The BRADFORD ARENA was open from about 1939 until 1963. There were always large crowds,
but when WW II ended the crowds swelled to 400 or more every Saturday evening, regardless of the weather.
Frank's nephew, Stewart,
remembers his father making a good week's wage pulling cars out of the ditch or snow banks, as the hall was on a very steep hill. He also taught his daughter to run the tractor so she could help him.
People came to the dances from most of the towns in Merrimack and Sullivan Counties as well as Manchester and even Boston and New York during the summer, the summer residents from the lakes region also came.
It was named the "Arena" because Frank had sold the property and the new owners tried to have roller-skating in the hall also, but that never really took off and the Saturday night dancers complained that the skating was ruining the floor. In those days a dance floor had to be perfectly smooth and waxed to a high gloss. Dancers wore leather sole shoes that would glide on the floor while dancing. There was always an ongoing debate as to whether the floor was too slippery or not smooth enough.
The floor had to be waxed every week between dances. A Dance Wax powder was sprinkled on the floor to keep it smooth. If Dance Wax was not available, cornmeal could be used.
The wax or cornmeal made a fine white dust, which covered your shoes by the end of the evening. Sometimes the wax would build up on the bottom of the dancers shoes and they would need to go outside and scratch the soles on the dirt to clean them off.
3 pictures from a dance at the Bradford Arena in 1949
(click an image to enlarge it)
The admission to the dances was fair for the times. An ad circa 1946 states, "Popular Prices - Admission 64 cents, Fed. Tax 12 cents - Tot. 74 cents." Frank later went up as high as 99 cents. At that time, if he charged under $1.00 he did not have to pay taxes, so the admission remained the same for quite a while. Among the ticket sellers over the years were Don Keith, Frank's brother Ted, his sister Zinella, and his neighbor Don Douglas. There was also a ticket taker who tore the tickets in half for the door prize and stamped the hands of those who left the hall so they could come back in. Tickets were not sold to anyone who appeared too intoxicated.
Alcohol was not allowed inside the dance hall in those days. Those who wished to imbibe had it in their car and frequent trips were made out of the hall when one got thirsty, especially at intermission. What went on outside the hall at these dances has kept the gossips of the surrounding towns entertained for years. Frank was well aware of the activities and hired town police officers to keep things under control. He wanted to have a respectable establishment where families could enjoy themselves. We fondly remember two of these, then Chief of Police, Jay George, and his deputy, Lester Witham. These two kept any trouble outside the hall and could settle disputes with little fanfare.
It is recalled that there was a gang from Claremont and one from Newport that came to the Arena wanting to cause trouble. The officers took care of these outside the hall, and they were ushered off the property. In those days, their only weapons were their fists.
Don and Harriet Douglas at the snack|
bar in 1952. Ula Fortune is on the left,
and Myrna and Janice Colby are on
the right (click image to enlarge).
The snack bar has been a topic of much discussion during this research. Frank's wife, Ann, and other helpers, usually wives of the ticket sellers (Shirley Keith, Harriet Douglas, and Frank's sister-in-law Ula Fortune), sold hot dogs, hamburgers, cheeseburgers and potato chips throughout the evening.
Ann used to take a hot dog and slit it and put cheese in it on the grill.
It was a special treat for those of us working behind the counter.
Everyone remembers that the hamburgers always tasted sooooooo good, probably because we danced so hard and worked up an appetite.
And they were probably made from home raised beef, not the ground stuff we get in the grocery stores today.
The sodas (in those days it was called "tonic") they sold have probably been the favorite topic of conversation. The Budd Bottling Company of Newport, NH supplied the beverages. The favorites were Fruit Bowl, grape, white birch beer, dark birch beer and cream soda.
No one has tasted anything to compare since. (We just found a company here in NH that makes a Fruit Bowl, which we are anxious to try for old time's sake.)
A postcard from an early 1950s featuring a dance at the
Bradford Arena |
(click image to enlarge it)
Frank would put bowls of popcorn out on the tables located in front of the snack bar. He made sure it was plenty salty so dancers would need to buy drinks to quench their thirst.
The property exchanged hands many times over the years, but Frank still ran the dances and did the calling. Around 1950 the property was owned by Dorothy Fischer. One Christmas she sent out a picture card of the house and barn (right).
According to information found in local newspapers it appeared that Colby's Orchestra with Frank Fortune calling played at the arena until late 1958. It is believed that Frank's voice may have given out and he was ordered to give it a rest. During the early 1960s there were a variety of bands and callers for the dances at the Arena.
In 1959 Frank sold the Arena to Raymond Lawler, but again continued to call for the dances when he could. Mr. Lawler was peculiar and timed the dances with a stop watch to make sure the sets of squares and round dances were exactly the same length. That did not go over well with Frank and the Orchestra.
An ad in a local newspaper from 1960 advertised Brother Wayne and the Ramblers as providing the music. One of the callers who filled in occasionally was Larry Guaraldi from Lebanon.
The Bradford Arena burned on August 6, 1963 (see photo, to the right).
The Stark Mansion Hall, Dunbarton, NH.
In 1959 Colby's Orchestra was not playing at Bradford Arena as Frank was having trouble with his voice and Mike had been ill. Marguerite and Jesse Boynton owned the Stark Mansion in Dunbarton and ran a restaurant in the Mansion. Stark Mansion was built in 1785 by
Revolutionary War General John Stark and his son Caleb, for Caleb and his family.
There was a smaller barn on the property, which had been used for sheep. The Boyntons renovated it and started having round dances.
The round dancing alone did not draw large crowds. When Marguerite heard that Mike wasn't playing she asked him to come with his Orchestra and play for her.
She then hired Frank Morrison from Laconia to call the squares.
The format for the dances was exactly the same as it had been at the Bradford Arena, as most of the dancers had been dancing in Bradford previously. This barn only held 200-250 people,
but was admired for the huge fieldstone fireplace and knotty pine interior. When the fireplace was in use, only the really cold-blooded people could stand to be the set directly in front of it.
Marguerite played the piano in the beginning. A little later Woody Roberts started playing the piano so Marguerite could be free to attend to the snack bar. George Rounds and Bob Messer also came to the Mansion to play. Marguerite's son, Robert, played the standup bass and became a part of Colby's Orchestra and married Mike's older daughter, Janice. Danny Clear from Manchester played drums and was later replaced by Stewart Fortune, Frank's nephew.
As Marguerite was an excellent cook and ran a restaurant across the road from the dance hall, the snack bar featured items such as
homemade donuts and a multi-layered banana and real whipped cream cake. There were often homemade pies in addition to the regular fare of
hamburgers and hot dogs. Once a year she invited all the regular dancers to a buffet dinner before the dance. The menu was a traditional ham and bean supper. After the dinner the tables were cleared and removed and the dance went on. Marguerite's husband, Jesse, sold tickets and kept the floors just right to dance on. He was a hard-working, frugal man. During the winter months he went out with his wheelbarrow on Saturday afternoons to get snow and ice for the tonic cooler. One year he was proud that he was able to still get snow for the cooler the first week in June. He knew where the trees shaded the ground and the snow did not melt early.
Dancers at the Stark Mansion
Ted Starkweather calling at the Stark Mansion in 1959
As the dance hall also served as the function hall for the restaurant, it was not unusual for the band to play for a wedding reception or party in the afternoon and again in the evening for the regular dance.
Most of the regular dancers at the Stark Mansion had also gone to Bradford. Some of them were the children of people who had gone to the Bradford Arena in its early days. This was also a place that couples met, went on dates, and often went on to be married.
Frank Fortune came to call at the Stark Mansion sometime in 1963, as his voice had recovered. The dances continued until 1965 as Marguerite's health was failing.
The hall was sold in 1967 and was used for a printing business.
Fortune's Barn Frank bought a barn on Fairgrounds Road in
Bradford, just a couple miles past the Arena, and
completely renovated it with all new timbers and a new hardwood floor. Bob Messer's son, Rick,
worked on the flooring and Frank was so pleased with
the finished product that he gave Rick a bonus, which was not something Frank usually did.
Other local workmen did much of the work on this barn.
It opened as Fortunes Barn in 1965. This new barn was very fancy compared to the old one. It had screens on the windows and double barn doors, which could be opened on each end. It even had indoor plumbing! The stage was in the center of one long side of the hall with the snack bar directly across from it. The snack bar was larger and there were more tables in the snack bar area. The new kitchen also sold French fries.
The crowds followed Frank to the new barn and the dances continued as they had always been run. The crowds were not as large, as many of the original dancers had families to care for or had moved on, but the "good old standbys" were there every week.
At each dance a door prize was drawn for a free admission to a future dance.
Some pictures from Fortunes barn in 1968, the year
after Mike Colby died (click image to enlarge it). The band consisted of
(left to right) Al Lavoie, George Rounds, Bob Messer, Lyle Glidden,
an unknown drummer, Woody Roberts, and Frank Fortune calling
Frank sold Fortune's Barn to Cliff Sellers in 1968, but continued to call there until his voice gave out about six months later. As Myron Colby had died in 1967 and Frank had to give up calling in 1968,
several musicians and callers worked for Cliff Sellers. When Woody Roberts left for a summer break, Walt Heath from Hillsboro played the piano. Marcel Robidas, who took Myron's place as fiddler, traveled from Dover to Bradford every week regardless of the weather. Bob Messer, George Rounds and Bob Boynton from Colby's orchestra continued to play. Other musicians were Lyle Glidden on guitar and fiddle and Howie Dearborn on standup bass came from Wolfeboro to play. Gerald Purington from Weare came occasionally to play the saxophone and clarinet. The callers were George Miller, Lee Keyser, Dick Palmer and Wilbur Grace.
On Sundays Cliff hosted country music jam sessions at the barn. He featured stars of the Grand Old Opry such as Grandpa Jones, Hager Brothers, Stan, Jr. and Minnie Pearl.
Fortune's Barn in 1969 with Lee Keyser calling
In the mid 1970s, Fortunes Barn closed and smaller groups of musicians and dancers found smaller halls to dance in, such as Webster and Hopkinton.
The Woody Roberts Band started playing at the Emerson Hill Club Hall in Hopkinton with the remaining members of Colby's Orchestra in about 1980. The surviving dancers from Bradford Arena, Stark Mansion, and Fortunes Barn still came to these dances. Lee Keyser and Wilbur Grace called the squares at Emerson Hill until Robert Boynton, Jr. (grandson of Myron Colby) started calling the singing squares in Hopkinton and for other dances in the area in 1982.
John Boynton, also Myron's grandson, played the drums occasionally. As George Rounds spent the winters in Florida by this time, Ed Price of Contoocook took over playing the banjo. Marcel Robidas still traveled from Dover every Saturday night to play the fiddle for a number of years. Woody decided to retire from playing square dances so Walt Heath took over playing the piano and his wife, Lou, played the fiddle.
In 1992 Bob decided to stop calling at Emerson Hill full time, but continued to do dances by request. He has worked with youth groups to teach them this traditional style of square dancing.
George Hodgson from Phillipston, MA came up to call when Bob got done and called until February, 2007 when he died of a massive corony. Bob
Boynton came out of retirement and is calling again for this group of dancers.
Playing for a square dance at the Emerson Hill Club in December 1996|
Walt Heath on accordian, Royce Riddle on Banjo, Woody Roberts
on piano, Lou Heath playing fiddle, Bob Whyman on bass,
Wilfred French on drums, and Bob Messer on the sax.
The Emerson Hill Club building burned on August 8, 1999.
Since that time the group of dedicated dancers has danced at the Town Library Community Room in Contoocook. In 2006 Walt and Lou retired from playing as they were both in their 80s and Woody Roberts went back to playing for the squares again. There have been numerous musicians who have played for this group.
Over the years Ken Holt, Wilfred French and George Kemp have played the drums. Royce Riddle, who has been instrumental in keeping the group going, has played the banjo, often assisted by Brian Carroll. The group continues to hold dances with varying other musicians. They are indeed a dedicated group. At the March 3, 2007 dance you could see Woody Roberts still at the piano, with Bob Boynton again calling the squares that Frank Fortune called and John Boynton playing the drums. (Bob and John being Myron Colby's grandsons.) The dancers there that night had all attended the Bradford Dances at some time.
Both Woody Roberts and Walt Heath have said that the piano at Emerson Hill Club was the best one they ever played. They both felt so bad that it had burned in the fire. Early on Ed Price glued a mirror onto the piano so that Woody could watch the dancers as he played so he didn't have to miss anything while he was playing.
Written 2006/2007 by Janice Colby Boynton, with help from Myrna Colby Toutant