Before television, video games, movie theaters or bowling alleys, dancing was a huge pastime. The Pine River area considered dances at the Barclay Hotel and Pine River's three other dance halls as the biggest social events of the year.

Heritage Group North is looking to bring that excitement back to life with a masquerade ball Saturday, Nov. 23.

“They were all in the late fall and winter,” said Pat Johnson, of Heritage Group North. “People must have been bored and had nothing else really to do. Those dances were the social event of the year. I think a lot of people played musical instruments back then. It was easy to find a band or orchestra to play.”

From 1901-20, newspapers in Cass County and local communities recorded masquerade balls and dances every year, with many of them primarily scheduled around holidays - Thanksgiving, Christmas and always New Year's in Pine River. The dances were at “The Opera Hall," which was a common name for the Barclay Hotel dance hall, though it was also the name for Amarilla Barclay's dance hall above her store and Herbert S. Gilbert's Hall on First Street and Barclay Avenue in 1905. Pine River's own Gary Siltman is a descendant of Gilbert.

Johnson said Pine River's population in 1901 was 50 people, and later when the population grew to 190 people newspaper articles show that the dances drew a significant percentage of the population.

“I think one of those articles said there were 75 people in attendance,” Johnson said.

Annette Houg, of Heritage Group North, said the dances drew from many area communities. Though travel was slow at the time, lacking a major highway or fast cars, news articles list winners of dance and costume competitions from area townships and Pequot Lakes.

Heritage Group North first became interested in hosting another masquerade ball after reading a more recent newspaper article.

“I was aware of the renovation at Silbaugh's,” Johnson said. “There was an article in the paper that showed the ballroom and I thought we could do the masked ball there. Then at the (chamber) planning meeting, Jay Cline talked about that potential. From there we got started.”

Research into the past events has led Heritage Group North members to plan the ball with parallels to the 1901 New Year's event with a live orchestra.

“Scott Sater, who used to be the band director from Pine River, is the one who organized the orchestra,” Johnson said. “He has chosen music from the era. The era being 1910-1920. I can't say how many musicians he will have, but I heard between five and seven. He's also working with the current band director in Pine River. Scott is working with him and practicing at the Pine River School.”

They have planned for prizes like those from 1909.

“There will be a contest for best dancing couple and it will be patterned on the contest from years ago,” Johnson said. “We're going to do prizes identical to what they were 100 years ago. We'll give $2 for the best costume. We're going to give $1 for the most comical costume and then we'll give 75 cents to the best waltzing couple.”

People are asked to wear masks, though if they need to be removed for comfort, Johnson said Heritage Group North isn't as strict as the 1901 event. The Pine River Public Library has helped people prepare by making masks, and Spirit Movement instructors from Franklin Arts Center have been holding lessons for those who wish to learn the waltz, the two step and the foxtrot ahead of the event.

“It's just another layer,” Johnson said. “All of these things are just other layers of trying to really step back in time between dances and the ballroom and masks. Each one is lending itself to creating the experience.”

There will be a photo booth with a modified bellows camera, finger foods and refreshments served by Miss Pine River and her court, and seating for those who want to attend but do not feel like dancing.

“I've heard it from several people who don't dance,” Johnson said. “You don't have to dance to enjoy this ball. Come in and enjoy the music and the visiting.”

Period clothing is not required either. Heritage Group North hopes people will dress semi-formal or better, but there is no dress code.

The event is a dry event, which Johnson said is also historically accurate for Pine River.

“Pine River was a dry community more than 10 years before Prohibition,” Johnson said.

A federal agent lived in the community as well and was known for putting liquor sellers out of business all over the county.



1900-20 Era Masked Ball

When: 7-11 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 23.

Where: In the ballroom at the River Fitness building on Barclay Avenue, Pine River.

Tickets: $30. A limited supply of masks will be available for rent at the event. Refreshments will be available and art will be on display.

Sponsor: Heritage Group North.

More information: Call 218-851-0898 or email heritagegroupnorth@yahoo.com