Well, now, if you don’t know where “Danceland” is, or was, then you’re too young!

Danceland is, of course, the Legion Hall in Sunset, and it’s been the scene of many a weekend dance.  I know about this firsthand because my father, Harold Small, not only ran the orchestra, but at times he was also the Commander of the local Legion Post that owned the building.  Dances were held every Saturday night, pretty much year round.  My dad’s orchestra was composed of Natalie (Noyes) Cleveland on piano, Greg Merchant on guitar and banjo, Maynard Webber on guitar, and Harold Eaton on drums.  

In later years Dave Sturdee had an orchestra.  Back in the ’30s and ’40s it was mostly waltz, foxtrot, and “Lady of the Lake.”  Malcolm Williams or Lou Small were the “callers” for Lady of the Lake*.  You had to follow his instructions, such as: “first and every other couple crossover,” or the whole line dance went out of whack.  But most of us were so used to it that there was seldom any confusion.  

Jitterbugging had yet to make its entry into Down East Maine, but we could manage a fast foxtrot and it always seemed to me that there were always several girls who could really swing.  From my standpoint, I could always depend on a good fast dance with Lenora Hardy or Vernette Noyes.  Dave Murray and Beatrice Wakefield were always smooth dancers, as was Norma Powers.

Intermission was always lively because there was apt to be a fight.  This was usually brought on by too much booze.  Liquor was not sold on the premises.  In fact, both Deer Isle and Stonington were “dry” towns then, so you either went to Ellsworth to get liquor, or you bought from one of several bootleggers on the Island.  One man, who shall remain nameless, would often get involved in an intermission fight.  Apparently he thought he could be the “referee” but somebody would always hit him on his “glass” jaw, and he would be dragged to the side while the fight continued.  I don’t recall any fight that was all that serious.  It just seemed that as soon as the music resumed, the fighting stopped and we all went back to dancing.

At least one reason that the intermission fights never amounted to much is because we had a constable there to keep the peace.  Before my time they had John O’Loughlin as the cop.  I can’t remember much about him.  Then we had Rodney Wakefield and, again, I can’t remember much.  Then we had Francis “Skinner” Williams; nobody fooled with “Skinner”! Sometimes we even had a state trooper stop by.  “Wimpy” Wessel was a great state trooper and also quite a dancer.

Not all the dances were at the Legion Hall.  Sometimes Dad and his group would play for a dance at the North Deer Isle Grange Hall or a hall over in the Greenlaw District of Mountainville, where I do remember the outhouses were perched over an old gravel pit, and one night somebody tipped it over when it was occupied and it landed door down.  The orchestra was packed up and leaving the building when they heard all this banging and hollering.  I guess if they hadn’t come to the rescue, he’d have been in there all night.

Albert Hardy’s barn on Little Deer Isle was also a popular dance spot.  The bridge had yet to be built, and parts of the causeway between Deer Isle and Little Deer Isle were under water at high tide.  So quite often the orchestra left their cars on the Deer Isle side, and someone either drove over or came by power boat, picked them up, and brought them back at the end of the dance.  I remember my dad saying that sometimes there was a high-run tide, and they’d have to wade over to their cars and hope the engine didn’t get flooded.

There were other dance locations, probably some I can’t even remember.  I know there was a hall in Oceanville, and downtown there was the Odd Fellows Hall.  Seems like no matter how small the hall, it was always a good time.

Montelle L.  Small

July 2014

[Ed. Note:  *According to Google, Lady of the Lake is an early American version of a contradance.]

Deer Isle-Stonington Historical Society ✦ P O Box 652 ✦ Deer Isle,  ME  04627 ✦ 207-348-6400