Town bands source of community pride
“Everybody loves a band. The most crass human you or anybody else can think of, perceptually and involuntarily hits a stride or reacts to the rhythm in some manner when a band begins to play “ — it intoxicates the brain, permeates the body and cajoles the feet into all sorts of odd gyrations.”
— Edward Dougherty, The Morning Press, East Stroudsburg, July 25, 1923
By Amy Leiser, Executive Director
Monroe County Historical Association
In 1851, a small group of organized men held a band concert at Courthouse Square in downtown Stroudsburg. Led by J.A. Miller, members of this small group played the trumpet, trombone, French horn and a cornopean, entertaining the crowd with a selection of marches, polkas and waltzes.
The performance was so grand that many young men who heard the concert were inspired to form their own bands. Five years after the concert at the courthouse, what started off as a small group grew in size, became better organized and called themselves the Stroudsburg Cornet Band.
William H. Wolf became the director, and by 1859, the Stroudsburg Cornet Band was in great demand. The group performed at many venues, including the Kittatinny House and Brainerd House in Delaware Water Gap and “picnics, parades, and public meetings” across the county.
The start of the Civil War in 1861 saw a major decline in area bands; many men enlisted in the Army, some of them serving in military bands. Military bands were important; they assisted in drilling practices, provided a morale boost to the other soldiers, and, of course, were instrumental in providing military signals on the battlefield.
When the Civil War ended and the men came home, the interest in town bands was renewed. The Stroudsburg Cornet Band immediately reorganized itself in 1866.
Throughout the last quarter of the 20th century, town bands flourished. Almost every village in Monroe County boasted its own town band. It didn’t matter if the band was large or small or if the members had matching uniforms or not — every village supported its local musicians.
The year 1885 boasted the highest number of town bands in Monroe County. Brodheadsville had the Monroe Band, while Shawnee had the Sunrise Band. The Kunkletown Band held a festival in 1887, and the Fennersville’s (Sciota) Band consisted of 12 musicians.
In 1889, Delaware Water Gap boasted a 25-piece brass band. The Tobyhanna Cornet Band and the Marshalls Creek Band entertained hundreds of people, while the Hamilton Cornet Band was often found playing at church picnics and carnivals. The Musical Mountaineers Cornet Band of Spragueville (Analomink) and the Effort Band were featured in local newspapers.
Sunday school picnics were in need of entertainment, and Paradise Valley Sunday School hired the East Stroudsburg Cornet Band to play at Setzer’s Grove in 1887.
Bands were also hired to enliven political rallies and demonstrations. In 1888, the Glenwood Hall Band of Tannersville performed for the Tannersville Republicans at a dinner in the Indian Queen Hotel in Stroudsburg to celebrate the victory of Republican Benjamin Harrison over Grover Cleveland.
This interest in community bands continued into the 20th century. The East Stroudsburg Military Band was formed in 1905. It was a popular group that performed at venues across state lines, including north into upstate New York and south into Maryland. Support for such bands had spread across the nation.
In 1912, John Philip Sousa and his band held a concert at the Castle Inn Music Hall in Delaware Water Gap. Sousa (1854-1932) was a legendary composer and conductor who began leading his band in 1892. Sousa and his band toured the country for 40 years. He composed 136 marches, with “Stars and Stripes Forever” being his most famous. That march was so popular that in 1987, by an act of Congress, Sousa’s march was declared the National March of the United States.
The Aug. 23, 1912, edition of the Stroudsburg Daily Times included a summary of Sousa’s concert in Delaware Water Gap: .H. Graves, manager of Castle Inn Music Hall, cannot be commended too highly for his enterprise in affording its patrons so rare a treat, and the success of the venture is a like complement to the 875 persons who came from all directions to hear the wonderful concert.
By the 1920s, the popularity of town bands began to fade, as they began to compete with other forms of entertainment including the radio, phonograph, motion pictures and even automobiles.
While town bands are almost unheard of today, the citizens of Monroe County still enjoy all types and styles of music, including music performed by local bands. There are various music festivals and concerts held throughout Monroe County all year long.