on E 6th Street was owned and operated by Sammy Eisner, a well-known figure in Newport. He had a criminal record, and police suspected him of being involved in organized crime. On July 30, 1972, Eisner was shot three times inside his shop. His homicide investigation was turned over to the Kentucky State Police on Aug. 17, 1972. It has never been solved.
The Yorkshire Club at 518 York St.
The Yorkshire was owned and operated by Joe and Martin Berman, two gangsters that took control of the club in 1944. It was a three-story brick building with a 7,500 square foot casino on the first floor and a race and sport book in the back. The Yorkshire contained one of Newport's busiest bookie joints, and several racetrack boards lined the rear wall of the casino. Race results poured in constantly from tracks around the country. In February 1953, the club was raided. Three men described as "big-shot Cleveland gamblers" were charged in U.S. tax court in Washington, D.C., with hiding $273,000 in profits from The Yorkshire Club. Today, the building is home to Bernhard's Bakery.
The Merchants Club at 15 E 4th St. in 1945
The Merchants Club was a three-story building with a dining room and casino. Red Masterson – a moonshiner, thief, gambler and killer – managed the club for the Cleveland Syndicate for more than 20 years. In 1951, Newport's police chief George Gugel was asked to list the notorious gambling houses operating in his jurisdiction. Gugel named Merchants Club as one of them. The club was near the police station and courthouse. In 1951, it was raided and its occupants were marched single file up the street to the police station. Today, a Goodyear Auto Service Center sits on the site.
WCPO Insiders can see five more interactive images from Newport's 'Sin City' era, including a look at lawyers who turned to a life of crime, a restaurant that became the city's best-known gambling den, the famous home where the Thompson gun was invented, Monmouth's illustrious adult theater and more. Insiders can also meet a legendary Newport gangster who met his demise from a hospital room window and read about the people who brought the city's criminals to their knees.