While the building that housed the former Lincolnton Recreation Department Youth Center in Lincolnton was torn down at the beginning of August, memories of it live on. They survive in black and white photographs that City of Lincolnton employee Kenneth Hoyle, Sr. has kept over the years in two large Ziplock bags. While Hoyle’s full-time job was in the furniture business, he started working part-time for the Recreation Department when he was 15 and has worked there, on a part-time basis, ever since.
“I started running the concession in the basement,” he said. “Then I started working upstairs. When I got older I got a job in furniture but Betty (Ross) called me back a year later and asked if I’d run (the rec center) at night. I never worked there full-time.”
The building at 119 East Pine Street was originally constructed as a temporary school in 1921 and used as a school until 1927, according to a National Register of Historic Places registration form prepared in 2009 by former Lincoln County Historical Association executive director Jason Harpe. It was opened in 1947 as the first recreational center in Lincolnton and used as a recreational center through the 1970s. It was used, as detailed by Harpe, for “important recreational, cultural and social activities that enriched the lives of Lincolnton’s youth and adults.”
“They danced and played ping pong and shot pool,” Hoyle said. “I used to teach tennis outside. It was just a good old place where kids could just be together. Now we have just a gym – a place to play ball.”
Betty (Gabriel) Ross was the first director of the recreational program in Lincolnton. According to Harpe’s report, Ross was recruited because of her athletic background at Lincolnton High School and her collegiate recreational path. She graduated from Appalachian State University with a degree in physical education. At that time, Ross was one of only two female recreational directors in 52 North Carolina counties that had recreational programs.
The recreational center had bowling alleys, ping pong tables and a general game room in the basement, according to Harpe’s report. On the first floor, there was a large ballroom for dances, parties and special events, a lobby for reading, card games, a snack bar and an arts and crafts room.
“We had dances about every Friday,” Hoyle remembered. “We had bands come in and play and there was a jukebox. We had Christmas dances, Halloween dances, Easter dances. It was a good old place.”
The old recreational center provided a place for area young people to go, which Lincolnton City Council member Roby Jetton said is still needed today.
“I have about 10 million memories of that place,” he said. “I walked in that building when I was about seven or eight years old. That’s where they used to have boxing in the back room. What I remember most is that place after a ball game full of boys and girls shag dancing. There would be people playing ping pong downstairs, bowling and kids outside playing basketball. It was just a beautiful place. Betty Ross, God rest her soul, she ran that place as good as it could be. She and Ken Hoyle kept everything under control. Ken was working there when I started going there.”
Rick Ramseur, who admits that he wasn’t much of an athlete, fondly remembered the dances after the football games.
“I didn’t excel in sports but I could try to dance a little bit,” he said. “That’s where I bowled for the first time and we’d play pool. Before I got my driver’s license, that was the only place we could go. We’d go there every Friday night and play pool and bowl.”
Cindy Hatley, Lincolnton Mayor Ed Hatley’s wife, said that it was probably the first place she had ever bowled.
“Someone had to sit down at the end and put the pins back up,” she said. “There was no automation back then. I love historical sites and I hate that the people with the money years ago didn’t have the foresight to preserve it. It was part of my growing up.”
Jetton was one of the people who would pick up those ten pins for a “nickel a line.”
Mayor Hatley said that he hated to see the building torn down too, but it had served its purpose for Lincolnton and hadn’t been used since the 1970s.
“Anything can be fixed but it would have taken an exorbitant amount of money to fix that,” he said.
Jetton shared that three years ago he had gone into the basement of the rec center to show it to a potential buyer.
“We went down in the basement and the floor joists were like crackers,” he said. “I don’t know what kept it up. The termites had destroyed it. There was a pile of ten pins over in the corner and I was going to get one. I picked it up and it fell apart. The building couldn’t be saved. I wish it could have.”