By Daniel Thompson
Editor 

Potter home to only duckpin bowling alley west of the Mississippi

 

Daniel Thompson

The Potter Duckpin Bowling Alley has been renovated and retouched to look just as it did before closing in 1951.

The Potter Duckpin Bowling Alley gives local residents not a only a chance to unwind but also a chance to take a step back into the past.

According to Dale Dedic, member of the Potter Historical Foundation who own the establishment, the bowling alley was created in the first half of the 1900s and was a staple of the Potter community before closing down in 1951.

"This bowling alley was in the building across the street where the bank is. There was a big brick building there. This was actually a Masonic Lodge. We haven't got it narrowed down exactly, but somewhere in the 20s we think it went in over there, and some time in the 30s, the Masonic Lodge moved above the old bank on the corner of what used to be the old Potter State Bank," Dedic said.

Some time in the '30s the bowling alley was moved and reconstructed in the upper floor of the building that now houses 'A Collective Gathering' at 326 Chestnut Street in Potter.

"I don't know how they did it, but they brought this bowling alley across the street through the windows," Dedic said.

Duckpin bowling, which is a variation of 10 pin bowling, was a popular pastime on the East coast during the early 1900s. The main differences between duckpin bowling and bowling as it is known today is that players were given three rolls of balls slightly larger than baseballs to knock down the pins, which were significantly smaller than the pins used in conventional bowling alleys at present.

Duckpin bowling was so popular that even the famous Babe Ruth was said to have played it in his down time.

Dedic, who served as a pin setter for the bowling alley in its original run, has fond memories of the establishment in its early days.

"I was only 10 years old when this quit working as open bowling in 1950 or 1951, and they would only use me as a pin setter when they couldn't find somebody bigger. I wasn't as fast as the older teenage kids, but if they were hurting for a pin setter, I'd get to pin set. It was hard for me to jump up there all the time. Because you set the pins and then you jump up on that ledge and put your feet up," Dedic said.

He also remembers the large crowds from the community who used to entertain themselves with playing games on the weekends.

"I remember Friday or Saturday nights when they did their leagues up here. It was hard to walk around in there. There were so many people up there. It was crowded," Dedic said.

However, in 1951, the bowling alley was closed to the public due to a disagreement between the owner of the building and the person who ran the bowling alley at that time.

"There was a disagreement between the building owner and the guy using the radiator heaters that went over the whole building. Instead of turning the valve off when it got too hot, he'd open a window. The owner got tired of it and threw him out," Dedic said.


The business remained vacant for over 50 years before the Potter Historical Foundation became involved with it and decided to renovate the upper floor of the building containing it.

However, the project was only successful due to the efforts of the Enevoldsen family, who had previously bought the building.

"The Enevoldsen boys at the bank and the family bought this building, because it was empty. It used to be a hardware store. They fixed it up, put in new windows and donated it to the foundation. So now we've got this building too," Dedic said.

The foundation started the process of renovating the old bowling alley in 2004 with help from many members of the community who volunteered their time to refurbish the floors and paint the inside in the style that had originally been plastered over the old walls.

"We just had people come up on weekends, and some night we'd have a work party. And then the school group helped a lot. They did most of the painting. Without the volunteers, we wouldn't have gotten it done," Dedic said.

The efforts of the volunteers, especially the local school kids that helped in the renovation, can be seen before one even steps foot inside the old bowling area as a brief summary of the history of Potter has been painted in red paint on the white steps leading up to the bowling lanes.

Looking at pictures of what the alley looked like before the cleanup efforts, the dilapidated rooms, the exposed wood framing and the insulation hanging from the ceiling, one would wonder why the foundation decided to spend so much effort to bring it back to its former glory, Dedic states that it was simply something that they could not let fall by the wayside any longer.

"This is just too unique, too neat, not to do something with it. Why wouldn't you do it? You walk up here, and it was a mess but you see the possibilities like, 'Wow, this could really be an asset to the town.' And it has been," Dedic said.

Along with receiving help from the Potter community, the foundation also received donations in the form of materials for the alley from the surrounding communities as well including the old wooden benches that sit within the establishment which the foundation was able to get from the Kimball bowling alley when they refurbished their alley with new seats.

"They asked if we wanted them, and they told us about them. I hadn't been there in a long time, and I thought they're too new, probably plastic or something. A couple of the other guys talked me into going up and looking at them with them, luckily we took a trailer with us too. I walked in and looked at them and said, 'Oh yeah, we'll take these.' So we got those for nothing. This was just perfect. They fit the era," Dedic said.

Now that the bowling alley is fully renovated and fully functioning with very little maintenance required as the old alley does not require the same mechanisms as modern facilities with pins being placed and balls returned by persons playing the game, the foundation currently rents it out for parties.

"It's by appointment. The foundation, actually, we rent this bowling alley to the Lion's Club for $1 a year. The reason we do that is for the Lion's Club insurance. The Lion's Club is fine with that. They've got terrific liability insurance. The money goes to the Lion's Club. They keep ten percent, and 90 percent goes back to the foundation. That's how we keep it up, and hopefully, make other improvements," Dedic said.

Among the many improvements that the foundation would like to make to the upper part of the building containing the bowling alley is renovating the back room which currently serves to hold old materials that haven't quite found a permanent spot to sit in the establishment.

"We're going to drywall everything, and we don't know how much support the walls are, but we're going to take out as much of the wall as we can and open it up so that when some bigger parties where they don't want to be where it's noisy all the time, they can come over here. I think a lot more people will want to rent it that way too," Dedic said.

However, he admits that the back room will probably not be designed with the same old time theme as the rest of the establishment.

"This may not be kept looking old like we've made the other room with all the trim and everything, but we want to at least get it presentable. The expensive thing here too is going to be heat and air conditioning, but we're starting that in the next month or so getting in cleaned up so it doesn't look so bad," Dedic said.

The establishment also not only contains the bowling alley but also currently serves as the location of the art studio of Potter resident and artist Debra Salopek.

"Her husband works at Cabela's and they live out north of town, and she wanted a studio to do her painting. We fixed up that part really nice. She helped. We gave her free rent for a year, and she had a lot of people come in and do a lot of work too. She's a neat lady," Dedic said.

Now that the business is back to its former glory, it has once again become the only known duckpin bowling alley west of the Mississippi River, a fact which has brought it much attention since the renovations began on the building.

"There are still quite a few alleys in the Pennsylvania and New York area. As far as we know, this is the farthest one west of the Mississippi. We don't know that for sure. There might be a little one tucked away somewhere. By the time things got out West, they went to the bigger bowling alleys. I think that's probably why you didn't see these any farther out West. There was one I've heard of in Ft. Morgan at one time and one around Bridgeport somewhere, but they're not there anymore," Dedic said.

Looking back at the project from start to completion and thinking of his old memories of the establishment in his younger years and all the things that have come and gone in between now and then, Dedic is simply happy that the bowling alley is one thing that hasn't disappeared with the passing of time.

"It's turned out to be a lot of work but a lot of fun. And it's been a big asset to the community, especially the flea market downstairs," Dedic said. "We're lucky that it didn't get erased."

Daniel Thompson

Old benches and relics from its first run still surround the bowling alley.

 

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