When the Virginia Reel was a Friday night event
Memories of the Ocean Wave Hotel
Joan Abbott Dawley
Ocean Wave Hotel, located across from Foss Beach, was lost to a fire in 1960.
My parents, John and Nancy Abbott, bought our house on Concord Point in 1945, the same year the Mortons bought theirs; and I spent many happy hours on Polly’s Porch (see July Rye Reflections). I was the constant companion of Polly and Johnny Morton’s daughter, Ellen. Because Ellen’s Uncle Dick owned the nearby Ocean Wave Hotel, we were allowed to attend all the activities planned to entertain the hotel guests, including bingo, magic shows, elegant buffet dinners, excursions to the gift shop, shuffleboard and, most wonderful of all, the Friday night square dances.
Some fifty years later when I had a prolonged illness, my dear friend, Ellen, wrote to me from her home in New Mexico and suggested that we exchange memories of our summers on Concord Point, as she put it, “To take your mind off the hospital and give you something to dream about.” Reprinted here are excerpts from the letters we wrote recalling the square dances and life at the Ocean Wave Hotel in the 1950’s.
Ellen to Joan:
Remember going to the square dances? Bob Bennett was the caller, and he and his wife would demonstrate the moves and then he would get up on the stage and put on a record and off we would go dosido’ing and allemande your partner. We would bow and curtsy and duck under and go around and change partners and skip until we were out of breath. It would be hot inside that building, I think it was called the rec hall, and we would all go outside after a dance to cool off.
There was a buffet in the dining room on Sunday evenings, and once in a while we would go there for dinner. I remember sitting in the bar and having a Shirley Temple before we would go into the dining room. I liked the gold colored water goblets.
Didn’t Henry (Hank McFarland, our editor) and Peter Hood work there as bellhops one summer? It seems to me the bellhops had to wear white shirts and black pants. And they hung around the lobby by the registration desk and did odd jobs such as putting up the flag. Betty Morton’s mother, Mrs. Gessford, ran the gift shop. I loved going in there to browse. The only other stores we went to were the Red Roof, Philbricks and the Sandpiper.
The only one whose name I remember is Jerry Miller. Did I ever tell you that I ran into Jerry Miller in Taos? He liked dogs and kids, and sometimes he would pick us up and run down to the water and throw us in. We would be screaming all the way. I remember all the tiny dressing rooms with a number on them and the keys hanging from a peg on a board above the soft drink container. Sometimes they even left us in charge to sell tonic, candy and give out keys.
Ellen Morton Hamil, Billy Whitaker, Joan Abbott Dawley enjoy snack at bathhouse.
Joan to Ellen:
When I was very little, the hotel was called The Harrington; and my great aunt, Blanche Farrington, stayed there. She was Mrs. Farrington from The Harrington, and I had difficulty remembering which name went with my great aunt and which was the hotel. Then Ellen’s uncle, Dick Morton, purchased the hotel, and I suppose it was he who changed the name to the Ocean Wave.
Some of the guests I remember were Mr. and Mrs. Palmer. They were like the grand duke and duchess, a very handsome couple with white hair. She had lovely white curls piled on top of her head, wore jewels, and he wore white dinner jackets. Then there was Mrs. Hosmer, a very pleasant older woman with red hair and a pet Pekinese.
The bar was located on the main level off the front porch. Greg Kendall was a bar tender and so was Bob Call. Greg was later principal of Rye Jr. High and an auxiliary on the Rye Police Force. Bob Call became a hotel food and beverage manager, and now he is a stockbroker in Portsmouth.
The Friday night square dances were the high point of my social life. I often danced with Jack McCune or a skinny freckled kid named Petey Donovan. Jack McCune still has a summer house on Appledore Ave. Bobby McCune and Carlene Furas were one of the memorable couples as were Henry McFarland and Sylvia Avandano. Dick Morton, in jeans and checked or plaid shirt, was always there dancing with Betty; and Janie and Matt came, too. Janie often danced with John Clifford. Now John is my dentist in Portsmouth; and his brother, Jimmy Clifford, is a doctor in Massachusetts. I had forgotten how warm it used to get and how good it felt to go out for a breather.
Many of Bob Bennett’s square dance calls still stick in my head.
--Honor your partner and now bow to your corner.
--Allemande with your left hand.
--Sashay down the center and sashay back in the same old track.
What wonderful therapy it was for me to recall those happy times in Rye and how lucky to have such a good friend who thought of it! I wonder if there are other readers who still look back fondly on the old Ocean Wave and find themselves humming a few bars of: “Lost my partner, what’ll I do? Skip, skip, skip to my Lou,” or else “Just remember the Red River Valley and the cowboy who loved you so true.”
Photo at top reprinted with permission from the Rye Historical Society.
August 4, 2005
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