Custom House Place ran south from Jackson St., and between the Great Fire of 1871 and 1903, was the largest and most depraved red light district in Chicago. Home to a number of "panel houses," brothels in which secret doors in the walls allowed a thief in the next room to reach in and steal from a client's coat or pants when they were hung over a chair or in a closet, Custom House Place was located just across Polk St. from Dearborn Street Station, where most of the train traffic arriving into Chicago from St. Louis and other southern cities disembarked. Thus, Sears, Roebuck & Co. advised farmers arriving in the city to go immediately to their offices and not speak to anyone on the street. The wild stories of innocent girls arriving in Chicago, being romanced by a seductive stranger and shortly finding themselves drugged, beaten, and bound into forced prostitution were mostly exaggerated, but not totally.
Madame Mary Hastings said of her brothel that if a girl was good enough to be accepted at an ordinary brothel, then she was too good for her own. She also boasted that there was no act of perversion that could be imagined which her girls would not perform. In 1895, Madam Hastings was indicted on white slavery charges for holding girls aged 13 to 19 against their wills at 128 Custom House Place, and forcing them into brutal lives of prostitution. She managed to escape prostitution by fleeing to Canada until all of the witnesses against her had left Chicago or forgotten the details of her crimes.
Most of the bawdy houses in the area were shut down by the city in 1903-04, the road was renamed Federal St., and many of their proprietors and residents moved south to the Levee district between 18th and Cermak, which became the segregated vice district until the mid-1910s. The Dearborn Street Station continued in operation until 1976, when train traffic was consolidated into Union Station on the city's west side. The ticket house was converted into a retail shopping center and the rest of the train station was developed as a strangely suburb-like park area with white brick townhomes.