Thursday, February 4, 2016

Maccabee Hall

Many citizens of the Town of Marshall have fond memories of the Maccabee Hall, which was located on the west side of Route 315 approximately where The Boro is. Built in 1897 by the Knights of the Maccabees #514, it was quite a structure. It featured a steel ceiling manufactured in West Virginia and a flagstone path (a rarity in those days) installed in front.  Practically every carpenter in Deansboro was employed to work day and night at 7 1/2 center an hour. There was a stage, a balcony and plenty of room. The opening and dedication of the building in 1898 was a gala affair, marred only by "a most disagreeable storm," which meant that some of the attendees were unable to leave the building with the result that they were served breakfast in addition to a 5 pm and midnight dinner.

            The Maccabees are a fraternal society formed in 1878 in Canada, which sponsored financial aid and insurance to members and homes for the aged. At its zenith, the worldwide membership in the organization reached over 300,000; by the 1970s membership was down to about 10,000. The local Maccabee Society, which was called the Brothertown Tent, was quite active in Deansboro until about a little after the turn of the century. Electricity was installed in 1906. The Maccabees never actually owned the building, however; it was owned by a group of investors in the building which called itself  the Deansboro Hall Association. The Association rented the hall to the Maccabees and the building was used as a community center.  Prominent speakers, meetings, concerts, banquets, plays, talent shows and all kinds of celebrations were held in the Maccabee Hall. The Men's Club rented the Hall for many years, and sponsored an active Shuffleboard (Shovelboard) team.

            When the school in Deansboro burned in 1931, some classes were held in Maccabee Hall. The high school pupils  occupied the main part of the Hall with Prof. A. J. Smith and Miss Kathryn Cornell as teachers until the new school was ready for occupancy in 1932. However, Mrs. Powell, former historian of the Town of Marshall related that the furnace in the Hall was very old and put all sorts of noxious gases in the building which built up over the course of the day, so nobody was kept in after school much in those days. Movies were held there, but the eels from Oriskany Creek used to get around the water wheel which generated the electricity. The movie would come to a stop and someone would have to go out to remove the eel.  Esther Skerritt Sander accompanied the silent movies on the piano.

            Plays were put on for the public. Clifford Small, whose father was a charter member of the Maccabees, remembered Chautauqua performances in which five plays were presented in a season for $2.00 a season ticket. In 1945, Benjamin Smith temporarily moved his barber shop to the Maccabee Hall from the business block which was torn down by Claude Hinman in order to build the brick building which stands at the corner of Routes 315 and 12B today. Balls and dances were held in the Maccabee Hall to the music of Brownie Moyer's orchestra; I remember square dancing there in the 1950s and 1960s. Some have recalled dance lessons, Girl Scout and  Boy Scout meetings, and participating in a talent show. Basketball games were played in the Hall. Voting was held there, and town business was conducted. The firemen held their first ham dinner there.

            One special occasion was in September, 1946 when a public dinner was held to honor the returning veterans from World War Two, co-chaired by Gardener Hart and Frank Seelow.  90 people attended the steak dinner with all the trimmings and sang  patriotic songs.  Three years later, in the year 1949 the Barton Hose Company bought the Maccabee Hall, which later became a burden to the firemen, so they sold it to the Town of Marshall in 1956. In 1959, the town was looking to sell it, according to a Waterville Times article, so the hall, although still used for community functions, began to deteriorate. But who can forget ice skating on the rink which was maintained in the parking lot  next to the hall?

            In the 1970s, the structure that was originally Maccabee Hall was turned into a night spot, first called Peter's Little Cellar, operated by Jim Harrison and Peter Zuccaro; and lastly it was known as JR's Tavern. The building was then owned by A.R. D'Agostino of Clinton and operated by James Clements and Ronald Haskins of Oriskany Falls. The Bicentennial Ball was held there in 1976.

            In February 1981, an explosion sparked a fire which destroyed the tavern - and the hall. When the firemen arrived at the scene the fire was fully involved and there was no saving the building. There ends the story of an 84-year-old building that was The Place to Be for much of its history.

Play at Maccabee Hall

Maccabee Hall in the 1960s

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