"The Shanty"
Dancehall in the Helena Valley
Owned and Operated by the Synness Family

1932 - ca.1962

Special thanks to Floy Nicholson

North Montana Ave. and the Lincoln Road West
Current Location of Bob's Valley Market


The Shanty was a very popular venue for dancing, special occasions, and club meetings.

Bob's Valley Market and Sinclair gas, 7507 N. Montana Avenue, today occupy the site that included both Shanty dancehalls, the Isham Valley Service station, and the original Lloyd Synness home.

For a brief history of the talented and industrious Synness family in Helena, please click the image below to open a PDF file, selected from the book "Valleys of the Prickly Pear".



The "Little Shanty"
Opened for Public and Private Dances in 1932

Pictured outside the Little Shanty are Lloyd Synness (1900-1978) and his daughter, Mary Lou. Even though the country was in the grip of the Great Depression, this modest venue became so popular that in, 1934 Lloyd and his wife Frances built the larger Shanty, which opened on February 14, 1935.


The Synness Orchestra

The Synness Orchestra -- Frances, Lloyd, and Mary Lou.

 Other musicians added to the Synness Orchestra, and occasional set ins, included:  Horns, Roy Burnett, Jim Carden (Lloyd’s cousin).   Guitar, Blackie Nelson.  Piano, Jackie Horner, Mary Lou and Floy Synness,  Tony Nelson.   Drums, Smitty, Mary Lou Synness.

Ticket sellers, Dee Burnett, Floy Synness.  Doorman ticket takers, Sam Ingersoll, Al Royston, Chub Munger, Clarence Deal.

"Shanty Dancehall doormen ticket takers were most often deputized and titled 'Bouncers' to maintain good order.  -- Floy Nicholson



The Larger Shanty Under Construction, 1934

When the larger Shanty was completed, the first Shanty became the family home.

The men's and women's outhouses for the new, large Shanty were constructed by the Works Progress Administration (WPA).

Until the late 1930's electricity service was only as far North on Montana Avenue as the Masonic Home Road, then east to the Masonic Home. Lloyd Synness and neighbor Vince McCarth,y residing at the Valley Farm Ranch, extended the power.


Interior View of the Shanty, Feb. 1 1935
Click on image to enlarge in a new window


The occasion was the 25th wedding anniversary of Wilfred (Fred) Salvas and Elsie Parent Salvas. Widowed in 1943, Elsie bought the Log Cabin Grocery on Broadway in Helena in 1946, and operated it until 1977.

The Shanty hosted numerous fundraisers and community events over the decades.

The Shanty and the 1935 Earthquakes
Floy Nicholson

On October 18th, 1935, Helena experienced a powerful earthquake, creating devastating destruction and panic. On that night, the Shanty was in full swing, with people dancing and enjoying the music. When the earthquake hit, the shaking was so severe that it was nearly impossible to walk through a doorway.

Lighting for the hall was provided by three large gasoline lanterns hanging from the ceiling on large hooks. The quake motion commenced the lanterns to swing back and forth to the open side of the hook. Brave young men stood underneath, prepared to attempt catching them if they dropped, preventing and explosion and fire. There was a sigh of relief when they were removed intact.

After the Shanty was vacated, Lloyd gathered the family in the car and headed for the nearby Deaconess School, fearful of what he might find. Happily the House Mothers had the children in the gazebos on the school grounds, singing "God Will Take Care Of You".

Aftershocks of the quake could still be heard. Brave neighborhood men entered the shaking five story building, and threw out mattresses and bedding which were loaded onto farm trucks, and soon, together with the children, arrived at the Shanty Dancehall where they lived until housing was obtained at the Salvail mansion on Madison Avenue in Helena.

The Deaconess School (former Wesleyan University)
North Montana Avenue at Sierra Road
Before and After the 1935 Earthquakes


"New Years Eve Dances were extremely well attended to the point people had to leave so others could get in." - Floy Nicholson

Local clubs routinely served a "midnight lunch" to patrons for a small additional fee:

"Lloyd and Francis would leave the bandstand go to the kitchen and serve a 35 cent lunch, ground meat sandwich, a date bar cookie from John Smovir’s Barker Bakery on Rodney Street and a tin cup of coffee." -- Floy Nicholson

Bob Bartmess Purchases the Shanty, 1962
1996 Independent Record Clipping


The Shanty Being Moved, 1996
Independent Record Photos

The 1934 Shanty building now serves as a private residence at 7640 Bartmess Drive, about 1.5 miles from its original location.