Clark County Press, Neillsville, WI
August 27, 1992, Page 28
Transcribed by Dolores (Mohr) Kenyon.
Index of "Good Old Days" Articles
Good Old Days
By Dee Zimmerman
The last of the four Clark County ballrooms to be built during the late 20’s-early 30’s era was the Silver Dome in 1933. Of the four, it is the only one still in existence, located west of Neillsville on Highway 10.
Al, Paul, Walter and Herb, four of the Keller brothers, natives of the Neillsville area, made the decision to build the ballroom. They hired Cornel Moen, also of Neillsville, as the carpenter of the project.
Cornel Moen, the carpenter who built the Silver Dome
Cornel’s parents were Christ and Ronnag Moen. Chris was an immigrant from Norway; Ronnag was from Germany. A nephew, Herman Moen, resides in Neillsville. The late Ray Moen was also a nephew.
A German patent, for the arch style roof was purchased for $1,000 royalty fee. The arch-dome style of the structure is very unique and thought to be the only ballroom of its kind in Wisconsin or America.
Some changes were made with the building plan. It had the squared off ends under the domed roof design. The Kellers wanted the dome effect followed through on the ends and sides. So, Cornel and the Kellers were able to come up with the adjustments to get the desired style.
The arch pattern extends across from one side to the other, with the design following down to the concrete footings the supports rest upon. There are over 100 of those footings around the building.
When you stand inside the structure and look up at the ceiling, you see the precise, intricate positioning of beams brought together in such perfection, so the arch could be realized.
It boggles the mind, wondering how it was done. That style of roof eliminated any support posts inside the building and yet accommodates a large dance floor free of posts to interfere with dancing. Several tons of nails and bolts were used in the construction.
The arch-dome roof provides great acoustics which enables the music’s sound to travel across the large floor and hall, sounding the same at all sides of the floor.
Total cost of the construction was $12,000, which was a big investment for that time during the 30’s.
The Silver Dome Ballroom as it appears today, located along Hwy 10 west of Neillsville
After Cornel Moen had accepted the offer to be the carpenter, he made plans for the job ahead of him. He realized the project required cutting many thick heavy joists and beams. At that time, there wasn’t the availability of electricity at the site. So Cornel made a table saw which was powered by a gasoline engine. He mounted the table saw on a platform and placed the four cylinder motor of an old model “T” Ford car on the same platform. The model “T” motor provided the power needed to run the table saw. The rear axle with rubber tired wheels was mounted under the platform enabling it to be portable to move to and around the work site.
Not only does the Silver Dome still exist, but so does that table saw which Cornel assembled.
Cornel Moen and his wife lived at 102 Hewett Street for some time after the Silver Dome project was completed. One day his wife’s sister and brother-in-law (Lester Zoba) stopped at their house for a visit. (Cornel and Lester were married to the Wildish sisters, Aline and Hope.) As Cornel and Lester stood in the backyard, Lester asked Cornel, “What are you going to do with that table saw you built? I see you have it setting in your garage.” Cornel answered, “Well, Lester, I have been saving it just for you. It’s yours.” Lester accepted Cornel’s gift and took it home.
Asking Lester, recently, about the saw, he said, “Yes, that table saw is setting, resting, in my garage. One of these days when I can get a couple of fellows to help me, we are going to pull that old table saw out of the garage so I can use it to saw some lumber.” Lester lives in the Hatfield area.
The Keller brothers were also accomplished musicians, sometimes playing for dances in their hall.
The Keller brothers and their wives built and started “The Fireplace” supper club business near the ballroom. It was later named the Silver dome Supper Club. The three couples operated both businesses and had living quarters at the Supper Club building, also. The Fireplace “was renowned for its excellent food and pleasant dining atmosphere which drew customers from near and far.”
Of the Keller brothers, Herb is the only one still living. Herb and his wife, Velma, live in retirement not far from the Silver Dome ballroom near Snyder Park. Starting in 1947, Herb played with the Howie Sturtz Orchestra, playing for many years. Once a day, he takes the saxophone from its case and plays for half an hour. He still enjoys the music, which has been so much a part of his life.
Bands which played in the area ballrooms were many. There were popular Big Bands such as Duke Ellington, whose band played at the Silver Dome. Also, there were some of the New Ulm, Minnesota bands, such as Whoopee John, the Six Fat Dutchmen and Fezz Fritchie. The Wisconsin Old Tyme bands were Lawrence Duchow, Romy Gosz, Blue Denin Boys, Bernie Roberts, Jerry Gilbertson and more.
There were several local bands: Wally Ives, Art and Louis Nemitz, Pat Lautenbach and Varsity Band, the Merrymen, Jack Kolbeck of Marshfield, Vic Carpenter Band of Abbotsford, Rhode Bros. of Greenwood, the Pine Valley Dutchmen (Melvin and Dale Appleyard, Bill West, DeWayne Dux, Louie Hoffman and Terry Schwantes), Howie Sturtz Band, (Howie, Ertz Steiger, Herb Keller, Gene LaFond, Wesley Hayden, and Leland Dopp). A band in long existence has been the Dux Orchestra which started in the late 20’s. Members were Otto Dux (violin), Martha (Opelt) Lautenbach (piano), Fred Dux (guitar), Carl Opelt (drums, and bells), and Bill Schwellenbach (trumpet). Today, the orchestra is down to two or three; DeWayne (Tiny) Dux, Frankie Filitz and occasionally Jerry Opelt.
Kellers sold the ballroom in 1940. Owners since have been Fred and Irna Mae Munkholm, John and Edna Labor, Wayne and Terry Johnson, and presently, Louie and Shirley Kessler.
As we remember, the years of our teens and twenties, a families phrase was “Who’s playing at the ballroom Saturday night… is there a dance Friday night?” Everyone went dancing on Saturday night, for sure. During the month of June the month for weddings there often were four or five wedding dances per week at every ballroom with big crowds every night. Asking one woman if she ever danced at the Dome during those days, she said “Yes, that’s where we girls went to find our husbands.” Though it was said in jest, there are many couples celebrating their 40th or 50th wedding anniversaries, who met for the first time, on the dance floor.
What happened to the enjoyment of dancing? Did it wane because we started hiring baby-sitters to stay with our children, while we went dancing? Those of us in the 50’s and older, remember going with our parents to the dances. We learned to dance then too, knowing how to waltz by the time were six or seven. Next, we leaned the polka, fox trot and schottische. The word “baby-sitter” wasn’t in the vocabulary yet at that time. However, there are so many other things to do entertainment wise. We have the availability of many other “recreational activities” and our affluent society enables us to participate in our choice of those.
But, maybe, just maybe, dancing will be re-discovered as a “fun exercise and recreation” which will bring people back to the ballrooms.
If not, a part of our heritage will disappear and die with those of us who danced and remember the joys of those times. One of the most graceful performances of the Living Arts is a dancing couple waltzing around a dance floor (after years of dancing together). They have learned the steps and rhythm coordinating with the music’s beat. Let’s hope it makes a come-back and isn’t lost forever.
(Thanks to those who gave information for this article: Herb and Velma Keller; Herman Moen, the nephew of Cornel Moen; and Lester Zoba, also Jerry Opelt, DeWayne Dux and Ertz Steiger for the bands information.) (Last week’s photo – three young ladies were (L-R) Doris Counsell, Metty (Russell) Roberts and Jan (Kunze) Hauge.)
Compiled by Terry Johnson
TWENTY-FIVE YEARS AGO
“Dick Zank, Neillsville’s lone representative in organized baseball, now has a record of four wins and five losses with Pawtucket (Rhode Island), in the Eastern league. Zank, who pitched two no-hit games in his career with Neillsville High School, had a slow start this year, his first with this class AA club.”
“Born to Mr. and Mrs. Francis Steiner of Granton, a daughter weighing seven pounds six and one-half ounces July 8 in Memorial Hospital in Neillsville. She has been named Ann Margaret.”
FIFTY YEARS AGO
The Northern Wisconsin District Fair at Chippewa Falls was set for six days and six nights, August 4th to the 9th, 1942. Some of the features were: Milking Contest, Jimmy Lynch’s Death Dodgers Thrill Slow (Show), Harness Races, Circus Acts, and a nightly performance of “Americana,” which featured a cast of 175 and a 200 ft. scenic stage setting. Patriotic fireworks were also scheduled each evening. Admission was 30 cents, tax included; children under 12 and cars FREE.
In “What You Folks Talked About,” a few events from July 26, 1906 (then 36 years ago): “Sgt. Maj. W. A. Campman made a good record as a marksman at Camp Douglas last week.” And “The Leans won a 14-9 victory over the fats in a baseball game Sunday. ‘DAD’ Sherman caught three flies in the right field for the Leans, John Schmoll two flies in the left field for the fats. Mayor Listeman umpired the game very ably and fairly.”
“Even if the rubber campaign is over, the Axis will find there’s plenty of scrap left in America.”
“Mrs. W. B. Tufts returned home Friday evening after a three week visit at Bayfield, Duluth and Cass Lake.”
Fifty former residents of Clark County attended a picnic in Baldwin Park, California on Sunday, July 12, 1942. This group, which called itself the “Clark Co., Wis., Society of Southern Calif.,” voted to hold its next picnic on October 11 in South Park, Los Angeles, California.
The Adler Theatre bragged in its ad: “We’re Proud of our Shorts.” The shorts were short features such as the Three Stooges in “An Ache in Every Stake,” a cartoon named “Hysterical High Spots,” and a sports feature, “Show Dogs.”
In “What Your Folks Talked About,” it was reported that sixty-seven years previous, in the July 31, 1875 newspaper it was stated, “Boat riding on the pond is one of the varied amusements of our village.”
Seven new books were added to the shelves of the Neillsville Public Library. Among them “Sea-gull Cry,” by Robert Nathan: Description: “A youngish college professor, who seeks escape from the world on a lonely summer cruise along the beaches of Cape Cod, has his boat washed up beside a grounded houseboat on which a beautiful and penniless Polish refugee is living with her young brother. The story can be read and enjoyed simply s a story but Mr. Nathan is saying that trying to escape from live (life) never leads to freedom. Freedom comes only to those who participate in life, and most completely to those who participate most fully.”
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