Pool Halls, Circuses, & Yahoo!
by Donna Rhodes
For 50 years, the snappy taps on the floor of Helen’s Barn symbolized the heartbeat of Highlands. While many have tried to recapture that rhythmical magic, Helen’s Barn remains an irreplaceable dance hall icon.
Even so, Helen’s barn dances blazed the entertainment trail on the Plateau. The subsequent attractions and diversions that streamed into town brought many cheers, but they also generated boos and hisses. Fun’s companion is often Noise. Ears on one end of this small town could hear the bing-bang-boom on the other. Clogging, hooting, hollerin’, gunshots from shooting ranges, overly-enthusiastic (and sometimes tipsy) patrons at pool halls, banging/clattering bowling alleys, circuses complete with trumpeting elephants, and more created quite a ruckus during the season. Complaining residents convinced law enforcement to set curfews.
With so many enjoyments showing up in the area, the town started levying taxes on them to pay for traffic, wear-and-tear, and services to accommodate tourists and travelers attracted-to and working-for these recreations. Among those taxed were: auctions, pool halls, pool and billiard tables, bowling alleys, dance halls, slot machines, chain stores (more than two shops), and itinerant salesmen who dealt in coal, bicycles, music (Victrolas, pianos, radios), tobacco and cigarettes. Add to that, amusement parks, wild west traveling shows, dog and pony shows, and real estate salesmen, and you begin to get a sense of how very attractive Highlands had become to outside entrepreneurs, investors, and profiteers.
While we still have a variety of enticing entertainments today, they are attuned to a demographic that is a bit more restrained. But none of it would have been possible without the legends that helped put Highlands on the map: a wild lot of fun-loving, yahooing, mountaintop masters of controlled mayhem.
To learn more about Highlands’ beginnings, read Ran Shaffner’s “Heart of the Blue Ridge.”
Highlands history/photos along with Historical Museum hours and contact info can be viewed at highlandshistory.com.