My best high school memories outside the Islander involved the Old Mill Rink.
Favorite grandmother Bernice and her sister Viola (who could make anyone laugh without even trying) told stories about that rink. Their sister Nellie had stories, but I never heard them since she lived so far away. That's where Bill comes in.
Bill, in his 90s, is married to Nellie. He has a very vivid memory and an even better ability to tell a tale.
Below is Part I of Mr. Bill Braxton's description of the Old Mill Skating Rink in the late 1930s to early 1940s. Parts II and III will follow in the days ahead.
THE OLD MILL SKATING RINK
You had to have been there.
There is an old building on the left side of the road from Gloucester to Mathews (SR 14) about three miles from the Gloucester Court House. This building has a distinctive round roof , is located near the mill pond, and is today a type of country store. Anyone looking at the building today would be hard pressed to believe that this building was once the center of the universe for teenagers of Botetourt and Achilles High Schools and probably also for Mathews from April 1939 to shortly after the beginning of World War Two. At that time the building was the home of the Old Mill Skating Rink.
In 1939 I was a soldier in the Army Air Corps at Langley Field, Virginia, near Hampton and Newport News. I learned to roller skate when I was about ten years old and visited the roller skating rink in Newport News a few times over the years. I bought my first car in 1938 and was then able to visit some of the area around the Peninsula; however, the chances for a soldier to meet any young girls in the area were few and far between. I had been at Langley for almost three years and had only one girl friend. and even that was broken off when her family did not want her going with a soldier. One day in April 1939 a friend of mine at Langley asked me to go with him to Mathews to see his girl friend. He knew I liked to roller skate, and mentioned that there was a new skating rink up there, and we could go skating on Saturday night. His girl friend was Elsie Green who lived in Mathews. Elsie had a sister Shirley, and the four of us went to the Gloucester rink on Saturday, May 6, 1939.
As soon as we entered the rink, I could hardly believe my eyes. There seemed to be girls, girls, girls, far more than I had seen in my three previous years at Langley, and there appeared to be only a few boys. I had not even put on my rental skates when a cute little girl came up to me and asked me to skate with her. Her name was Annie Brown. She lived in a place called Guinea that I had never heard of which she told me was near Gloucester Point. Annie introduced me to several girls who all seemed delighted to have a boy to skate with. I had a wonderful time, and my friend and I spent the night at the Green home in Mathews. I might mention that Shirley Green became a good friend of mine who furnished me rationed gasoline coupons after the start of World War II.
When I first went skating at the Old Mill, the rink was very small, probably about 100 feet long by 50 feet wide with a pole supporting the roof right on one end of the floor. Skaters had to skate around the pole when circling the rink. I became a regular visitor at the rink on Friday and Saturday nights, and skated there at least twenty times during 1939. The rink was always crowded.
A Mr. Noble owned the rink with Mr.Marvin Hogge managing it with his son Marvin Hogge, Jr., assisting in taking attendance and managing the rental skates. It was obvious from the first that there was a need to expand the rink and remove the pole from the skating floor. Work was started on an expansion, and the expanded rink was opened on July 7, 1939.
Paul Nelson was hired to play the organ for skating, and the Old Mill became one of the few skating rinks around the country with live music. The organ was placed in a small booth above the floor at one end of the rink. There was a small snack bar in one corner of the rink, and benches along one side of the rink for spectators. In addition, there was a small screened in porch on the front side of the rink, and a skate room near the entrance.
Mr. Noble also brought in a skating professional named George Roebling as a skating instructor to teach figure skating and various dance routines for skating couples. Figure eights and other figures were painted on the skating floor for skaters to practice the various figures which were required in national skating contests.
Mr. Nelson obtained sheet music for popular songs as soon as they were published. These songs were made very popular by the big bands at the time such as Oh Johny, Blueberry Hill, I’ll Never Smile Again, et al, and soon skaters from as far as Washington and New York were visiting the Old Mill. In addition to music for skating, Mr. Nelson also gave Sunday concerts at the rink which were well attended. There was no skating on Sunday.
I might mention something about the dress of the students and others visiting the skating rink. In contrast to today, there were no slacks and shorts for girls. On Friday and Saturday nights especially, the girls wore their “Sunday best,” or at least their best school clothes. There was no dress code for the rink, and everyone was well-behaved. If a boy seemed to have been drinking, he was promptly banned from the rink. George Roebling and Jr. Hogge skated along with the other skaters and prevented any rowdy behavior which might have endangered other skaters.
More to come tomorrow.