Still rollin' after 50 years

"American Pie plays as you take another lap around the skating rink, where you've been skating since before you could walk. But first, go back even further. Long before people were skating on the top floor of this two-story historical building in Oak Harbor, several dozen cows were mooing downstairs. Hay stacks to feed those animals sat in the very loft where the rink would be built. In 1950, the upper level of the Neil Barn was converted to a roller rink. This year marks the Roller Barn's 50th anniversary. But the site held plenty of activity long before people were in-line skating.The barn was originally owned by farmer and logger James Andrew Neil in the early 1900s. Neil opened a logging business and used timber from his land to build the Neil Barn and water tower. Local architect Otto Van Dyk designed and built the massive barn, which became the focal point of Neil's farmstead.At that time, it was the largest barn in the region - and the first with an arched roof. Neil raised peas, hay and grain to feed his logging horses and cattle. He built a slaughter house and a variety of other buildings on the property. He shipped lumber all over the Island, as well as down the coast as far as Mexico.To open the barn in 1913, Neil chartered a boat to bring an orchestra from Everett for a barn-warming party and dance. Hundreds of people from all over Whidbey Island and the mainland were invited.Neil's wife and neighbors gathered in the kitchen days in advance to prepare roasted beef and ham. Dan Schowalter of Coupeville strung lights from his car and hung them in the rafters. The party was a huge success, according to local lore as recorded by the National Register of Historic Places.After the party, the barn was used for agricultural purposes. With an increase in Dutch settlers in the area, who brought experience and new methods of farming, the dairy industry excelled.In the '50s the upper hay loft of the Neil Barn was converted to a roller rink. The conversion required installing a lower ceiling and a new floor, and constructing an entry bay.The lower level of the barn retains its agricultural integrity, as does the general exterior form and character. According to the National Register of Historic Places, The remodeling of the upper level was, in part, a sign of changing land uses and demographics in the Oak Harbor area at the mid-century.With the Whidbey Naval Air Station opening in 1942, Oak Harbor and surrounding communities were rapidly developed. Much of the farmland, including the Neil farmstead, was subdivided for housing and commercial developments. The Roller Barn became a favorite social gathering spot.After closing for two years for renovations in 1990, the Roller Barn reopened and is running good as new today. As part of the renovations, the structure of the barn was lifted 50 feet west of its original location to rest on a new concrete base. The Neil barn continues to be among the largest structure of its kind in the area, and remains a familiar landmark to residents and visitors alike.Several owners have operated the barn since it became a roller skating rink. The Partnership with Youth, which bought the Roller Barn a few years ago, is the present owner.Pamela Sada, longtime skater and current manager of the Roller Barn, said the barn was her home away from home when she was growing up.It kept a lot of us out of trouble, she said.Roosevelt Rumble, executive director of Partnership with Youth, said he is planning a huge party for the Roller Barn's 50th anniversary. Although the details are still in the works, he's thinking about a city-wide picnic and skating party.People from all over the island and surrounding counties will be invited, not unlike the original barn party held 87 years ago.Sada said people at skating rinks as far as Tacoma are looking forward to the celebration. We're hoping to gather everyone who used to hang out here and work here together, she said. Kind of like a huge reunion.Rumble said he'd like input from the community - memories of the barn and ideas for the party. The celebration is tentatively planned for early fall. For more information, or to share a piece of history, e-mail the Roller Barn at or call 675-6534. ------------------Partnership with Youth has started its Summer Blast program, which will run from June 26 through Aug. 24.Sign-ups begin June 22 and are on a first-come, first-serve basis. All activities are limited to space availability. Program members will be given a PWY identification club card for verification. To participate in any event, someone must have this card along with a parental agreement on file.Transportation is provided when events occur away from the Roller Barn, PWY headquarters.Partnership with Youth will be open Tuesday through Thursday for daily activities such as air hockey, pool, basketball, computer labs and arts and crafts.Programs include skating, kayaking, ropes courses, a remote-control car club, horseback riding, rock wall climbing, camping, mountain biking, roller hockey, beach volley ball and a Seattle road trip.The road trip will cover Nike Town, Game Works, the IMAX Theatre, the Seattle Center and Planet Hollywood.For more information, contact Roosevelt Rumble at 240-9273 or e-mail him at"

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