Remembering Those Dance Hall Days

  

The following article was written by Bill Collins and was published in the Times-Gazette in 1999 as part of our community's bicentennial celebration. Thanks for sending it along Bill!
   

During those pre-TV years of the 1930s and 1940s, Greenfield was not only a terrific sports community, but also a social leader — a mover and a shaker, so to speak, of the entertainment that could be found in our small village. Music and dance were as popular as any of the sports that could be found, and here's a glimpse at some of the peo­ple and places that made it all hap-pen.

Simmons Restaurant, known as Simmy's, was located in the Pythian Castle building that is now occupied by Castle Hallmark. With a side door opening on Midway, you could look inside to see who was 'dancing to the jukebox music locat­ed in the back part of the restaurant run by Virgil and Byrl Simmons. A meeting place for high school stu­dents from McClain, it was also a hang out for young people from Hillsboro, Washington Court House and Chillicothe. While Hillsboro had Heistens, Washington Court House, The Chatter Box and Chilli­cothe, The Chicken Inn, we had Simmy's. Simmons Restaurant was also known for having a great fountain for sodas, sundaes and fountain Cokes; it had a beer license, too.

Down the street and around the corner, Glenn Penn opened Penny's Inn in 1937. Located just north of he Rand Theater, the first Penny's doubled its size to provide a dance floor and then added a moonlight garden in the rear of the inn. Here, Glenn Penn featured live music, and some of us can recall Dane Ise man playing the drums with a band to provide music in the garden on Wednesday and Saturday nights.

In 1946, Penn built a new hang-out, located at 414 Jefferson St., where McClain students met to eat and dance. Although the restaurant and teen hangout eventually closed in 1966, the memories of Penny's were recalled by students of McClain High School during their all-class reunion this summer.

From the mid 1930s the Elks Lodge hosted its annual Charity Ball in December. Held in the Armory, the affair featured live bands from Columbus and Cincinnati. The ladies would wear their formal gowns and husbands or boyfriends would provide them with beautiful corsages. Pat Shrock, the editor of the Greenfield Daily Times, would always write a big story of the yearly ball, describing the great dresses the gals had worn. He would also write about the latest dance steps he had watched at the dance.

The Eagles Lodge also had its annual banquet and dance, and this was in March of each year. Generally, the banquet was held in the cafeteria at McClain, with a dance in the lodge hall afterward. I recall both of these affairs because my mom and dad, Ada and Ab Collins, never missed one, and I looked forward to when I could attend the yearly events.

Of course, dancing wasn't just for the adults. In 1938, a lady from Chillicothe gave ballroom dancing lessons in the Armory, and my dad insisted I take the lessons. As I recall, the class had about five boys including Wayne Cook, Bill Coffey, Gene Keiter, Clyde Nicely and me, plus 15 beautiful young ladies. We got to dance with them all! I was never a good athlete, but boy could I dance.

The precedent had been set, and the tradition of dancing continued into the 1940s. During World War II, those young men who hadn't already learned to dance did so at the USO clubs provided for the servicemen throughout the country. When we came marching home, we all were ready to dance.

During the late 1940s and early 1950s, the Elks Lodge brought some great Big Bands to Greenfield for dances in the Armory. There was Charley Spevack, Tony Pastor, Louie Prima and the Glenn Miller Band with Tex Benekie. These bands were traveling around the country in buses playing at big cities on the weekends, and they would play during the week for a good price. The Elks club made some money on the dances, but most of all it provided great entertainment for our community. I recall the Bainbridge contingent would make reservations for 40 people at each dance. And these events were also attended by groups from Hillsboro and Washington Court House. Both the Eagles and Elks lodges continued to provide many dances with live music for their members well into the 1960s; these were always well attended.

Throughout the years, the Greenfield schools have also provided a great music program. Ralph Price would amaze all with his pipe organ recitals each summer; band concerts were held at the town square; and who can forget the McClain High School band with the legendary Barney Beaver? In recent years, the McClain Show Choir has provided wonderful musical entertainment to our community as well.

Greenfield has always been a great party town, but more than that, it has been a great social leader. Its history of dance and entertainment are one of the many fine reasons that make it a great community to live in.

So without hesitation, we should all get ready to attend the grand ball of our bicentennial celebration. We should gather together on the last day of the year before the last year of the century to see the year 2000 arrive with a bang. Certainly, remembering the past 200 years in 1999 has been wonderful, but look­ing forward to the next 200 should be our goal.

  

Bill can be reached at goldenpigbc@yahoo.com