BRYAN COUNTY HISTORY: Skating in Bryan County

Bryan County Genealogy Library
Special to the Bryan County News

Give Your Girl a Whirl

Shoes with wheels were invented in the 18th century, but it wasn’t until 1863, with the addition of a fourth wheel, that the roller skate became a reliable apparatus for exercise and entertainment. John Joseph Marlin designed the quad skate, and actively promoted it. He established the New York Roller Skating Association and in 1866 opened a skating rink in Rhode Island.

Indian Territory newspapers of the 1880s mention roller skating and ads appear for “roller rink skates”. Vinita had a rink in 1884, but skating really became popular here after 1900 when roller rinks were created in Caddo and Durant. Some were specifically built for the sport and others were merely remodels of ballrooms or warehouses. Most emphasized order and decorum and ladies were “especially invited to attend”. However, there were still some concerns about safety, segregation, and morality. A few pastors declared skating “sinful” and many towns were forced to create ordinances against skating on sidewalks or in the middle of the street. This assertion appeared in the Caddo Herald in 1910: “Roller skating may be all right, but the tired man who is trying to sleep beside a window that overlooks a broad cement walk on a warm evening, does not fully appreciate it”.

Skating parties, competitions, and contests were soon the craze and demonstrations of skill drew large crowds. In 1913 Mr. Glasscock, proprietor of rinks in both Caddo and Durant, awarded a lovely umbrella to the “most popular lady”, as determined by the votes of his patrons. Each hour of skating earned five votes. Thelma Harris won the prize. His new skating rink completed in Caddo in 1914 boasted “by far the best skating floor in this part of the country”, and was soon booked for an exhibition of trick skating, a Masquerade ball, an employee party, and a fall dress ball. It also became a popular meeting site for churches. The Baptists held a two-week meeting for their Orphan’s Home, and the Presbyterians booked two weeks for a conference. It was also frequently used by political speakers.

In 1916 a new roller rink opened in Durant at Fifth and Main, managed by E. P. Slaughter. In 1921 Franklin and Williams opened a rink above the Franklin Garage at Fourth and Evergreen. It was “crowded with skaters every night” and also offered daytime sessions for ladies and children. Gentlemen were encouraged to “give your girl a whirl”.

Skates sold for $1.89 in the thirties and were frequently mentioned in “Dear Santa” letters published in the paper. School groups were rewarded with trips to the rinks for an hour of fun and games. Skating also expanded into a few workplaces where mail and supplies were delivered by skaters.

Three more roller rinks are mentioned in the newspapers of the forties: Randy’s Rink (location not determined), Frenchies’ Roller Rink (one mile south of Durant on highway 69/75), and Teague’s Roller Rink (one mile east on highway 70).

In the fifties the City Armory building was the home of the Durant Armory Roller Rink Skate Club. 175 county skate club members attended their 1951 meeting. In 1952 they installed

a new floor and air conditioning. An ad in the classifieds sought “100 boys and girls to attend our Semi-Annual Shoe Skate Club Skate Meet at the new Armory Roller Rink on West Main”.

Like many of the activities of our ancestors, roller skating has changed to meet the needs and expectations of each generation, but the fundamentals of the sport remain and traveling on the little wheels still provides exercise and entertainment.

Bryan County History is a weekly feature contributed by members of the Bryan County Genealogy Library and Archives in Calera. The views and opinions expressed here are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of Texoma Marketing and Media Group. Is there a historic event or topic you want to read about? Contact the library at P.O. Box 153, Calera, OK 74730.