Monday, June 20, 2011

Bull Run Dance Hall

Bull Run Dance Hall (also known as Bull Run Park) was located near the Bull Run bridge on Rte. 28 – just inside Fairfax County. Irving Jackson Breedan (or IJ) ran the dance hall on his property adjacent to the Manassas Battlefield site. IJ was born in 1898 and spent time as a machinist at the navy yard, driving an ice truck in DC, and finally a grocer. He and his wife Jennie worked their way up the financial ladder and became large landowners around the Bull Run area and ended up selling their land for a small fortune. In the forties they built some houses along Rte. 28, three miles north of Yorkshire Village and later built 15 homes between West and Battle St. extended.

However, before the family hit it big in land speculation, IJ ran the rough and tumble Bull Run Dance Hall probably located here.   The dance hall was active from the late twenties until the late forties featuring local musical acts and a lively crowd. During Prohibition, the parking lot was a source for bootleg liquor and Sheriff EP Kirby and his deputies often worked undercover and busted bootleggers and buyers as they made the deal. In 1929, they busted a car load of revelers from Good Hope Rd. SE buying from Harvey Shelton, 29, of F St, NW. In 1932, as part of a crackdown on liquor, Kirby and his men raided the dance hall a number of times and arrested tons of people for drinking.

In May 1930, IJ’s brother Nicholas Marron Breeden found himself in serious trouble with the law. Nicholas played banjo in the house band, but he lived in DC. He was giving a young waitress named Myrtle Carter a ride home to East Capitol St. in DC and somewhere around Pender Drive he assaulted her. However, Nicholas was married to woman named Louise. After the assault Nicholas dropped Myrtle at the Key Bridge and sped away to his place on N St. Shortly after, police arrested Nicholas and brought him to Fairfax to face his charges. That night, he joined another inmate in prying bricks from the jailhouse wall and escaped. Two days later, police found him laying in a hayfield in Prince William County.

In 1931, Deputy Magarity went to the dance hall to arrest a black man named Curtis McLaughlin for shooting a black woman in Fairfax in 1930 and for PW for shooting a man in Thoroughfare, VA. However, Magarity encountered a fight going on outside between a white man and a black man. When he arrived one of the brawlers, Arvin Harris, lifted his pistol at Magarity’s head and fired twice, but the pistol misfired. Arvin then ran for his car, but Deputy Magarity grabbed him and another black man hit him on the head with a bottle. Then Sheriff Kirby arrived and helped Magarity arrest everyone. Harris would eventually get a year in jail for attempted murder.

It’s surprising to learn that the dance hall served both blacks and whites because we typically think of this era as one of strict segregation and it’s hard to imagine blacks and whites dancing to the same music. However, the idea of black music and white music (or even musical genres) was largely an invention of New York record labels during the twenties to more effectively market. Black and whites played basically the same music in rural areas that would be popular hits from the day so it would not have been strange to find blacks and whites seeing the same live music. However, it seems likely that the dance hall had segregated sections for white and black patrons dancing to the same band, but there is a chance they shared the same space, but didn’t dance together.

In 1947, Bennie Smith and Nobel Jackson had a quarrel in the dance hall because Jackson had been arguing with Bennie’s sister, Frances. Bennie tried to take Frances home, but Nobel sideswiped his car before he could finally escape. After he dropped Frances at her trailer west of Kamp Washington, he saw Nobel go in to it. Bennie got a gun and called Nobel outside and shot him dead.

Bull Run Dance Hall closed sometime in the late forties as the development of Bull Run Park and the Battlefield began.

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