Cabin Fever
A Real Town
The Seeley Lake Community Center

1989 Mildred Chaffin


The Seeley Lake Community Hall has grown from a need that began as long ago as the 1950s when a logging boom had descended on Seeley Lake bringing people into the area in small flocks and bunches. It was our own Bert Sullivan who unwittingly planted the seed. She had gotten a group together for a March of Dimes dance at the “Green Building,” one of two that had been built by the CCCs and used by the smokejumpers at the ranger station. The building had been moved to a site near the present Eldon Rammell residence, and renovated, ostensibly to be used for community gatherings.

But, the influx of families soon required a classroom for the area children and the “Green Building” was destined to become a schoolhouse. The little dance was an event in the community and the enjoyment lingered on after the door was locked and the dancers had gone home.

In this area it was a long time between crabapples and pussywillows and travel conditions were something to be reckoned with. People were so hungry for entertainment that even bachelors were showing up at PTA meetings because of the social hour that followed. Bert’s little dance just would not go away. The participants looked at each other and wondered wistfully if we couldn’t have another.

To our surprise, not many of the new people knew how to square dance. I had told someone about our farmhouse parties at Arlee where we cleared out everything but the piano and danced until the wee hours, making our own entertainment. I must have let slip that Allen had called the square dances. That did it!

“Do you ‘spose Allen would teach us?” and “Where could we have another one?”

I ‘sposed that he might and got his consent.

“But we don’t know enough people,” he said. “Tell them to bring their own crowd and they can meet here Saturday night.”

“Here” happened to be our living room at the Tamaracks. I was somewhat hesitant since we were still almost strangers in the community. But I moved out the furniture, made a batch of doughnuts just in case, and waited, wondering whether anyone would come.

It happened to be Valentine’s Day. They came with salads, sandwiches, decorated cakes, and an enthusiasm that would not quit! The festivities ended only when I looked at my mistreated old violin to find that the entire end had come unglued.

But they liked the sample and wanted more. Someone suggested that we form a Square Dance club. And someone else remembered the little building that sat on the hill beside the Blackfoot Church.

“Perfect,” they said. A date was agreed upon two weeks hence and everyone went home in happy anticipation. This little building had also been used by the smokejumpers and had suffered somewhat in the moving process. It was of the type that anyone with their eyes closed could throw out the cat with the door closed and bolted.

Two ladies whom I knew slightly invited me to go along to help them “fix up” the parish house, as it was called then. They came armed with a pile of newspapers and an armful of rags which we tore into strips and poked into the more obvious cracks and around the windows. We swept the place out and went home to wait. Again they came—to fill the little building to capacity.

The rags and papers took care of the elements but no one had considered the floor. The poor old boards rippled and bounced under the activity and the orchestra had to keep scooting their chairs around to catch up with the piano!

Before the second session in the new dance hail, some of the men cut several huge blocks of wood and placed them at strategic points under the building. The floor problem was solved and I suspect those blocks are still resting there.

Around the stroke of twelve we set up sawhorses with planks on top and enjoyed our “potluck”: cake, sandwiches, and one woman’s trademark—a roaster full of spaghetti and meatballs. Thus fortified, we could caper the hours away until morning.

The non-dancers came and huddled around the old wood stove to look on and laugh at the rest of us. It filled a need but only for awhile. The families kept coming and soon this building, too, was needed for school. Not that we gave up all that easy! When the first section of the present grade school was built, Marshall Gray, sawmill owner, chairman of the school board and an avid square dance club member, suggested that we move our dancing to the heated hail at the new school house. This was easy living!

But still more families were moving in and there was a need for other types of activities. The dream of a community center was beginning to take form and someone asked Mr. Gray for an estimate of the cost of a building large enough for all community events. He came up with a figure that took all the wind out of our sails. Twenty thousand dollars! And we didn’t even have even twenty thousand cents!

But the dream would not die. Money, or the lack of it, took precedence at any and all discussions and some of us began to conjure up ideas for fund raisings. Mame Baker was then the president of the Home Demonstration Club, the forerunner of the present Seeley Lake Women’s Club. Mame was then the same ambitious soul that she is today and she began to niggle her subjects toward money-making deals for this worthwhile cause.

On a blustery March day in 1968, while many Seeley Lake residents were enjoying some of the first snowmobile races on the frozen lake, Jim Sullivan announced that he and Bert had decided to give a parcel of land to the community for a building site. That was a giant leap for Seeley Lake! Now we who had been agitating felt that nothing could stop us. Jim had given a lot of thought to the matter. He knew what he wanted in the way of rules and regulations and had his lawyer draw them up and include them in the corporation papers. The hail was to be governed by a board of representatives from local organizations. It is still governed that way. Meetings were held at the Chaffins’ home, with Allen as chairman, to make decisions and further plans. Herb Townsend worked with him all the way. In May of 1968, volunteers began to work. It took the better part of the next two years to complete the hail. No tax money was ever used in the project. It was all paid for with donations and money raised through community projects.