Marshfield, January 1905: The unlikely origin of roller skating
By Kris Leonhardt
The director of the German ballet “Der Maler oder die Wintervergn Ugungen” (in English: “The Artist or Winter Pleasures”) was faced with a dilemma. A scene called for the performers to ice skate, but it was virtually impossible to produce ice on the stage to create the setting in 1818. What could he do to emulate ice skating?
What the performers did would help bring a new invention into mainstream use. Dancers donned roller skates for the premier event, and their performance was met with much amazement and interest.
As the new fad made its way around European countries, roller skating seeped into the distant “New Country” and soon worked its way through America.
Roller skating made its first significant surge in the United States during the late 1800s. Following the invention of pin ball-bearing wheels, the new light and easy-rolling skates ¬did much to revive interest in the social craze. In addition to recreational indoor and outdoor skating, new competitive forms of roller skating appeared, namely polo skating, ballroom roller skating, and speed skating.
Several roller rinks had come and gone in the city of Marshfield when R.W. Woolverton set his sights on the blossoming burg. Woolverton, a St. Paul dealer in roller rink supplies, wished to bring yet another rink to the city.
The time was right. Interest in roller skating was exploding once again, and it looked as if every town in the country might have its own rink. In addition, improvements in skates, including rubber-tired wheels, were making rink upkeep much more cost effective.
As January 1905 approached, Woolverton was in negotiations with the original Marshfield armory company to rent space to run a roller rink during the cold, snowy Wisconsin winter. The armory at that time was located on the corner of West Second Street and Chestnut Avenue on property that is now a municipal parking lot.
The building housed a saloon on the first floor and the armory on the second floor. The second floor area designated for the rink would need little alterations and would bring income to the military company that resided in the building. Would the possible damage and inconvenience to the company be worth the rent collected?
The resulting rink would become a prominent meeting place in Marshfield. On afternoons and evenings during the winter months, the place would come alive with couples holding hands while skating to the popular melodies of the era and the active voices of others socializing.
Following the armory’s operation as a rink, the American Legion would set up a rink in Wildwood Park that would also become a lively site for roller skating.
By the 1960s roller skating looked as if it may have its better days behind it, but the introduction of a new form of music would once again revive the leisure time activity.
As disco emanated from the LP stereos around the country, roller rinks lit up with lights and music and drew skaters back to the rink. It was during this era that new, more modern rinks replaced the old rinks of convenience. This is also the time that the Brock family introduced Marshfield to Melody Gardens, a business that continues to welcome skaters to its Marshfield rink today, carrying on a century-old tradition.