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Speak-Easies of Summerdale and Sherman

February 28, 2015
Westfield Republican

By Jay T. Stratton

Many folks don't know where Summerdale is. It's a small town between Mayville and Sherman where Lyons Rd., Nettle Hill Rd. and Summerdale Rd. all come together. In its heyday Summerdale had a sawmill and later a basket factory, post office, cider mill, corner store, school and later church, railroad and even a train stop. All of this is gone today but well over a dozen houses remain. Of course Summerdale also had a speak-easy back during "The Roaring Twenties."

At this time there were numerous farms along Lyons Rd. Several of them went bankrupt and were foreclosed for taxes. The fields were replanted later on in "depression pines" by the Civilian Conservation Corps and came to form the back parts of the Chautauqua Gorge State Forest. These trees were just harvested in 2012, but I am getting ahead of my story.

On one of these failing farms there lived a woman known as "Red Wing," trapped in a loveless marriage. This was not her real name but a nickname taken from a popular song of the early 1900s which she loved. Red Wing Rd., a dead-end road on the outskirts of Summerdale, is named for her. At some point Red Wing left her husband and came to live in a cabin on Red Wing Rd. about half way down towards the dead end in the woods on the left. Here she ran her infamous speak-easy. All signs of this building are gone today but my friend Margaret Geer remembers playing in the ruins of this building as a child in the 1950s. It was barely standing. The insides were littered with piles of broken 78 rpm records.

Red Wing's was a self-serve speak-easy. If she wasn't home when a customer arrived, you were welcome to go inside, leave some coins in the cash box and fix your own drink. There was a secret hinged window sill that folded out to create a small bar. The liquor bottles and glasses were hidden down below inside the wall.

It was the perfect spot for a speak-easy, hidden in the woods on a dead-end road at the edge of town. The broken records are surely testimony to the wild parties that happened here when Red Wing was at home to entertain. Her husband could not support her with his farm so she supported herself with a speak-easy.

Some people have suggested that Red Wing herself was a prostitute. I am reserving judgment on this matter. Back in the 1920s a woman could be called a "whore" just for being divorced or for having a boyfriend who was not her legal husband.

Later in the 1930s there was a large C.C.C. work camp at the dead end of Red Wing Rd. Unemployed men from the cities were brought here to Summerdale and put to work planting the "depression pines" and doing other sorts of public works projects. They lived in a large "tent city" and are said to have provided employment for a number of prostitutes but this aspect of the "New Deal" is of course undocumented. By this time Prohibition was over and many speak-easies had closed as the legal bars re-opened.

By "depression pines" I mean any of those trees planted by the C.C.C. in the abandoned farm fields, whether white pine, scots pine, larch or spruce. The trees were planted as a monoculture in rows. Most of them have now been harvested. The old fields will grow back as a more natural forest ecosystem.

I will also note that the road sign for Red Wing Road has disappeared and needs to be replaced. It is certainly a part of our local history. Here is the disclaimer: as far as I know there is no connection between this speak-easy and the ketchup factory in Fredonia where I worked in the 1970s.

* * *

A couple miles south of Sherman you can see Alder Bottom Swamp Road on the maps but nobody calls it that. Good luck fitting all of those words on a little street sign! I have never heard anyone call this road anything other than "the Idora Road."

Idora's was a speak-easy and a roller skating rink located on sparsely populated road through a swamp. It would have been pretty near impossible to sneak up on Idora's from behind and catch them in the act of serving liquor. The swamp is muddy and impenetrable. The building was built on pilings rather like a boathouse with "docks" leading out to it from dry land by the road. It had a roof on it but it was open to the air, rather like the skating rink at Midway but smaller. This building sank into the swamp long ago and no traces of it remain.

Frank Barney of the Brushwood Folklore Center in Sherman told me stories about it. Similar to daredevils today on skateboards, the young men began to show off by skating on the railings around Idora's. This evolved into a "skate the plank" activity.

A railing was extended out above the mud. A young man could impress his friends or perhaps the ladies by his skill in skating the plank. The losers were those who fell off onto the deck or onto the firmer mud near the building. The winners were those who skated all the way to the end of the plank and then kept on going. You were judged by how far out into the mud you managed to fly and by how fine were the clothes which you inevitably managed to ruin. In this Idora's was certainly a precursor to the Monster Truck Mud Bog events that are popular today.

Frank's mother-in-law Ina Robinson is probably the only person alive who remembers going to Idora's. She went skating there as a girl but did not know about the speak-easy aspects. Ina says that Idora did not work there. She believes that the establishment was called Idora's in memory of someone, perhaps a beloved sister or mother of those who ran the place.

So many people came to Ina's 99th birthday party last summer that her daughter Darlene says this this year they may have to rent the firehall for it. Join me in wishing Ina a happy 100th birthday next summer: Lycklig Fodelsedag. Ina has never been to Sweden but she grew up speaking Swedish in Summerdale and Sherman.



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