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Barn Dances, Box Socials, and Romance over 100 years ago | By Dave Bohn

West Bend, WI – For over 15 years, Dave Bohn wrote down memories of his childhood, growing up on the family farm just south of West Bend on Hwy P.  He hopes his writings will preserve the often-overlooked stories of ordinary farmers and everyday farm life in rural Washington County during the Great Depression through the eyes of a local farm boy.

Being it’s the month of love, here’s a story about romance in the old days… or should I say the lack thereof.

My Grandma Bohn (Veronica Spaeth Bohn) lived upstairs from us, so she spent a lot of time with us kids. On hot summer evenings, we would spend time outside with her sitting on some old wooden chairs, trying to keep mosquitoes at bay.

They were hard to keep away and we always had welts from them. When we would sit out like this with Grandma, she would tell us stories of her young life. There were no cars or televisions back then, so we liked hearing her stories and Grandma could really tell a good story.

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One story she told was of her girlfriend, Gusty Renk, (I don’t know if her name was Gusty, but that’s what they called her). This would have been in the West Bend area, around 1890.

At this time, they would have dances in the hayloft of a new barn just after it was built in the summertime so young people could meet. Every new barn that was built had a couple of barn dances before the hay went into the loft or cows in the stanchions.



During the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, lots of barns were still being built in our area. Someone would play a concertina and a violin, and this was the place the young people would all come to socialize – boys and girls.

Apparently, Gusty and Grandma went to a barn dance, and this is what happened to them.

Gusty and Grandma took a horse and buggy to the barn dance. When it was time to go home, a young man asked his “choice girl” if he could escort her to her house in his horse and buggy. If the guy was not to the girl’s liking, the girl told him to get lost and she would take her own horse and buggy home. Apparently, that happened somewhat often. Grandma said it was Gusty who was asked, but I really don’t know if it was Grandma or Gusty.

When Gusty turned the young man down, Gusty and Grandma found their horse and buggy were gone. No trace of them at all.

The young man with his eye on Gusty had someone else take Gusty’s horse and buggy back to her home, leaving Gusty and Grandma stuck with no way to get home. So Gusty had to eat crow and get a ride home by the guy who had asked her.

As kids, we always liked to hear how things were when Grandma was young. She liked to tell these stories to her “Hertsy Boy.” That’s what she called me. I don’t know if it was good or bad, but she always was really nice to me.

I think I was her favorite because I was a fat kid and she was fat, too. She was about 4’10” tall and real chunky and, at that time, so was I. Even when my brother Tom and I were both in our 90’s, Tom told me that I was always Grandma’s favorite.

cast iron

By the time I was a teenager, there weren’t many barn dances anymore, but young people would meet at what was called a “Box Social.” They would schedule a Box Social usually at the schoolhouse, although it was not part of the school program.

The girls would make their best box lunch and bring it to school on the Box Social night where it would be auctioned off. The boys would come and make sure they had the highest bid on a special girl’s box lunch at the auction. When the auction was over, the highest bidder would share the box lunch with the girl who brought the box. This was a common way for young people to meet at the time.

Even in my time, I did go to one of these Box Socials at Rusco School, which was just down the hill from our house. I didn’t want to go, but my sister Mary Ann insisted.

Mary Ann Bohn

I ended up going but didn’t bid on any box lunch. I left when the auction was over because I didn’t have a girl to eat a box lunch with. Instead, I went to the Beacon Restaurant downtown by myself and had a hamburger.

The Beacon was the place to go at night as I think they were open all night. We would go there after dances or any night out on the town. It was located near the northwest corner of Main Street and Hickory Street. But that night, I ate alone.


On a side note: if anyone has any information about Dave’s Grandma’s friend, Gusty Renk, please let Dave know. Dave’s Grandma was born in 1876, so her friend Gusty would have been born about that time.

Fair Park

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