Editor's Log Moon Over Moravia Store Shines On!

Polkadate April 2019. Moravia Store celebrates 130 years of family good times.

As dance hall historian Steve Dean defines it: “A beer joint is where you take your wife and kids. A bar is a place you take someone else’s wife and definitely no kids.”

After decades of research, it has been saddening to see the demise of family drinking establishments (aka beer joints or “the store”) in Central Texas. What was once an integral part of small rural communities has gone the way of that period’s rural lifestyle. Every community had a place to visit after the weekly trip from the farm to the town.

Poppa sold and/or bought feed at the feed store, visited the general store, and then the whole family went to the beer joint, more commonly called the store, where Poppa and Momma got a cold beer and the kids got ice cream or soda water. Poppa might play a game or two of tarok or domino with friends and relatives and Momma would spend time catching up on the local news with the same spouses. Before leaving, Momma would pick up some items from the store shelves that were needed at home and round up the kids who had been playing unattended with their friends and relatives out back of the place.

Some of these establishments were associated with an adjoining dance hall or platform where the whole family would return for a night of dancing and picking up bottles. Inappropriate behavior was not allowed, and the parents kept an eye on all the children as they ran around having their own brand of fun.

In a recent Saturday night visit to the establishment featured below, it was a joy to experience all of this. A three-year-old boy with his first straw Stetson, several guys huddled in a corner in camo discussing a construction job, several small kids running down the aisle of the bar with adults moving patiently behind them, laughter from at least a dozen conversations, everybody dressed comfortably, the smell of hamburgers in the air (no smoking allowed), and a friendly face at the bar asking what you want to drink.

The tables all have multiple beer bottles on them but no one seems to be drinking them. Several single gentlemen at the bar are lost in their thoughts. The lighting is supplied by multiple neon moons, as the song goes. Following the path behind the bar, the dance hall portion is filling with folks exchanging loud greetings over the sound of a band. At one of the long tables is a portion of the large Miksch family from the Middle Creek area; the Pateks from Shiner hold down another table with friends.

A good quantity of folks choose to stand, all the better to watch the band and greet people entering. Kids are perfecting the fine art of running or sliding on the, as yet, empty, dance floor. Subtracting the amplified music and lighting from more neon moons, it could have been 1930 or 1950 or 1970, for you have entered the time capsule, that is The Moravia Store.

AUTHENTIC GOOD TIMES

The Texas Hill Country has its Luckenbach saloon and dance hall that is known for good times and dancing. It also has a hit song written and sung by people who had never been there and did both strictly for the money. Central Texas has The Moravia Store, also well known for authentic good times and dancing, just not nationally, as it does not have a million-dollar advertising budget. Both establishments are about the same age. Moravia also has a hit song that was written and sung by people who grew up there and regularly frequent it. The good times and dancing at Moravia are far more authentic than that other place.

For the unenlightened, where is Moravia Store? Why, it’s the last chance to get a beer when leaving the town of Moravia heading north on FM 957, or the last chance to get a beer heading south on FM 957. And if you still can’t find it, tune into a local radio station and chances are the popular song, Moon Over Moravia will give you the directions: “957 leads right to the door.”

Moravia, Texas is a community in northern Lavaca County. It is kinda in the middle of the Schulenburg, Shiner, and Hallettsville triangle. During the 1860s and 70s, Czech immigrants from Europe and Iowa (as in 1000 miles NNE of Lavaca County) settled in this undisturbed Blackland rolling prairie. Many emigrating Moravian/Czechs came from Europe to Iowa and, after becoming established, moved to Texas. For the record, they were known as Moravians as that was the province from which they came. For clarity, they will be referred to as Czechs.

In 1876, the Ignac and Agnes Holub Jalu›a and the Jakub and Barbara Holub families arrived in, as yet, non-existent Moravia, Texas after leaving Iowa. The Jalu›as and Holubs purchased large tracts of the untilled soil and began creating a home for their many children. The two families intermarried and established a saloon, eating place, and hall all in one building. It was decided to name the fledgling community Moravia in honor of the area in Europe where both families had originated.

Soon a doctor, I. E. Clark, arrived, and a post office was established. Moravia, like the pace of life there, grew slowly; a Catholic church was built in 1913, and later a parish hall, a school, and a SPJST hall were added.

SOCIAL CENTER

Jalu›a’s store and hall became the social and commercial center of this now Texas Czech community. Jalu›a’s was a two-story building with a store/saloon on the bottom and a dance hall on the top. As with most similar establishments in the small communities, it became the center point of public meetings as well as dancing. In 1906, a spelling bee was held there between neighboring Komensky and Moravian school children with admission being charged to fund a library for the school. In 1910, a minstrel and magic show was put on by a gentleman from neighboring Breslau. Every year, in the early 1900s, a Christmas tree was put up and loaded down with presents that were supplied by the teachers and community for the children. To puncture the isolation of the rural life, a moving picture show was presented in 1913; touring minstrel and black-face shows were occasional treats.

In 1910, Moravia had a Mai-fest parade complete with decorated horses, wagons, and buggies that began at the church and ended at the store (distance: 2,100 feet), where the Lone Star Brass Band from Novohrad (a nearby similar community) performed.

Easter Monday, was always a big day to celebrate as Lent, with its abstinence from drinking and dancing, was over. On Easter Monday in April 1912, 93 dance tickets were sold; ladies were admitted free back then, so there might have been 200 people there for a dance. The big dance for 1912, was the Leap Year dance in October, when ladies were charged 50 cents and the men got in free. These dances were widespread in Central Texas.

The hall served as the rehearsal space for the Moravia Brass Band, which met once a month. Most communities had their own bands for civic functions and would “tour” the 10 to 15 miles to their neighbors for a little cultural exchange. In 1913, local farmers founded the Texas Farmers Institute and held their meetings at Jalu›a’s Hall to discuss onion prices. During World War I, a dance held at Jalu›a’s Hall was the place for soldiers to say goodbye to friends.

STORE CHANGES HANDS

The founding Jalu›as passed on, leaving the store to a son, who in the early 1920s, headed to Corpus Christi with hundreds of other Czechs to seek a better life. (See Texas Polka News, March 2019.) Frank and Lillian Jalu›a Blahuta took over the store in 1923. The store became known as the Blahuta store and hall. That year a celebration of the dedication of the new Moravia school took place at the hall and the following month, Rother’s Orchestra from Hallettsville, performed for a dance. In 1925, the manager of Buske’s Orchestra rented the hall and renamed it The Moravia Ballroom for the evening. Other tongue-in-cheek name changes in the 1930s occurred when the community band temporarily became the Moravian Symphony Orchestra.

In 1931, the Blahutas built a new and modern dance hall across the road. The original Jalu›a building had, for reasons unknown, the dance hall part partially removed, creating an attic with several feet of wall remaining that, upon inspection in 2010, had a red stripe around the base of the wall for decoration. The upstairs had been accessed from a staircase on the inside of the north end of the saloon, the paint line is still visible.

As with the old hall, the new hall drew dancers from a 25-mile radius, riding their horses and wagons and later driving their Model Ts. Prior to World War II, various community bands, The Happy Boys, the Pavlas, Barta, Kovar, Migl, Baca, Patalik, Babe Schindler, Sirocka, and Machac Orchestras kept the, on-the-average, 200 dancers shaking the rafters.

The Second World War slowed down the activities in Moravia and the cultural landscape changed as the men came back to a socially less active community. Many reacquainted themselves with their families and then moved to Houston or Victoria seeking a financially secure industrial lifestyle causing the frequency of public dances to slow down. However, they came home on weekends to visit, help out on the farm, and to attend weddings and celebrations at the hall.

PAVING THE WAY TO PROGRESS

In the 1950s, Texas’ Farm-to-Market road system was rapidly expanding and a more direct, paved route from Schulenburg to Moravia was built. The road, FM 957, went, as the story goes, through or extremely close to Blahuta Hall (separate from the store/saloon) which caused it to be demolished in 1954. Any dancing that happened in the following decades occurred at the Moravia Parish Hall across the street from the church. Many wedding and anniversary dances took place, as well as the yearly church picnic. Th e Moravia Community Band, Victor Caka and His Polka Timers, George Machart Orchestra, Worthing Happy Three, Adolph Migl Orchestra, Vanek Brothers, and of course home town hero, Vernon Drozd, performed but mostly at the yearly picnic and weddings.

The store/saloon ownership had passed from Frank Blahuta to his sons, Ira and Guthrie in 1940. At this time, a pool hall annex was added on, and remains to this day as such (part of the interview for this story took place in the annex with the pool table as a desk). Guthrie passed away in 1965. The Blahuta family operated it with the store part closed (where current dance floor is) until 1979. The saloon was then taken over by Hilbert Henke and his wife, who operated it until 1986, when Linda Kresta took over management until it closed its doors in 1990.

MORAVIA MUSIC RETURNS

For six years, the Moravia Store took a well-deserved rest. In May 1996, Leroy and Henrietta (Holik) Rehak purchased the store, reopened the saloon, and the store part became the now legendary dance hall. Shortly afterwards, Leroy passed away and Henrietta kept the establishment open keeping this rural oasis of fun and libation operating.

The Texas Historical Commission granted a state marker for the store in 1998. Also in 1998, Henrietta married Frankie Filip and together they keep the doors open in the evenings during the week and have live music as much as possible on weekends. Henrietta states that it is a joy to provide a gathering spot for locals whose families (with their children) have been coming there for generations. Frankie enjoys spending the evenings monitoring the domino games and running the bar after a day of farming and ranching on their nearby farm. Keith Pilat, their nephew, is the head cook preparing short-order meals for folks to keep their feet a dancing on the well-polished floor.

Henrietta has kept the dance floor hopping by bringing in the Ennis Czech Boys, Dance Hall Boys, Lost Cause Band, Czechaholics, Pokluda Brothers, and Mark Halata & Texavia.

Sat., May 4, Moravia Store will be having a 130th birthday celebration with antique tractor and car shows in the afternoon. That evening Mark Halata & Texavia will play for the dance, and you can bet a beer that hometown boy Mark will be performing Moon Over Moravia, standing in front of the door that 957 leads right to.

That signature song was written by Mark Hermes, Daniel Klapuch, John Dujka, and Martha Viktorin, who, unlike that Luckenbach song, was written by people with deep family roots in the area. Mark Halata’s latest CD, Live From Moravia Store, will be on sale that evening.

If you want to experience a real (believe me, it doesn’t get any more real), rural, country celebration, mark your calendar for May 4 and follow 957, from either Schulenburg or Hallettsville, right to the door.

The timeline for this story was extracted from one of the best local histories ever published, The History of Moravia Community, Lavaca County, Texas 1881-1996 by William Vrana. Copies are available at the store.

Texas Polka News

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