RURAL FREE DELIVERY - The Death Of A West Virginia Institution

(07/26/2008)

By Mack Samples
www.macksamples.com

There are only a few remnants left of what used to be a powerful social institution in West Virginia, the West Virginia Roadside Beer Hall. They were strung out along the rural highways all over the state, oftentimes not more than a few miles between them. I can recall when there were twelve or fifteen along Route 4 between Charleston and Clay, a distance of some forty miles.

During the 1940’s and 50’s there were not many places to socialize for those who did not attend church. The old beer halls provided that opportunity. They were a place where those over 18 years of age could stop and enjoy a cold beer, talk with some of the neighbors, and, on a good night, dance to the jukebox. During those years between World War II and the mid-1960’s, people actually danced with a partner of the opposite sex. There was no line dancing or dancing with a partner who was three feet away from you. It was either what the folks from that era called “slow dancing” or, for those who could cut the fast stuff, they called it “jitterbugging.” During the late 50’s they converted the jitterbug to rock ‘n roll. The two were actually very closely related.

On a Saturday night, some of the beer halls usually had a square dance, always with a live band. The square dances brought them out of the hollers. Many folks who never went near a beer hall any other time would come out for the square dances. Most of the owners of the establishments looked the other way on the “over 18” rule on square dance nights because many of the teenaged girls were the best dancers. All of the square dances were done in four couple sets and sometime it was difficult to get a set on the floor so the young ladies were always welcome.

More often than not the Saturday night dances came off without any violence. But every now and then a fight would break out. The fights were usually brief but they would put a damper on the evening. The altercations were usually the result of two guys vying for the attention of the same girl. Many times, the girl was not interested in either guy involved in the fight. But violence or not, the Saturday night beer hall always provided a good evening of entertainment.

At some point during the 1960’s the beer halls began to disappear. There were several reasons for their demise. The drinking age was raised to 21, liquor by the drink was legalized, folks stopped dancing, and probably, most of all, the drug scene began to move into the beer halls.

I can readily recall the sad day when I walked into a beer joint at some point during the 1960’s. There was no music playing and no one was dancing. All I saw was people sitting around staring into a machine playing “PacMan”.


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