On March 18, a few people from CHS had the opportunity to tour Thrall Hall, a square dance hall in East Windsor, Connecticut. Ed Thrall, described by the Hartford Courant as a “true Connecticut Yankee original,” visited demolition sites in and around Hartford in the 1960s and salvaged materials, which he then carted back to his farm. He began building the dance hall in 1968, and it took him 10 years to build what is standing now. I learned about the place in February when I was cataloging some Richard Welling drawings. I was looking for information on one of the buildings in a drawing, and I found some information online about a place called Thrall Hall. As I didn’t find much information, I figured the dance hall had long since ceased to exist, but I figured I’d get in touch with a professor at UConn who had once done a structural assessment on it anyway, in the off chance that he had photos of it. He contacted me almost immediately and said that the building was still around and that he’d be happy to lead tours of it for CHS staffers. I got a small group of people together and off we went.
I don’t know if Richard Welling and Ed Thrall knew each other, but I can only imagine that Welling, with his appreciation for construction and demolition, would have absolutely loved Thrall Hall. It’s basically impossible not to be impressed with the level of craftsmanship that went into constructing it and the amount of local history it contains.
The dance floor itself is huge (70’x100’), large enough to accommodate 288 dancers, with the floor tiles laid out in a specific pattern for square dancing. The reason for the size of the dance floor is that the trusses, from Billings & Spencer on Park Street in Hartford, are 70 feet long.
The dance floor is bouncy, and when you go into the basement (descending the circular staircase from the Corbin Factory Power House) you see why: Thrall put tires under the ceiling beams and left the floor detached.
The brownstone and granite masonry in the basement originated at the Heublein Hotel and the YMCA in Hartford (and other, unidentified buildings in Hartford and Rockville). I could go on and on about the gems contained in Thrall Hall, but I have to end this post sometime, so I won’t. As I said, I don’t know if Richard Welling and Ed Thrall knew each other, but I love that as Welling was drawing many of these buildings being demolished, Thrall was eagerly salvaging materials for their reincarnation in East Windsor.
Tasha Caswell is a Project Cataloger/Researcher at the Connecticut Historical Society