Dance Hall Press, LLC is the publishing company I formed to produce the book Becoming Amish. There's not a whole lot more to say about the company Dance Hall Press, but the name itself has a little story behind it.
When my family bought the house we live in back in 2000, in the countryside near the tiny village of Cedar, Michigan, the house appeared so dilapidated that the seller figured we would just knock it down and build something new. But that decrepit exterior masked an 1894 farmhouse that had completely solid bones.
We bought it cheap and set to renovating the house, but throughout that process there was a mystery that lingered over the home. When you exited a door in the kitchen you entered a big room, 40 feet by 20 feet, worn maple floors, wood walls and ceiling, open stud construction, no insulation, peaked roof. Very solid, but very spare. What was this room used for? We guessed it was maybe some kind of woodworking shop or some kind of little factory that a farm family might have run for a bit of extra money.
But then one sunny February Sunday, as I was working on the trim around a window, I saw two women walking around outside the house, pointing and talking. I went outside to meet them and learned that they had grown up in the home, direct descendants of the farm family that built the place. Well, we had to know, "What was the purpose of that big room out back?"
"Oh, the dance hall," one sister said. The room was added in 1920 after a neighboring farm went bust and the people moved on. The family in our house bought the adjacent farm, dismantled the house and used the wood to build the dance hall. A couple of months after the two sisters stopped by, their father visited—he was 85 at the time. He stepped into the dance hall and you could just see that his memories, the images of his young years, were suddenly so vivid before his eyes. He was five when the dance hall was added to the home. You could tell he wasn't so much remembering things but actually seeing things three-D right there, conjuring spirits of the people he loved. Like when he pointed to a place on the floor by the chimney and he said, "That's where my uncle slept that summer when he was building the dance hall." Or when pointed to a spot beside a window and said, "My crazy left-handed uncle would stand right there and play the bass." He explained that on Sunday evenings, people would come by the house and square dance. "You had to bring your own cider, though," he said.—Jeff Smith