Historic ‘Happy Acres Hall’ In Alton Reopening As ‘Mad Moose Saloon & Smokehouse’
If you've ever had the occasion to drive through the town of Alton, chances are you've passed by the old "Happy Acres Hall" on Bennoch Rd.
Historically, the exact spot on the Bennoch Road where the Happy Acres building stands now has been, in one form or another, a saloon, dance hall, or bar since the 1800s.
According to a local website dedicated to the Happy Acres Hall,
"Happy Acres Hall first opened as The New Moon Pavilion on July 4, 1953. Throughout most of its 60-year history, the Hall has hosted live bands and dancing, and the Happy Acres stage has featured the greatest performers of the Central Maine region."
86-year-old Pat Clark, who lives right next door to the bar, owned the place for over 30 years. She's actually responsible for rebranding it as Happy Acres. When she was ready to retire, she sold it to Paul Schroeder, who took over for Clark and managed it till it closed a few years ago.
Shauna Morse, who grew up in the Alton area, remembers it being an old-fashioned bottle club and spending quite a bit of time inside the building when she was a kid.
"The business started as a BYOB; they only served the rudimentary things like hot dogs, chips, water, and popcorn, stuff that they didn't require a kitchen to cook with. It started as a $2 cover charge and before Pat was done, it ended at a $10 cover charge to pay for the live band."
Morse and her husband Billy had been talking recently about wanting to open a restaurant locally, and that's when she remembered her old favorite spot.
"My wife is actually the one who found it. She grew up here in the Bradford area. I'm originally from Tennessee. That's where I was born and raised. It's been a dream of mine to own my own restaurant. I've been a truck driver for the last 18 years. We've been kind of throwing the idea around about getting our restaurant up and running so I could get off the road. We were talking about getting a place along route 1, and my wife happened to be driving by Happy Acres one day."
"She's been going there since she was a little kid. Her mother and family used to bring her there when she was a little girl. She knew that it had been closed for a few years, so we reached out to Paul Schroeder, who was the owner, and worked out a deal with him to get it back up and going again. He'd had several offers from people wanting to turn it into different things, but nobody really wanted to turn it back into a bar or club, which that's what's always been on that property. There was actually a tavern on that property in 1838. And he wanted to keep that going. We told him what our dream was totally into that."
The Morses purchased the building this week and have big plans for the place.
They plan to open it as the Mad Moose Saloon & Smokehouse.
"He comes from a long line of amazing cooks," says Shauna.
"I've been smoking meats and stuff like that ever since I was a little kid. I don't like to reheat BBQ. It's literally going to be like I cook 50-60 lbs of chicken, pulled pork, and loin. And once it's gone, it's gone."
Morse says he's planning to source a majority of the ingredients locally.
"I can do something that I really enjoy, that I love...Seeing people smile off of food that I made, that's what makes me love getting up and going to work in the morning."
They'll have plenty of room for folks to spread out, as the over 7500 square foot building can hold just under 550 people.
"We just want to make it to where we're providing the best food and entertainment anywhere in the area. We'll have one of the largest dance floors in the state of Maine and we want to bring that back. This has been closed down since 2018, and we don't have anything else for entertainment in this area."
Along with live music and DJs, the couple says they will also be offering trivia nights and cribbage/game nights to give something to do.
The Morses say they actually don't plan to do much by way of renovations to the building.
"The only thing we're really going to be doing, as far as changing the place, is we're actually adding a bar. When we went to the town of Alton to tell them what we want to do, they called a meeting. It was originally that you could buy alcohol on the premises, but you couldn't consume it. When we told them what we wanted to do, they called a town meeting and the town overwhelmingly is showing us support, because they changed the rules to where we can and consume [Beer and spirits] on-premises."
Another nostalgic aspect of the building, according to the Happy Acres Hall website, is its ceiling tiles.
"Happy Acres is also famous for its ceiling, which is decorated with over 650 stenciled tiles. These tiles tell the story of the many people who have enjoyed Happy Acres over the years."
Morse says the inscribed ceiling tiles started as a kind of joke.
"The tiles were a way to make a few extra bucks to help pay for the maintenance of the building."
"There's a lot of history around the tiles. There are people that have passed that have tiles up there. We've even found some funny ones like people who aren't together anymore went and crossed out their names.
The Morse family says they are going to try to keep as many of the original tiles as possible intact when they reopen.
They also plan to keep Clark's original Happy Acres jacket, which still hangs in the office of the building, on-site and have extended to her an open invitation, and an honorary seat at the bar, for whenever she gets bored.
Billy and Shauna Morse say they are hoping to have the Mad Moose Saloon & Smokehouse open by November.