In the 19th century, dances in rural Vermont were held in some larger homes and hotels with ballrooms. Smaller dances also took place in farmhouse kitchens (after the furniture had been removed) with a fiddler and caller. In the early 20th century, commercial dances were held in converted barns, halls, inns and pavilions built for that purpose.
Huntington’s Pavilion was built as a dance hall around 1930 on the main north-south road along the Connecticut River in East Thetford, Vt. The original dance hall was blown down in the Great Hurricane of 1938, but it was rebuilt; Huntington’s New Pavilion was back in business by the following March.
Regular Saturday night dances were held spring through fall until the early 1960s, along with special dawn dances at Memorial Day and Labor Day. Bands played and local men called the changes for the square dances, which were intermixed with waltzes, foxtrots, polkas and other “round” dances.
Some East Thetford residents still remember playing with the bands, dancing, meeting their mates and attending as children while their parents played and danced. During the 1950s local children rented strap-on roller skates for 25 cents a day and wheeled around in the pavilion.
During the cultural shift of the 1960s, the dances ended.
In the early 1970s, the barn and stone house across the road were bought by my grandparents, John and Anne Scotford. John turned the barn into a workshop for projects including wooden sign carving and graphic design. He made my cousin and me various weapons so we could try to maim each other with them. He also collected salvage from old houses and buildings, natural materials such as granite curbing and stone counter tops, lumber, machine parts, old tools and hardware.
After my grandfather’s death in 2000, the family decided to clear out the barn, with the idea that it might again be a useful recreational space. After eight summers of laborious work by my grandmother, my mother, her two sisters and their spouses, and many other friends, the barn was cleaned out and restored to a dance hall. The inaugural dance was held on Aug. 3, 2013.
The barn will now be available to the community in the capacity for which it was originally built, as it should be. But to me it will always be where I saw my grandfather make magic, turning wood and nails into whatever suited my fancy that particular summer. He never said no, he just waved his belt-driven wand and there it was.
Jeremy M. Lange and Martha Scotford