From Small Start, Bowling Now Big

The sport of bowling in Hibbing goes back to some of the town’s earliest years. Here, men bowl in North Hibbing’s Ryan Hotel around 1910. Could one of them be Charlie Shubat?

Hibbing has a long history of recreational opportunities. Looking into files at the Historical Society or reading through old newspapers, it’s easy to find information about all sorts of pastimes Hibbingites enjoyed. Whether it was community theatre or basketball leagues or H.A.M. radio clubs or ski jumping, people in Hibbing found ways to have fun.

One of the oldest of these pastimes was bowling.

The following article is taken from the Hibbing Daily Tribune in approximately 1968. The author is not identified.

Charles Shubat, a focus of this article, was born in Slovenia, later a part of Yugoslavia and now an independent nation. At the time of Charlie’s birth in 1885, it was a part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and so many of the immigrants from there were listed as being “Austrian”. After immigrating with an uncle to Canada at age 13, he arrived in Hibbing at the beginning of the 20th Century. His first job here was at the Rust Mine. He watched Hibbing grow, move, and grow some more. He helped it grow by, among other business and civic work, developing a local transportation company that still is in operation today. He passed away in 1979.

Some readers might recall that among the many, many bowlers in Hibbing over the years was a teen-ager named Robert Zimmerman. He bowled on a team called “The Gutter Boys”!

I really enjoyed the details of Hibbing’s bowling history that this article pulls together and I hope that readers, even if they are not bowlers, will enjoy it, too!

~ Mary Palcich Keyes

When beer was a nickel and the lunch was free, Charles M. (Charlie) Shubat started bowling in Hibbing. That was in 1907-08 on alleys in a basement of a building on Pine Street.

Today, 60 years later, Charlie is still an avid bowler and holds a lifetime bowling average of around 180.

Charlie says he learned to bowl in Austria, when he was a boy. He says at that time, the bowling alley was outside. There was a level sandy area, with a plank to roll the ball on. He remembers that there were only nine pins to knock down at that time.

The tenth pin was added to the game here in America. When bowling went indoors, it gained a bad reputation. The pool halls also housed the bowling alleys at that time and rough characters were known to frequent them.

In Connecticut, a law was passed forbidding the playing of the game of “Nine Pins”. Consequently, the tenth pin was added to get around the law, he says.

He remembers bowling in the Colonial Pool Hall and Bowling Alley in North Hibbing. At first, there were only two lanes in the alley, and bowlers waited their turn at the game. The early bowling alleys in Hibbing were known to operate night and day, to fill the demand for the sport.

Charlie was later a partner in a bowling alley in the Ryan Hotel in North Hibbing. Together with Paul Maras and a liquor salesman named Swanee, Shubat made the business flourish.

Whenever he wasn’t driving his bus to the mining locations, Charlie could often be found bowling to keep his average up. By this time, North Hibbing was the town of 60 saloons, and patrons from nearby towns would come to the bowling alley to sing, watch the experts bowl, and try their hand at the sport.

Five alleys were installed at the Ryan Hotel in 1911 (see photo) and then they were switched to the basement of the Oliver Hotel in 1912-13.

Alleys made their first appearance in South Hibbing in the winter of 1920-21 at Roth’s Pool Hall.

The Village of Hibbing purchased the Roth alleys and put them into the Memorial Building (see photo), and that started the modern day bowling boom. In 1941 and 1942, two privately owned setups, each with multiple alleys, opened up in downtown Hibbing and did flourishing business with hundreds of participants and about 50 leagues operating.

Village-owned alleys were later closed and only the eight-alley Brunswick Bowling Center — now the Hibbing Bowling Center — remained. The Bowling Center site was switched, however, from First Avenue and Howard Street to Fifth Avenue north of Howard Street.

In recent years, Suburban Lanes, a 16-alley establishment, opened on Highway 37 at the southern end of the village limits, providing Hibbing with a total of 24 alleys.

Charlie Shubat applauds the game as one of the greatest things that happened to mankind. He has won many bowling championships throughout the years and has a mantle full of trophies to prove it. One that he is most proud of is a gold medal on a red ribbon. As close as he can remember, he won it around 1911 at an international bowling tournament that was held in Duluth.

Shubat has been president of the Minnesota Bowling Association, the Hibbing Bowling Association, has won the coveted top Elk’s Bowler Award, and has sponsored many bowling teams.

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