Manville Memos was a great column that appeared weekly in The Manville News in the 80’s. They were written by Joe Patero after some of his interviews with folks from around town. This particular one from 1983, is part 2 of a three part interview with Dan Nebb who’s parent’s owned Capt. Frederick Davey’s old Manville estate, which later became The Elmcrest Inn. If you missed part one you can click here.
Dan Nebbs • Part 2 of 3 • “Liberty Hall”
An old building used to be on the east side of South Main Street. Now there is a bank there, but Dan Nebb, the son of the builder of that old building remembers it vividly.
“Liberty Hall was located to the rear of the present site of the Manville Savings and Loan on South Main Street. My father, Louis, built Liberty Hall in 1922 at a cost of $4,700. There were no zoning ordinances or building permits in those days. You merely built anything you wanted, anyplace you wanted,” said Dan Nebb from his present day home in Middlesex.
“It was really not well built because much of the lumber was greatly undersized. It had a ceiling that was 16 feet high and trusses that spanned over 20 feet. It had a raised stage area, ticket booth and a maple floor for dancing. The exterior sides each had four large windows and two doors. At maximum capacity it would hold 1,000 people. It had no indoor plumbing and the only facilities available was a two seater outhouse.
“But,” Dan Nebb continued, “in it’s heyday, it was without question, the center of all social life in Manville.”
Much of it’s sucess was attributed to Prohibition. All the taverns were closed and you couldn’t go to them to drink and dance because it was against the law. The only place for a get together of any size was at Liberty Hall.
“My father would charge between $30 and $35 to rent the hall for a function. That was, all things considered, a lot of money in the late 20’s. But, it was booked every Saturday night as well as an occasional Friday or Sunday for a dance, wedding or party.
“The stage was used by politicians running for office who held rallies. However, more often it was used by various ethnic groups like the Polish, Ukranians or Hungarians who would present ‘Folk plays’ which were demonstrations of each nationality’s culture and heritage.
“There was an extremely popular group named, ‘Allie Maiden and His Jazz Band’ which played at least once a month at Liberty Hall. It was amazing to see the place packed to the ceiling with people who loved the music but had a very limited knowledge of English.”
Dan served as the clean-up man whose function was to make Liberty Hall available for the next event.
“They used to have a Grape Festival there every September sponsored by the Hungarians. Wires would be strung at a height of seven feet throughout the ceiling, and bunches of ripe grapes would dangle from them. Designated persons would dress up as policemen. You would dance with you partner and the object of the whole festival was to jump up and grab some of the grapes off the wires without being spotted. If you were unlucky and got caught, the police ”arrested” you and your partner and marched you off to “jail” where you had to pay a fine.
“the next morning was a tremendous job trying to get the grape stains out of the floor.
”In 1932 Roosevelt became president and soon prohibition was repealed. The taverns reopened and people resumed their old patterns of drinking and dancing. This was the death blow to Liberty Hall and soon it lost its popularity.”
Dan changed the function of the building to a furniture store which lasted for several more years. In 1964, Nebb sold the building which was thereafter demolished, thus ended a glamorous era in Manville.
But, legends do not die so easily. “I took the famous chandelier that hung in Liberty Hall with me when sold,” said Dan.
“Even today, I can see hundreds of people laughing, singing and dancing in Manville over 60 years ago, as if it were a Saturday night.”