The Cottonwood Grove Pavilion (1934 - 1998)

By Charlotte McKelvey, October 1998

The Cottonwood Grove Pavilion, an early day dance and entertainment site located a few miles north of Mackay, was destroyed by an early morning fire in May of 1998. A large rock fireplace is all that is left standing to remind old timers of Mackay of the fun and good times that were had at the pavilion.

Mr. and Mrs. Clyde Fishel started the Cottonwood Grove Pavilion in May of 1934. It was advertised locally and also statewide as Idaho's Cleverest and Most up to Date Dance Pavilion with Real Glass Floor. The pavilion was located in a natural grove of cottonwood trees known as the Streeter Grove. The property was homesteaded by Abner "Dote" Streeter in 1904. The open air pavilion was 66 feet long and 36 feet wide with a large orchestra stand built facing State Highway 27 as Highway 93 was called at the time. Eating and beer stands were built and a private lighting system was installed. The editor of the Mackay Miner stated in his paper that the pavilion would be an asset to a city with a population of 20, 000. The owners had even greater plans for the Cottonwood Grove. Mr. Fishel hoped to build a nine hole golf course and also a large rock fireplace. Camping facilities were available close to the Big Lost River, and was an added attraction for tourists. In the Spring of 1935, boardwalks were added and the beer and eating stands were moved to make more room for the large number of people who came to the dances. The rock fireplace was also built at this time. The Joe Nowacki Post of the American Legion sponsored the 4th of July dance at the Cottonwood Grove in 1935. Music was by Mickey's 6-piece band, tickets were 75 cents, and ladies free!

In 1938, according to a couple of old timers (John Powers and Dutch Lindberg), a Pullman railroad car was brought from Pocatello, Idaho by train to Mackay. The railcar was loaded on two trucks, one going backwards. It took them three days to move it the 1 1/2 miles to the Cottonwood Grove. The rail car was actually a Presidential car, and had ornate flag holders on the outside and other decoration plaques. The rail car became the diner where lunch and beer would be sold. For the next sixty years this rail car would be a landmark for travelers along what would later become Highway 93.

Mr. Fishel died in 1938 and Fran Fishel's son, Harry Carten, came to help his Mother run the pavilion. They continued to have the dances and other entertainment, with bands coming from Blackfoot and Pocatello, IDaho. And from Utah nd many other places. "Red" Halvorsen was the drummer in a band from Blackfoot that played for dances at the Pavilion and the late Ed Erickson played saxophone in the same band. Ed was 15 years old and "Red" was 14 years old. They called their band the Roving Melodeons and played the popular songs of the time such as lime House Blues, Tuxedo Junction, San Antonio Rose and the Tennessee Waltz. They were paid $5.00 and a $5.00 travel expense.

During the 1940's ownership changed hands several times. George Warner first leased and later purchased the property from the two owners; Vernal Bitton who owned the farm land and Harry Carten the campground and Pavilion. The Warners leased the Pavilion to Lyle Ivie and Francis Rosenkrance the first summer they owned it and ran only the campground that was situated next to the Big Lost River across the highway.

For several years the Frank Schmidt family had come tot he Mackay area to fish and vacation. They were from California and liked the area and thought it would be a nice places to raise their two children, Carol and Bill. Bill had asthma and his parents thought the climate in Mackay might be better for him. They purchased the property in 1949 from George Warner and continued the dances and fun times. Francis Schmidt (Frank's wife) remembers working hard running the business and also finding time for her two children. Minerva Twitchell helped her run the concession stand at the dances. Frances has a lot of memories of those years, some she can tell m, some she can tell, some are better left untold. One she does tell is about an FBI agent asking if she had noticed a license number on a car he was looking for. While they were talking, the driver and car pulled out of her campground and sped away. The suspect was on the FBI's list of the ten most wanted criminals.

As the years went by, instead of dances, auctions were held. Sellers would bring truckloads of merchandise such as cookware, tools, etc. and large crowds would attend. The young men of Mackay would go to the Pavilion, not to dance, but to play basketball with Frank, Bill's dad. It was a fun place to go. Many of us have fond memories of summer evenings spent dancing under the stars, eating hamburgers and drinking beverages of our choice. Bill tells us he and Jill still have people who stop and wand to walk down through the campground to the river where they camped and fished as kids with their parents on vacations. One family from California brought their Dad's ashes and buried them in the campground near the Big Lost River where he dearly loved to fish.

The campground is no longer open to the public and the rock fireplace is all that is left of the pavilion, but for many, the happy memories will remain forever.


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