They just needed a place to square dance
... And the rest is history for Francis Staggs’ Carriage Stop
The year was 1960. Francis and Gladys Staggs liked square-dancing, but there were no good halls to go to.
So Francis did what any Westside guy would do (or maybe not): He built a square-dance hall next to the lumber yard on his property.
Named the Carriage Stop, it's rented by and Mr. and Mrs. Staggs to this day - a simple, rectangular structure with a hardwood floor, 40 feet wide by 100 feet long at 2700 Robinson St. It has a gray, corrugated steel exterior and an interior high enough to allow a little inner balcony at the south end, above a kitchen, a small office and men's and women's restrooms. A stage is at the north end.
Next door, in its 50th year of business, the Staggs Lumber continues its daily operation. Francis Staggs, 85, still takes an active part in both the lumber yard and the dance hall, though his wife is ailing.
The years have not reduced the Carriage Stop's popularity. In fact, things have kept getting better since the building's earliest days, when Staggs said times were hard and his renting philosophy was to “take any group.” By 1967, he was having to add another 40 by 40 feet to the original 40 by 60 square feet “because we got so many people.” Nowadays, he said seven clubs - square-dance as well as other western styles that use callers - rent the facility nearly every night of the month, with two aerobics exercise groups filling in some daylight time.
You'd think such success would stimulate competitors, but that hasn't occurred. Even though the groups that rent there come from all over the region, the Carriage Stop appears to hold a unique niche
“It would be nice if there was another place on the east side, but the ones that were out there have been converted to other uses,” commented Ron Counts, a caller/dancemaster for the Western Hoedowners and Pikes Peak Strollers clubs, each of which rents Saturday nights at the Carriage Stop twice a month. In any case, Counts likes the old Westside hall: “It's got a beautiful wooden floor, a high ceiling, good sound without an echo, plenty of parking, and the rent there is affordable.”
The closest thing to it is the International Polka Club at 2422 Busch Ave. Though it is also in the Westside's Midland area, less than a mile from the Carriage Stop, there's no real competition between the two, according to Gene Simpson, a former Polka Club board member who now handles its rentals. “We do different things,” he said. “It's dancing, but with a different setup.”
The upstairs is devoted to the club's weekend dances, while the downstairs is rented out for various events, including wedding receptions, birthdays and anniversaries, Simpson said. Started in 1969 by individuals with a passion for European folk music, the club moved to its current location in a former church in 1978. The club now has more than 450 members, according to its website.
Over the years, the polka influence has waned, however, with ballroom dancing becoming more popular with club members, Simpson said. The music at the club's every-Saturday-night dances is only about 30 percent polkas now, he estimated, while ballroom dancing is the focus of the first-and-third-Friday dances.
The only downstairs dance-group rental for the Polka Club is the Single Swingers Square Dance Club, which also rents monthly at the Carriage Stop.
Janie Sharp, one of the leaders of the Single Swingers, said that although her group likes the Polka Club, it is not quite as big as the Carriage Stop and has a few poles that dancers must circumvent.
In addition to the Carriage Stop's “nice” floor, Sharp complimented the facility for its kitchen and restrooms. “It's good for square dancing,” she summed up.
Of her group's name, Sharp said it's no misnomer. “We have a lot of dancers marry each other,” she said. The group focuses on modern square dancing, which has more “dips and dives,” as she put it, and a more intricate series of calls.
Paul McQueen, president of the B 'n' Bs club, a Carriage Stop renter for about 10 years, also complimented the facility for its facilties, adding that “the rent's right.” The B 'n' Bs specialize in square dancing and rounds (similar to ballroom dancing) and mingle with other clubs.
“I drive to the Carriage Stop from south Calhan,” McQueen said. “But I enjoy dancing, and it's basically that you pay a fee to get in and that's all. You just have a good time, and it's worth it.”
On the dance nights for Counts' two clubs, “we get people from all over,” he said, mentioning commuters from as far away as Woodland Park, Pueblo and Canon City. Dancers' ages range from as old as 90 to 12 or younger, he said.
At a recent “hoedown,” close to 50 participants - many of them beginners - got in a big circle to learn relatively simple steps such as the cotton-eyed joe, cowboy cha cha and Texas two-step. Counts made the calls from the stage while partner Kit Galvin worked with individual dancers on the floor. Both wore amplified headsets to communicate over the recorded music.
Counts' and Galvin's other club, the Pikes Peak Strollers, is a modern square-dancing group.
Counts described the Carriage Stop as a good “gathering place… It's all clean,” he said, “no alcohol, no smoking and clean music. Families can come and bring their kids. We just tell the parents to have them stay back where they don't get their fingers stepped on.”
He spoke highly of Francis and Gladys Staggs for making the building available. “They were dancers in their younger days, and they like to stay connected with the dancers,” Counts said.
Standing outside the building one recent morning, talking about the history of adjoining properties, rising property taxes and the pros and cons of a swamp cooler for the facility to cool dancers down on hot summer nights, Staggs considered his creation modestly.
“It's not worth that much,” he said. “It's just a little barn-type building.”
Generations of dancers might disagree.
Westside Pioneer Article