Once Upon a Dance – Join the Adventure

Editor’s Note: The Norwich Dance Club is celebrating the history of ballroom dancing in Chenango County this week with a number of events, including an exhibit at Guernsey Memorial Library and a Community Ballroom Dance at St. Bart’s Parish Center on Saturday. For more information, visit www.norwichdanceclub.com.

By David Graham


Earlier columns of this series have described some of the more well documented places and occasions where dancing warmed the hearts of Bullthistle Country. However, these only scratch the surface of this area’s dance stories. Below are other less well documented areas with local dance history. Perhaps one of the readers can help in fleshing out their stories.

1. The Norwich Municipal Building

In 1902 the two story fire station was built to replace the original Norwich fire station that appears on the left. (Top right photo).

In 1908 the two-story fire station was rebuilt adding a third floor with a stage and ballroom. Given the size of the room in the picture below, this Carnation Ball may very well have been held in the City Hall Ballroom. Or perhaps this was in the Norwich Club. Do you know?

In the years that followed dances were held in the Municipal Building ballroom for all kinds of reasons.

In 1915 the March 27th issue of the Utica Globe refers to a Charity ball to be held on April 9th in City Hall featuring Johnson’s 12-piece orchestra (botom of page) for the dance music and the appearance of Miss Jane Patten and Mr. Hyland of Utica to perform four dances “en costume”. The April 3rd edition calls this the 19th annual Charity Ball meaning that they must have started in 1896.

However, dancing goes back even further. The April 3rd 1923 issue of the Norwich Sun says that the 66th Annual Easter Ball (the first one was in 1857!) was held in the City Hall for the benefit of Ontario Hose Company #3.

2. The Wheeler Hotel (Greene)

In 1843 Ephraim Wheeler bought a 144 acre farm in Greene and built a hotel on the site of the old Shingle Tavern. The three story structure had a first floor verandah and an iron second floor balcony (see the photograph). Here there was also a ballroom with a coil spring supported dance floor (free from the baseboards for about 1 inch all the way around). Single springs connected along the sides with triple springs at the corners. Dances on this floor that “gave” up and down gently were so popular that dance numbers were sold and only those whose numbers were called could dance. The hotel burned down on December 11th 1895 taking the dance floor with it.

3. Frink’s Tavern (North Pharsalia)

Sometime between 1829 and 1840, a tavern was built by Hiram Frink at a spot located about 1 mile east of North Pharsalia on the Kirk-Pharsalia Road (Rte 23 about eleven miles from Norwich) a few miles out of South Plymouth. The tavern had a large dining room, a spotless kitchen, a brightly lit barroom and a huge (70 feet x 28 foot) ballroom on the second floor running the length of the building where country dances were held. Music was usually provided by a country fiddler. The Tavern was eventually bought by a Dr. L.D. Greenleaf who renamed it the Sulfur or Spring House (for the mineral spring located across the road over a knoll) and used the supposed healthful affects of the spring water to draw the sick to his hotel. The Doctor also acquired a large dairy and farm whose rich milk, fresh eggs and vegetables did much more than the water to get many of his patients on their feet.

4. The Crane Tavern (Pharsalia)

In 1811 Joel Crane built a tavern in his frame house on the bend of the “hook” on the south side of the road. In 1818 the original tavern building was torn down and a later addition on the site of the original building included a large second floor ballroom where dances were enjoyed until the Crane Tavern building was razed on July 23rd 1948.

5. The Grant Hotel (East Pharsalia)

In 1824 Justus Grant built East Pharsalia’s first tavern. In 1840, the tavern having become too small, Justus rebuilt and the enlarged hotel had a good-sized ballroom on the second floor. Supposedly the building still stands just east of the present Country Store.

Some of the information and photographs in this column were provided courtesy of the Chenango County Historian’s Office. If you want to learn more about dancing in Bullthistle Country there will be exhibits at the Guernsey Public Library (9/17-22) and the Chenango County Historical Society Museum on Rexford Street (mid-October). Any and all errors herein are strictly the responsibility of the author.

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