Early Ester’s Social Hall
Ansgar Clausen says Ester’s Hartung Community Hall started out as a bunkhouse on one of Jack Mihalcik’s claims on Ready Bullion Creek. Most of us are proud of the hall, which is named for Rollie Hartung, who put a lot of work into it over the years. But few people realize there was a much earlier hall where Ester residents gathered. Ester’s gold rush era Social Hall was a real happenin’ place. Completed by November 1907, it hosted all sorts of events for more than twenty years. The hall was located (I think) near where the Pick ‘N’ Poke Gift Shop is now, or maybe a little farther south towards the present Post Office.
The hall was especially well known throughout the district for its fine floor for dancing. In 1910 the News-Miner said "the floor of the Ester Social Hall is next in merit [only] to that of the Eagle Hall in Fairbanks."1 Dances were frequent, especially when there were lulls in mining. In February 1914 there were two in the same week—and "both had excellent music and good floor."2
People often came to Ester dances from Fairbanks, Chena, and the creek towns. It wasn’t just because of the floor or the music: Ester folk were known for throwing good parties. Sometimes young people would organize hay rides out from Fairbanks, have supper and dance all night in Ester, and return to town the next morning. Alaska Linck, who still lives in Fairbanks, remembers coming out to a party in "Ester’s old dance hall" in 1929.
Religious services were another regular activity at the Social Hall. Ministers from Fairbanks came out and preached occasionally (weekly for a while). Residents held their own "song services" on Sundays. Other regular activities included movies and meetings of a card playing club. For a while a woman’s choir regularly had their practices at the hall. There were occasional vaudeville shows and wrestling matches.
The Social Hall was packed in 1908 and again in 1910 for campaign speeches for candidates for Alaska’s Delegate to Congress (Judge Wickersham lost the Ester precinct to the Labor candidate in 1908, but got the plurality of the votes in 1910). A Fireman’s Ball in December 1908 raised money to equip the new volunteer fire brigade. Dr. John Parsons gave "illustrated lectures" with titles such as "Fads, Fancies, and Romances of an English Village" and "The Evaluation of Lincoln." A Professor Hepburn gave dancing lessons there in 1908 (two lessons and a dance each week for two months, all for $20).
A few of the more special events held at the hall included a 1913 performance of "The Billion Dollar Girl" by The Juvenile Bostonians, a touring "opera troupe" of teenage girls. And, last but not least, is my favorite: in August 1913 professional wrestler Nels Jepson fought local challengers at the hall "in connection with the regular moving picture show."3
1. Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, 25 February 1910, p. 4 c. 5.
2. Fairbanks Daily Times, 14 February 1914, p. 6 c. 1.
3. ibid., 30 August 1913, p. 4 c. 4.