BY JOHN B. HORNER / MARCH 2018
The Barlow Fire Company Building is located at the intersection of the Taneytown and Greenmount/Barlow roads in Cumberland Township. The company was established in 1931 as a volunteer fire organization to save lives and protect property.
In 1939, the Barlow Fire Hall was constructed to serve as a community center and later became the #2 polling place for voters in Cumberland Township, including President and Mrs. Dwight Eisenhower. Even though the company was able to secure an interest-free loan, they still accrued considerable indebtedness in construction of the building. To offset this indebtedness, they instituted a series of fundraisers, which included a weekly community dance. The Barlow Fire Company Hall became the “place to be” on Friday nights for older teenagers and young adults of Gettysburg and surrounding areas.
On Friday nights, in the late 1930s and 1940s, a steady stream of vehicles wound its way up and down the Taneytown Road toward Barlow. Never mind that some detoured around on Route 15 (now Business Route 14 south) to a building (still standing) known as the Panorama Inn, where most anyone who had the money to pay for it could purchase alcoholic beverages.
The author’s older sister Margaret Snyder can recall how some of them would go in cars to Emmitsburg, Md., during intermission, where they would buy a half-pint of peach schnapps and drink it on the way back. Five or six people sipping on a half-pint of peach schnapps could hardly result in inebriation. Later on, things became more lenient. The people who ran the dances certainly knew what was going on in the parking lot but were not about to interfere with a cash cow! The dances, along with proceeds from a refreshment stand, could clear as much as $125 a week, a tidy sum for those days. Some firemen who kept a wary eye on the dancers might include Emory Fox, Charlie Harner, Herman Maring, Henny Carbaugh, and Hayward McCleaf.
The music for the dances was furnished by a small combo from Littlestown known as the “Note Busters.” One unique thing about the Note Busters was that the piano player had lost two fingers from his left hand. It didn’t make much difference one way or the other though, as he mostly played octaves in the left hand, which did not require all his fingers anyway. Al, the stand-up bass player, was the most emotional one of the group. He would spin his bass around on the floor, picking up the beat when he came back in. One night he became so carried away with the music, he lay his instrument on the floor and was pounding away on the strings with his hands.
One of the most popular aspects of the dances was the “Paul Jones.” In this dance, men and women formed two rings and circled around the floor in opposite directions facing each other. At a given time, a man would blow a whistle and then the male could dance with the female who was opposite him. The whistle blower was always sure to blow his whistle when he was opposite an attractive young lady!
The last dance of the evening, at 12 o’clock, was always “Good Night, Sweetheart,” after which a young fellow named Jack Cromwell, who was very talented in playing by ear, would sometimes play popular songs on the piano until some fireman came along and turned off the lights.
The dances, which began in the later ’30s, were still going strong in the late ’40s, when the author got married and left the area. Thus the Barlow Fire Hall served as a rec center for the area’s young people. Only a few living today would remember the well-known Barlow Friday Night Dances.
John B. Horner is co-founder of the Cumberland Township Historical Society and an alumnus of the Barlow Friday Night Dances.