Morris County has a long and rich history of dancing which has continued more or less successful for over 150 years. Although we do not have detailed accounts of all the venues, musicians, and occasions we have enough memories to give us a good look at how dancing and music has been a part of the lives of our denizens present and past.
The old Morris county courthouse was dedicated with a ball on Christmas night of 1873.
In January of 1876 John Hamilton of Council Grove threw a leap-year party. Apparently some ladies had given a dance previously and neglected to invite the men. So Hamilton made up for it by inviting the outcasts and no ladies were invited to the party. The Council Grove Democrat of January 13th gives a description of the attendees and their attire. It was a custom back in the day to print in the paper who attended and what they wore, so the boys decided to make a mockery of it. “John B. Hamilton acted the part of host and was sweetly dressed in a bathing suit; ornaments, cigar holder. Louis Wismeyer was much admired. He wore a wooden talma [cloak or cape] made of tin; ornaments, post office orders. E. J. Marks was dressed in a Kerosene oil barrel, with broom corn trimmings. His feet were incased in snow shoes, and as he glided over the floor he was pronounced divine; ornaments, horse collar. John B. Flemming wore a splendid moiré antique horse blanket; ornaments, mumps. Walt Miller wore a malt tub “entrain” with spigot bustle; ornaments, barley ear drops. G. J. Wright wore one of Madame Foy’s corsets with shoe knife attachments; ornaments, shoe peg necklace. A. T. Bush was appropriately clothed in a pair of stove pipe pants; ornaments, flat irons. Jas. Tedstone was dressed in a pair of striped stocking suspenders, and had his hair dressed with car grease; ornaments, telegraph poles. L. McKenzie was well dressed and looked sweet as usual in an oil cloth dressing gown and gum overshoes. His hair braided with cockleburs. He trotted through the “Highland Fling” with great alacrity; ornaments, a pensive smile.” As you can see, everyone came attired in something pertaining to their line of work.
It has been mentioned in the history of the Hallmark family that during the late 1880s and early 90s dances were held in a private home in the Parkerville, White City neighborhood.
Some time in the 1920s a family by the name of Critchfield moved into what is now the Post Office Oak Museum. The previous owner had used the cave for cheese making and a flood had put an end to his operation. The Critchfields cleaned it out and waxed the floor and their son used it for square dances. It was said that twelve couples could dance in the cave.
The Council Grove Squares is the longest running dance group in the community. A visit with Bob Blackburn, a charter member, gave me some interesting information about C. G. Squares. This square dance group got started about 1962. When they first started dancing they would meet in an old barracks out at the fair ground that was heated by a wood stove. Later they danced in the community building at the City Lake, it was also an old barracks. They have also danced at the lunchroom of the elementary school and at the armory. Currently the dances are held at the Senior Center in Council Grove. They meet on the second and fourth Monday evenings at 7 o’ clock. The public is encouraged to attend.
During the 1954 centennial a dance was held each night of the celebration. On Monday night a military ball was held at the armory. Tuesday night a free square dance was held on the street for Farmer’s Day. And Wednesday night ended with a centennial ball at the armory. The Council Grove Republican showed that somewhere around 600 people attended the latter.
A dance was advertised in the Dwight Signal of December 1914. Music was to be provided by fiddle and banjo. It has been some time since I have seen this ad but I believe the dance was held at the roller skating rink in Dwight.
One other dance venue I’d like to cover, even though it was not in Morris County, is the Chalk dance. The little town of Chalk, located across the northeast border of the county, has gone the way of Helmick. There is nothing there that remains of a town. But at one time it was a swinging place. I talked with Alice Schultz whose grandparents, Leona and Claude Button, owned the Chalk store. Around 1937 a dance floor was built out back of the store and regular dances were held there for many years after. If the weather was bad they would dance in the upstairs of the store. Charlie Massey called the dances.
In more recent memory, there were contra dances held in the parking lot of the Kaw Mission during Wahshungah Day weekend. I believe these began shortly after I moved here. The first that I could remember would be in 2004. Garry Hughes of Kechi , Annie Wilson of Middle Creek, Charlie Laughridge of the old Kaw Reservation, Garry Rinehart of Lyndon, and myself were usually the ones to play the dance. I think we had various callers through the years. The dance only lasted for four or five years.
In the spring and summer of 2006 the rec. dept. was looking for another activity to do that wasn’t a sport and would get young and old involved so I was asked if I would get a dance started. I thought it sounded like a good idea and we gave it a shot. The dances were held on the fourth Saturday in the Middle School lunch room. We had various people come and play and call for us. I finally called it quits due to low turnout and having to pay a band out of my own pocket. This is not unusual though. Garry Hughes who helped get the Wichita dance started funded that dance out of his pocket (with the help of some others) for nearly three years before it finally supported itself. Now they seem to have a very active dance community.
A couple years ago my wife and I held dance lessons at the Field School house in town. The McClintocks wanted to take lessons to be prepared for an upcoming ball. So we got a group of people together and for four or five weeks learned some quadrilles, waltz, contra, and schottische. Everyone did very well and we had fun at it too.
And now we try once more to continue a tradition of dancing. On the third Thursday of the month there will be mid-nineteenth century dance instruction at the Morris County Historical Society. We will meet at 7 in the upstairs. This is free to the public and anyone interested is encouraged to come. You can get yourself in shape for the Spring Ball April 28th.