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Aug 12

Roller Boogie! - Part 1: Updated!

Posted on August 12, 2020 at 3:26 PM by Ken Kocher

Evidently, at various points in time, Madisonians were skating fools. A read through the Madisonian archives reveals that Madison has had no fewer than five skating rinks. And when there wasn’t one open, they were asking for one to be built. 1873 skating invitation Fosters HallMadison’s first skating rink appears to have been established in Foster’s Hall (corner of Main and Washington) around 1873. By partaking in this activity, Madisonians – particularly the youth – were joining a world-wide skating craze. James Leonard Plimpton designed the four-wheeled turning roller skate in 1863. It was a huge success, so much so that the first public roller skating rinks were opened in 1866, first in New York City by Plimpton.

The January 16, 1873 Greensboro Herald reported that their Brass Band would be attending a “grand Masquerade Skating Tournament” in Madison. The article went on to say that a cordial invitation was extended to everybody and “to assure our young ladies that the Madison boys never allow a young lady to visit their city and go away without being courted.” This was actually a common complaint about skating rinks in the 1870s – far too much contact between the sexes. It is not known how long Foster’s Hall was used for skating. There is mention in an 1885 Madisonian that, “Our skating rink is well patronized and the young people seem to have a pleasant time in its enjoyment.” However, no location is mentioned. This may have been a last hurrah as the fad petered out by the mid-1880s, but, as with many fads, it would reappear again and again.

Twenty years later, W.L. Carbine and Claud Peteet joined forces to open a skating rink in the basement of the Hotel Morgan. It opened Friday night, September 15, 1905. To say it was a hit is an understatement. Under the headline, “Skating Rink Fever Hits City,” the Madisonian reported the popularity of the rink which, at first, was “open almost nightly and daily” to meet demand.hotel.jpg Management was commended for the good behavior which prevailed and the successful manner in which the rink was conducted. 

The newspaper commented that, “All roads lead to the skating rink these days,” and proclaimed, “The skating rink is now the most popular place of amusement in the city.” The skaters knew how to mix it up too. One Friday night in November 1905, those attending the skating rink went “in mask.” May of 1906 saw an ice cream supper at the rink for the benefit of the Buckhead baseball team. Net profit: $7.00.

No knee pads, wrist protectors, or helmets for these folks. Miss Edna Pou was the first reported casualty, spraining her wrist during the first week of operation. Later, Clinton Thompson and Pierce Freeman would break their wrists at the rink.

As second rink opened in 1906, though it appears to have been short-lived, almost a “pop-up” operation. The Madisonian mentions it only once: “The boys handle-factory.jpghave opened up a new skating rink at the handle factory [located where the old Oil Mill is now]. Mr. Calvin Avery fell Saturday night and hurt his mouth real bad.” Neither of these rinks appear to have lasted beyond 1907. Soon, mentions of skating in the newspaper have Madison’s youth traveling to Greensboro for the activity. 

Skating seemed to remain in the mind of our youngsters through the decades. The 1937 Pupils’ Forum in the Madisonian, a kind of essay contest, included suggestions from Betty Robb Peacock for additions for recreation in Hill Park which, in her opinion, “would not bankrupt the city budget.” One of Miss Peacock’s propositions was for a skating rink. She wrote, “At a nominal cost a circular skating rink could be built which would provide winter exercise and give [children] the greatest pleasure imaginable. This would be well worthwhile to keep youngsters off the streets, where their lives are endangered.”

Next week: Madison’s late twentieth century skating rinks.

Madison Moments, a weekly blog highlighting Madison's rich history, is a creation of the Madison Historic Preservation Commission in collaboration with other City Boards and Departments. This installment was contributed by the Historic Preservation Commission and written by Ken Kocher, HPC staff. This volunteer board protects the community's wealth of historic resources - most notably the Madison Historic District, first listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1974.


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