“Steve, one of the true joys of producing this franchise with you is that every time we go out to produce some new installments of it, we have a chance of learning something we didn’t count on learning,” Mike Hoey said. “Something we’d never heard of before — and that’s exactly what this week’s installment is.”
“Oh, I know, Mike,” Vermont Historical Society executive director Steve Perkins said. “We came to Richford to shoot one story, and we heard about this woman named Queen Lil.”
“Lillian Fleury — (Lillian) Miner before that — ran a line house in East Richford, half in Quebec, half in Vermont,” Evan Mercy of the Richford Historical Society said. “(She placed a) set of brass tacks down the middle of the floor in the barroom, so whichever side the police (would come in from), they could shuffle everybody to the other side so they were in the other country. It was close to the railroad tracks, very close to the Canadian Pacific tracks.”
Hoey exclaimed, “There may have been as many, or perhaps even more, railroad stops at Queen Lil’s establishment than there may have been at the actual train station!”
“It’s very possible,” Mercy said. “From what I’ve always been told by some of the older people in town, it was a very busy place — multiple other business ventures going on in the building upstairs.”
“She kept meticulous records of these various lines of business that she had,” Hoey observed.
Mercy replied, “I have to believe that’s why she got away with what she got away with for so long!”
“Now, she was born in Richford,” Perkins said. “But she left.”
“She left with her first husband running a medicine show, then ran a brothel in Boston,” Mercy continued. “I don’t know if it was a problem with law enforcement in Boston that drove her back north.”
“But at the time she moved back here and she built her house here — palace, shall we say? — it was illegal to build buildings across the international border,” Perkins noted.
“The original building, it wasn’t illegal,” Mercy said. “The original hotel (that preceded the brothel on her property) burned down and when she went to rebuild it, both the Canadian government and the American government were trying to stop her because they weren’t allowing that type of building anymore. She went to court (against both federal governments), and she won.”
Perkins said, “In the studio portrait that you showed us, she has a parrot on her shoulder!”
“(I have) no idea what the parrot’s name was,” Mercy answered. “I never heard.”
“But it was hers, though,” Hoey said.
“My dad used to hang out at a local garage; Homer Green was the gentleman’s name who owned the garage,” Mercy continued. “She came in to buy a car, got the paperwork all done and Homer asked her, ‘now, how do you plan on financing this?’. And I know my dad said she had the most disgusted look on her face. It’s like, ‘Homer, you know me better than that; you know how I’m going to pay for this,’ and just started counting out $100 bills!”
Perkins asked, “And so if you want to come to Richford and learn more about Queen Lil and all the other great stories they have here, how can you do that?”
“During the summer, the museum’s open on Saturdays,” Mercy said. “If you were to contact us, we could let you in (at other times).”
Perkins also asked, “Is there a website?”
“It’s not a website,” Mercy concluded. “It’s a Facebook page, and if anybody posts questions, somebody tries to answer them.”