Robert Hale Entrepreneur
Many Gainsboro residents have fond memories of the Dreamland recreation center, which served the community from 1936-1947. The City of Roanoke granted Robert and Ellen Hale permission to construct a pool and dance hall within Washington Park in 1936. The facility—Dreamland—was located at the corner of Lynchburg Avenue (now Orange Avenue) and Peach Road, across from the current location of the Gainsboro Branch YMCA. Owned and run by African Americans, it provided a place for recreation and social activity for the Black residents of Roanoke.
At that time, park and recreation facilities were segregated. African Americans had very limited use of the popular Lakeside Amusement Park in Salem, Virginia. While white patrons enjoyed frequent access, Black patrons could only swim in the pool or enjoy amusement rides for a few days before the park closed for the season.
At Dreamland, Roanoke’s African American residents could swim all summer, for just 25 cents a visit. A concession stand sold soft drinks and hot dogs, and a jukebox played all the popular songs. The facility’s recreation building was used for many purposes. Clubs could rent it for meetings or events, individuals could rent it to host birthday parties or wedding receptions. Social and civic groups could hold picnics, swim parties, and tennis tournaments on the grounds.
“Dreamland was just special. I don’t think there was another place in Roanoke like it—especially for Black folks…I learned to dance there.” —Helen Elizabeth Davis (n.d.) Press release
Dancing at Dreamland
The dance hall was an exciting place for young people who wanted to socialize. They learned new steps, made new friends, and some even met their future spouses while dancing. According to one account, the boys of the neighborhood would line up on one side of the hall and the girls took the other. All would wait for one boy to cross the floor and ask a girl to dance. It was a game in which no one wanted to go first—but once one pair took the floor, others quickly followed suit.
Lost to Progress
In 1947 Orange Avenue was widened, which required closing Dreamland and filling in the swimming pool. It was a loss to the local community. For many, Dreamland would always hold fond memories of nights filled with swimming and dancing.
Display ad 2 — no title. (1936, Aug 01). New Journal and Guide https://www.proquest.com/historical-newspapers/display-ad-2-no-title/docview/567287810/se-2?accountid=53886
Dreamland. (2015). The Roanoke Rover. https://roanokerover.wordpress.com/issues/
Dukes, J. & Swaim, A. (2013, December 4). Remembering Dreamland [Audio]. RadioIQ. https://www.wvtf.org/arts-culture/2013-12-04/remembering-dreamland
Lakeside amusement park. (2015). The Roanoke Rover. https://roanokerover.wordpress.com/issues/
Gainsboro community story share: Remembering Dreamland and other lost places. (n. d.) [Press release]. Gainsboro Branch Library Vertical Files, Roanoke, VA, United States.