Businesses, Community Buildings, Construction, Historic Structures

The Polly Prim

When McHenry was a travel destination for vacationers, it offered many colorful locations for people to enjoy themselves. One of the most interesting places was the Polly Prim which was located where the Hickory Pit now sits today on Rte. 120 & Charles St. The Polly Prim was built in the spring of 1924, by A.J. and Mary Pouliot. An outgoing and likable couple, Mrs. Pouliot’s obit would later note that she was energetic and popular. The Prim offered dancing, dinner as well as the very popular boxing match. The Pouliot’s owned the property since about 1905, which included a boat shop, cottage and six other lots.  

Couple standing in front of Polly Prim sign in the mid 1920s. Compliments of the McHenry Preservation Foundation.

The building itself had a red, white and blue color theme with an impressive lighting system, that included a big, electric sign that sat atop the building to help direct customers. The building measured 400” x 132” with a dance floor that measured 2500 square feet.  In 1930, the property was listed as being worth $93,000. Another feature was the live music, usually provided by an orchestra, that would play during meals and of course dancing. One of the first orchestras to play was directed by Frank Gans, who at one time owned the Riverside Hotel on Riverside Drive. The orchestras and performers went by several colorful names such as Jimmie’s Society Orchestra, the Red Devils, the Sundodgers, the Barn Swallows, and Larry Peltier and his Ten King’s of Syncopation.

Picture of the Polly Prim from the mid 1920s. Provided by the McHenry Preservation Foundation.

Dances were generally held seasonally on Saturdays and Sundays with an admission charge of 25 cents a person. Each season would start on May 1st and run throughout the summer, then the Polly Prim would open for specific events for the fall and winter months. Typical dances would start at 8pm with soft drinks and food served cafeteria style and the dancing would begin at 9pm. There were several dances held at the Polly Prim for special holidays and events. For example, New Year’s Eve, Christmas and Thanksgiving dances were very popular. In the case of the holiday dances, guests were to make an entire evening of it, as a seven-course supper was provided. Noisemakers, confetti, high hats, and balloons were also provided. Some of the dances were fundraising events, such as a Mardi Gras themed dance to raise money so the town could fund a baseball team for the summer. In 1925, the Prim hosted the Annual Firemen’s Ball, which sold over 1000 tickets. In December 1927, over 1000 people attended an event that had some of the new Ford automobiles for the upcoming year, which were provided by Knox Ford.

Ad from the McHenry Plaindealer for one of the Prim’s many boxing matches. For most bouts tickets were a $1 and the ladies had no charge.

One of the biggest draws to the Prim was boxing, one bout was listed as having 700 attendees. On Wednesday evenings the Prim held an entire card for fights, mainly about seven to nine bouts, which met the Illinois Boxing Commission standards. The opening of the Polly Prim came at a convenient time as the state of Illinois had just legalized and regulated boxing in 1925. Fighters from around the area and as far away as Chicago, Kenosha and Twin Lakes would come to participate in what was known for a while as the Polly Prim Athletic Club. Some fighters were from the Army and were stationed at Fort Sheridan.  Added interest was paid when fighters were boxing that were from certain areas that had rivalries, such as Grayslake and Libertyville. Boxing would be a mainstay at the Polly Prim and was still around after the business was sold and became known as the Bridge Ballroom.

Just how much profit the owners made is hard to say, but the Prim was always deemed very popular. After the 1928 season, the Pouliots sold the business to H.G. Saal. Within a few days, he went on to sell the business to Charles Rowe to complete a real estate deal, which included some property in Chicago. After the Pouliots sold the Polly Prim, the business went on to have several different owners and went by the name of the Bridge or the Bridge Ballroom.  

Next Month: The Bridge Ballroom

Sources:

  • “Barn Swallows Please Polly Prim Patrons.” The McHenry Plaindealer. 3 Jul 1926: 1. Newspapers.com. Web. 27 November 2018.
  • “Dancing at the Polly Prim.” The McHenry Plaindealer. 13 Nov 1924: 1. Newspapers.com. Web. 5 December 2018.
  • “2nd Annual Firemen’s Dance.” The McHenry Plaindealer. 6 Nov 1924: 1. Newspapers.com. Web. 27 November 2018.
  • “Polly Prim’s Gala Night Makes A Hit.” The McHenry Plaindealer. 24 Jun 1926: 1. Newspapers.com. Web. 27 November 2018.
  • “Opening of Polly Prim.” The McHenry Plaindealer. 22 May 1924: 1. Newspapers.com. Web. 27 November 2018.
  • “Mardi Gras Easter Sunday.” The McHenry Plaindealer. 2 Apr 1925: 1. Newspapers.com. Web. 27 November 2018.
  • “Masquerade At Polly Prim.” The McHenry Plaindealer. 12 Mar 1925: 1. Newspapers.com. Web. 27 November 2018.
  • “Mary Pouliout Obit.” The McHenry Plaindealer. 16 Jan 1962: 8. Newspapers.com. Web. 27 November 2018.
  • “New Year’s Party at Polly Prim, McHenry.” The McHenry Plaindealer. 22 Dec 1927: 1. Newspapers.com. Web. 5 December 2018.
  • “Polly Prim Is Well Attended.” The McHenry Plaindealer. 5 Jun 1924: 1. Newspapers.com. Web. 27 November 2018.
  • “Polly Prim Open Again.” The McHenry Plaindealer. 11 Jul 1925: 1. Newspapers.com. Web. 27 November 2018.
  • “Polly Prim Pavillion Open Tomorrow Night.” The McHenry Plaindealer. 23 Jul 1926: 1. Newspapers.com. Web. 27 November 2018.
  • “Polly Prim Tavern Opening.” The McHenry Plaindealer. 15 May 1924: 1. Newspapers.com. Web. 27 November 2018.
  • “Red Devils To Play At Polly Prim Tavern.” The McHenry Plaindealer. 2 Feb 1928: 1. Newspapers.com. Web. 27 November 2018.