Anyone over the age of fifty remembers pool halls, once found in most towns and cities throughout the U.S., and universally regarded as dens of moral corruption. These smoke-filled rooms, more politely referred to as billiard parlors, were supposedly a place men went to escape everyday responsibilities and to possibly gamble, curse, maybe have a drink, see a fight, and generally get up to no-good. Each pool hall usually had expert players, known as sharks or hustlers, who possessed colorful monikers like Minnesota Fats and Fast Eddie, just waiting to take the hard-earned money of less-talented players.
To the public, pool halls had an air of menace; respectable people avoided them, and young men were warned to stay away. Politicians blamed pool rooms for juvenile delinquency, crime, and a host of other societal ills. Many universities in the early twentieth century regarded hanging out in a pool hall as grounds for expulsion! Despite the negative publicity, many just innocently enjoyed shooting a game of pool to pass the time with their friends. There are only a few instances in which a pool hall is mentioned in connection with any crime. One pool hall did run a tip board, a gambling device that worked like a raffle, and on several different occasions, lawbreakers were later apprehended while hanging out in pool halls. They should have known that the pool hall was the first place the police would look.
Transylvania County and Brevard passed a laws and ordinances to save the citizens from pool halls. In 1907 an ordinance was passed to keep minors under sixteen from entering a pool hall without a guardian or parent. In 1929, there was an uproar when the Pickwick Club, which operated two pool tables, was closed by the mayor and alderman. Mayor T.W. Whitmire, who once had a pool table in the back of his general merchandise store for public use, was quoted as saying, “Why should I be in favor of pool rooms that keep the mothers of this town awake at one and two o’clock in the morning waiting for her husband or son to come home, knowing there is not food enough in the house for breakfast…knowing the rent is not paid.” Another tactic the city tried was “pool privilege taxes” to tax the halls out of existence; they just formed private clubs to avoid the taxes.
Despite the negative publicity, there were a surprisingly large number of pool halls in our county through the years, virtually all located in Brevard. At the turn of the twentieth century, Mayor Whitmire had his table between 1908-9, there was a pool hall operating on Broad Street from 1906 to 1915 that passed through several owners, including a Mr. Scaffe, Jim Walters and C.H. Case. Around the same period, the private Brevard Club had pool tables on the third floor of the Auditorium building, and the Boardman place, a large home turned into a private club, also had pool tables. In 1922 the American Legion located downtown “over the Bee Hive barbershop” installed two pool tables, intended counterintuitively “as a way to keep young men out of mischief.”
During the 1930s there is a brief mention of J.R. Whitmire’s pool hall in the newspaper, but the pool hall’s heyday in Brevard begins in the early 1940’s. The first two in town were Mull’s and Mack’s, both calling themselves billiard parlors, possibly to convey an air of greater respectability. Mull’s was originally located in the space on the corner of Broad and Jordan, currently the location of Rocky’s, and was managed by “Dad” Herbert. Mack’s Billiard Parlor, with five tables, was located opposite the courthouse.
In 1945 Albert Jackson was granted permission by the city to operate a pool room in the Oaklawn Grill on Cashiers Valley Road. In 1946 the Brunswick Billiard Parlor opened on South Broad Street and surprisingly had a team in the bowling league. Trull’s Pool Room soon opened and Max’s Billiard Parlor, owned by R.W. Parris, opened its doors on the corner of East Main and Gaston in the Schulmann building. In 1950 the Casino Grill and Billiard Parlor operated by T.T. Loftis, Harry Loftis, and William Carr opened across from the bus depot on Caldwell Street.
An interesting comment on pool rooms during the early 1950s comes from the Brevard High News section of the Transylvania Times. Reporters “Lovey and Dovey” write that “Someone seems to think some of the BHS boys are in love with the cues sticks in the pool room. Come on gals, you can beat a cue stick’s time!”
By the 1960s most of the older billiard parlors were long gone, had changed hands, or had new names. What remained was Brevard Billiard Parlor on 44 West Main Street run by Jimmy Rich, the Recreation Parlor, which was formerly Hub Langston’s Cafe and was run by Mattie Pierce, and the Loftis Billiard Parlor, which was still hanging on. 1967 brought a new pool room located “on the 4-lane highway next to Lowe’s” with the unique name of Brevard Cue and Cushion. Their ad prominently boasts “No Gambling, No Drinking, No Profanity” and mentions that the property will be supervised “at all times by “Footsie” Cane. There are casual mentions in the paper of the South Broad Billiard Parlor in 1971, possibly the Brunswick of former times, and a pool hall located in Rosman. The popularity of pool halls seems to have diminished over time, though it is still very common for bars to have a pool table available for those who enjoy the pastime.
Photographs and information for this column are provided by the Rowell Bosse North Carolina Room, Transylvania County Library. This article was written by Local History Assistant Joe Russo. For more information, comments, or suggestions, contact NC Room staff at [email protected] or 828-884-1820.