Only Memories Remain of the Blue Room of Strasburg
Fire Destroys Historic Strasburg Business
"Only Memories Remain of the Blue Room of Strasburg Business: Fire Destroys Historic Strasburg Business." Emmons County Record, 1 August 2000, 1 & 2.
The building is gone but the memories remain.
On Saturday, fire destroyed the historic Blue Room in Strasburg,
despite the efforts of fire fighters from Strasburg, Linton, Hague
and Pollock. The only good news of the fire was that the next two
buildings in the block were saved--Strasburg City Hall and a fragile
wood frame building that houses Deb's Painting & Refinishing.
Owners Bruce Schumacher and Sam Backer discovered the fire when
they opened the bar at about 10:45 a.m. Bruce said he could smell
smoke and there was a light smoky haze at first. He called the Strasburg
Fire Department, and he said in less than 10 minutes there were
flames visible in the back hall. He said it appeared that the fire
was burning above the building's false ceiling and first broke through
in the back hall.
Everything happened so fast that Bruce and Sam said there was
not time to remove anything from the building. "The only thing we
got out was the cordless phone that I had in my hand," Bruce said.
Despite the prompt response by the Strasburg Fire Department and
the summons of the other departments, there appeared to be nothing
that could be done to stop the blaze, which apparently quickly swept
above the false ceiling.
Also at the scene were Emmons County Sheriff Rueben Richter and
the Emmons County ALS Ambulance.
Smoke from the fire was so dense that at times visibility was
zero on Strasburg's Main Street, and the smoke cloud stretched as
far north as Linton.
City officials and volunteers fought through the smoke to remove
City Hall records and items, and furniture and other items were
removed from Deb's Painting & Refinishing. Until the items were
moved inside at the Knights of Columbus Hall, there was a long line
of furniture on Main Street, stretching from west of Deb's to the
In the early stages of the fire, fire fighters were able to remove
a few things from the front part of The Blue Room.
As the fire engulfed the building, the city's payloader was used
to push in the outer walls of the structure so that water could
be applied to the flames, and after the fire was under control,
Keller Excavating equipment was used to lift up rubble for the mop-up
operation to get at the last embers.
Bruce and Sam said the building was insured, but they have made
no decisions about the future of the business for which they had
"We will have to see what happens in the insurance settlement
before we can make any decisions," Bruce said. He said the State
fire Marshal was at the scene on Saturday and visited the site again
"We're still in disbelief about the whole thing," Bruce said.
"Sam and I put a lot of work and effort into this business, and
it was very hard to see it all go up in flames."
Bruce said the loss of The Blue Room is a "terrible blow" to the
community, and he said the sadness is evident among everyone who
has fond memories of the business. He noted that "it was tough"
for some of the former owners to see what happened.
The owners were assisted in the business on weekends by Sam's
daughters, Jody and Amy, and several local residents helped out
on a part-time, as-needed basis.
Sam and Bruce said they wish to thank the four fire departments
and everyone else who helped out during the fire. They noted that
Sisters' Restaurant in Linton and Wagner's Super Valu of Strasburg
provided food and beverages for the fire fighters and volunteers.
"Everybody banded together to do what they could," Bruce said.
"We appreciate it all."
Schumacher is a native of Long Lake, S.D., and he and Sam moved
to Strasburg from Bismarck where they lived for many years. Sam's
parents are Johanna (Reinbold) Vetter of Bismarck and the late Matt
Vetter. The Vetters lived in Linton, and they moved to Bismarck
when Sam was about six.
Bruce and Sam said about 20 wedding receptions and other events
were written in their schedule book, which was lost in the fire.
"We had events booked in 2001 and for the Strasburg Centennial
in 2002," Bruce said. He said the 20 events does not include those
that are held annually.
Dozens of townspeople watched the spectacle on Main Street from
a safe distance across the street, and strangers drove into town
off U.S. Highway 83 to find out the source of all the smoke they
could see from the highway.
There were tears among many of those present who grew up with
The Blue Room, which has been an institution in Strasburg since
it was built in about 1906. Several people mentioned that three
generations of their family had held their wedding receptions in
the historic building where Lawrence Welk, John Schwab, Mike Dosch,
Ray and The Ravens and other musicians performed over the years.
Imogene Schwab choked back tears when she told about her family's
Mike and Johanna Schneider noted the nostalgia their family members
have for The Blue Room. The Schneiders, two of their children and
Johanna's six brothers and sisters all had their wedding parties
at The Blue Room.
There are memories of the late accordionist John Schwab playing
"The Wedding March" as he and his band would lead a wedding party
across Main Street to The Blue Room.
Joe Kraft said Schwab and his band would entertain the older generation
at a hall on the north side of the street in the afternoon and then
lead the parade to The Blue Room for the evening celebration.
Joe's mother, Frances Kraft, and Lenny (Mrs. John) Schwab, were
cooks for countless wedding parties, and years ago wedding parties
included two meals. Those were the days when weddings were held
Kraft said he saw his first movie in The Blue Room in the early
1930s when it was owned by Ray Bichler and Matt "Badge" Fischer.
He said he watched westerns starring cowboy actors such as Gene
Autry and Roy Rogers.
He remembers when Badge pulled a trick on one of the town's authorities
on beer. The man claimed to be able to tell the difference between
Hamm's Beer and Grain Belt. He was proven wrong when Badge switched
the labels on two bottles of brew and served them to the expert.
He bragged about the quality of his favorite beer as he sipped from
the mislabeled bottle and said, "Now, this is a beer!" Then he was
told of the prank.
The Blue Room even had blue beverages from time to time. Kraft
said he remembers back in the days when liquor laws and their enforcement
were less strict when men would add blue food coloring to drinks
they mixed at their tables. He said the dye was added to sugar water
and then mixed with liquor.
Gary Keller assisted the Emmons County Record in gathering an overview
of The Blue Room's history.
It was built as a pool hall and bowling alley in about 1906 by
Ben Schneider. The next owner was Kasper B. Feist, who had it from
1910 until the fall of 1917 when Gregory Bichler bought it. Bichler
was the owner until September of 1929 when he sold it to his son,
Ray Bichler, and Matt Fischer.
Bichler and Fischer enlarged the building in 1933 or 1934 to accommodate
a large dance hall which was also used as a movie theater and roller
skating rink. The theater seats were on long boards, and they could
readily be slid to the side to open up the main floor. The theater
operated as the Mattray Theater.
The business was sold to Tony Gabriel and Ignatz Schaeffer in
1940. Gabriel sold out, and Fred Mattern joined Schaeffer in the
business until Mattern became sole owner in 1945. Mattern sold the
business to his son, Leo, who operated Mattern's Blue Room until
March of 1972 when John and Lil Schneider became the owners.
The Schneiders sold to Virgil and Pat Horner in July of 1975,
and the Horners ran the business until selling in January of 1993
to Jim and Lori Carlson. The Carlsons sold to Dave Scherr in July
of 1996, and he operated The Blue Room until selling to Schumacher
and Backer in June of 1998.
Reprinted with permission of the Emmons County Record.