The original structure of Matter's Ballroom was built in 1914 to serve as a fruit cellar. The building and its use changed over the decades into a business of live music and festivities. Sadly, the ballroom burned to the ground in 2003.
A Brief History of Matter’s Ballroom
This early photo of the ballroom shows the Spartan nature of the times. There were benches for seating and pot-belly stoves provided the heat during the long winters. A tractor outside ran a generator to provide light. It was almost 20 years after opening that electricity was available to this rural area. The stage doubled as a nursery when the children got tired. It was common to bring a basket lunch for inter-mission.
Unknowingly, in 1905, when John & Emma Matter planted 18 acres (1240 trees) of apple orchard on their farm north of Decorah, they were also planting the seed of what was to become Matter’s Ballroom. Naturally, as the trees began to bear larger quantities of fruit, there came a need for a method of storing the apples, along with the large quantity of potatoes harvested each year on the farm. In 1914, not too far from where the barn stood, John Matter built a 32x80 foot fruit cellar. The building on top of the fruit cellar was built primarily for the purpose of packing and crating apples for shipment. In 1916 the building was modified and the first community dance was held that September. The early years saw horses and buggies instead of cars filling the parking lot.
Only known photo of warehouse that evolved into Matter's Ballroom. The farm barn is upper left and the warehouse upper right. Sitting with baby chicks from the Matter Hatchery are: Alma, Margaret, and Ethel Matter The hatchery was once located across the road from the ballroom.
As time passes, the names of many of the early attractions begin to fade from people’s memories. But a lot of ‘old timers’ can still be heard talking of the days when they used to dance regularly at Matter’s Ballroom to bands like Hal Leonard, Les Hart-man, Don Strickland, and Lawrence Welk and His Orchestra.
Old time and modern bands dominated the dance schedule into the 1930’s and 40’s. But the 1950’s introduced two new forms of regular entertainment. First came country & western. Some of the artists that traveled out of Nashville and appeared at Matter’s were; Roy Acuff, Kitty Wells, Johnny Cash, Wanda Jackson, plus many others from the Grand Ole Opry Show.
Of course the 50’s also brought in the era of rock & roll. Matter’s Ballroom led the way for live stage appearances in Eastern Iowa of the top name acts. Artists such as Jerry Lee Lewis, Buddy Holly, The Four Seasons, Tony Orlando, the Everly Brothers, and over 80 other national recording artists performed on the same stage still in use today.
The monthly agenda of dances at Matter’s Ballroom contained a variety of entertainment, from old time and big bands, to country and rock & roll. Aside from public and private dances, the ballroom was used for receptions, benefits, promotions and banquets.
In September, 1996, Matter’s Ballroom celebrated its 80th Anniversary. Beginning with John & Emma, there were three generations of Matters that have operated the ballroom. Shortly after military service in W.W.II, Leonard Matter and his wife, Carol, took over the operation of the business. John Matter and his wife, Suzanne, operated the ballroom from 1970 to 1999.
Throughout the years the physical structure of the ballroom had been modified several times. What began in 1916 as a 2560 sq. ft. adventure had expanded to an 18,000 sq. ft. entertainment center. Gone, but not forgotten, are the days of the pot-belly stoves, gas lamps, bottles hidden in the barn, hitching posts, benches around the dance floor, and of course, the 10 cent hamburger.
On July 1, 1999, after 83 years, ownership of Matter's Ballroom left the Matter family. The ballroom was bought by Dan Telsrow. Under Dan Telsrow's ownership the ballroom suffered two fires in less than 4 years. The first being in December, 2000, of which the ballroom's physical damage was limited. The March, 2003 fire was much more complete as seen in the photo below.