CLAYSBURG — Musselman’s Grove reopens this month, welcoming local artists to the stage once honored by Doc Williams and Grandpa Jones.
The entertainment venue nestled under the trees in Klahr has a rich history, but had fallen into disrepair, said Richard Allison of local history group Claysburg PAST, one of the organizers of the grand reopening celebration.
He, along with much of the community, is delighted that the Grove will host live music from 1 p.m. to 7 p.m. on June 25, for the first of what are hoped to be larger public events on the land along Lower Claar Road.
“There is so much history and so many artists who have gone to the Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville,” he said.
Despite its rich history, improving the Grove took a lot of work and has been an ongoing project since Jarrett and Ashley Musselman purchased the property in 2019.
The two often walked past, Ashley said.
“It was dilapidated because nobody took care of it” she added.
Because Jarrett’s family had many fond memories of the grove and spoke of the performers and large crowds, the duo decided to do something about his condition before it was gone forever.
“We thought it would be great to bring it back to the community for music and gatherings,” she says. “It’s so cool to think that 10,000 people once congregated here.”
They had their work cut out for them, however, after 30 years of neglect, parts of the stage had collapsed and planks from the cook’s hut had fallen off, Ashley said. There were also lots of trees and brush to clear from the terrain.
The renovations took two years and included the replacement of outbuildings with new toilets. The stage has been rebuilt and the kitchen hut has been renovated with a full new kitchen. There are now changing rooms, a ceremony site for weddings and parking. In fact, a wedding took place on the grounds on Saturday.
“They did a spectacular job” Allison said of the work on the site. “We owe them a tremendous debt of gratitude for bringing a piece of Claysburg history to life.”
Ashley said she and Jarrett spoke with a couple who met at The Grove and had been married for 75 years.
“They came back and were so happy to see him live again,” she says.
Ashley thinks bringing Musselman’s Grove back shows the community continues to grow.
“There are still people who want to see it flourish, and want to shed a positive light,” she says.
Musselman’s Grove was at its peak in the 1940s and 1950s, according to information compiled by the Claysburg PAST group.
Traffic would get so heavy on Route 220 coming to Musselman’s Grove that it would cause a traffic jam, and driving up the Klahr Valley during an event was a traffic jam in itself.
But, before it became known for its music, Musselman’s Grove hosted the annual Claar-Walter meeting, which began meeting in 1901.
This annual meeting is credited with bringing entertainment, like Grandpa Jones.
It was Doc Williams, however, who put the Grove on the map and brought in country music stars, Allison said.
Williams rented the property, and he, along with members of the community, added a stage and kitchen hut.
Cinder blocks and tree trunks topped with plank slabs were used for seating.
Records show Williams rented the property for three consecutive years from 1947 to 1949, then sporadically until the early 1970s.
Shows at the Grove were held on Sundays, something almost unheard of at the time due to blue laws, Allison said, but Williams asked Klahr’s Smokey Run Rod and Gun Club to co-sponsor shows.
“The nearby churches were quite strict but Doc Williams was able to persuade them as it was a non-profit organization and the shows provided income for the local people,” he added.
Allison said Williams chose Sundays for the broadcasts because he performed on WWVA radio in Wheeling, W.Va., on Saturdays.
Shows at the Grove started at 1:30 p.m., lasted for hours and drew crowds of 5,000 or more, he said.
“People would just go to great entertainment venues,” Allison said.
Local performers included comedian Smokey Pleacher, who was born in Manns Choice but moved to Claysburg as a child, Jim and Jane Claar, Duggie Potter and the Green Mountain Boys.
These local celebrities shared the stage with big names such as Roy Acuff, Big Slim and his horse, the Carter family with Mother Maybelle Carter and her sister and brother, the Sons of the Pioneers, the Chuckwagon Gang, Anita Carter and the daughters of the Carter family. with Hank Snow, Stoney and Wilma Lee Cooper and Johnny Mack Brown.
Additionally, Little Jimmy Dickens, Minnie Pearl, Smiley Burnette, Ken Curtis, Tex Ritter and his horse and Bill Monroe and the Blue Grass Boys are known to have played at The Grove, as well as Cowboy Copas, Ernest Tubb, Crazy Elmer, Eddy Arnold , Mother Maybelle Carter and her three daughters Helen, Anita and June, who married Johnny Cash. Connie Smith made her debut at The Grove.
But it was the Lulu Belle and Scotty show on Sept. 21, 1947, that drew the biggest crowd, according to the history group, with 8,600 paying spectators and thousands more coming for free.
It was reported that Williams said that if everyone had attended the show, it would have exceeded 20,000 people in attendance. People were climbing to the tops of trees and the tops of buildings and automobiles to view the spectacle, according to reports.
All that and the Grove ran with just two megaphone-style speakers hanging from two poles.
Musselman’s Grove’s last show was on September 9, 1973. The reunion show featured Smokey Pleacher, with much of the proceeds going to help build the Claysburg Little League grounds.
The grove was then used sporadically and slowly deteriorated.
Go down in history
In 1959, “Squire” The magazine featured Musselman’s Grove in a spread on the popularity of country music.
There is some humor in the play, as the magazine article noted that the grove was frequented by silently approving Amish. Instead, these people were actually members of the Upper and Lower Claar Church of the Brethren in their drab, black attire at the time, the history group reported.
Still, “Musselman’s Grove being in Esquire magazine was a big deal,” Allison said.
It’s that thrill of knowing they’re going to make history and follow in the footsteps of some great musicians who have local talent lined up for the show – for free.
“Some of them have happened here before and the new ones want to follow in the footsteps of the greats who came before them,” Allison said.
Scheduled gigs are Ben Housel, Jame Grove, Cindy “Kassy” Finnegan Foor, Donnie Sell, Marty Walters, Ride the Song, 3 Chords & the Truth, Stephanie and the Wild Hearts, Bullscreek Rocks, Mountain City Grass, the Potter Family and the Claysburg Community Chorus.
In addition to music, there will be storytelling highlighting the history of the grove.
For the older generation who remembers the location in its heyday, Allison said bringing Musselman’s Grove back will give many people the opportunity to return to their childhood memories.
For the younger ones, Ashley Musselman said “We want people to still make memories there.”
Mirror Writer Cati Keith can be reached at 814-946-7535.