Like other states on the Great Plains, Nebraska struggled with severe drought during the Great Depression and looked to the federal government for assistance during the national economic downturn. The Works Progress Administration built Oak Ballroom as a government relief project. Architect Emiel Christensen of Columbus, Nebraska, designed the ballroom as the focal point of Schuyler’s city park. Local resident Dr. S.B. Koory, a Lebanese immigrant, was equally instrumental in the development of the park and ballroom. A plaque at the south entrance to the park commemorates Dr. Koory’s contribution to the community.
A vernacular treatment of the English Tudor Revival style, the ballroom incorporates elements of rustic, late-nineteenth-century camp lodges that were popular at the time in the Adirondack Mountains of New York. The name, Oak Ballroom, was derived from the huge natural oak timbers from Colfax and Butler counties that were used throughout the building. According to Christensen’s plan, only the least expensive and locally available materials, such as the timber, were to be used in the construction of the ballroom. The exterior stone was salvaged from a local mill that had been destroyed by fire a few years earlier.
One enters the ballroom’s large single-story interior through a vestibule. The interior features an enormous 5,000-square-foot dance floor with a raised stage at one end and a number of supporting facilities, such as dressing rooms and a lunch and bar room, around the perimeter. The structure’s large volume is supported by a timber truss system with steel components. The ballroom’s walls are finished with cement wainscoting, and painted fiberboard panels decorated with geometric shapes and framed with half-timbering. Above the fireplace, opposite the stage, a huge mural by Jim B. Ridgeway depicts a wagon train on the old Mormon Trail that passed nearby.
The ballroom was a lively venue for notables such as the Lawrence Welk and Guy Lombardo orchestras and continues to serve as a social center and community-gathering place.
Gilkerson, Joni, “Beatrice City Library,” Colfax County, Nebraska. National Register of Historic Places Inventory–Nomination Form, 1982. National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, Washington, DC.