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article number 154
article date 08-16-2012
copyright 2012 by Author else SaltOfAmerica
1890’s Small Town Entertainment: Buy an Instrument and Join a Band.
by Myrta Grace Paugh and Others.

EDITORS NOTE: This article contains two sections, one about Deland Illinois’ bands, the other about Arthur Illinois’ bands.

DeLand Illinois Article

From the book, Biggest Little Town on Earth. DeLand Illinois Centennial, 1873 – 1973. by Myrta Grace Paugh


DeLand has always been a musical town. This is shown by the bands and choral societies that have dominated its history. The early churches all had choirs and used them constantly for entertainments as well as church services.

Musical entertainment was of ten brought in from the outside such as the Coly Brothers of Clinton who gave an enjoyable entertainment at the school in 1876. And music has been a feature of most of the organizations meetings.

The music club has been mentioned. Its purpose was to further the use of music in the community.

There may have been musical instruments in DeLand before 1877, but they must not have been common, as the purchase of an organ by R. B. Moody was deemed important enough to report in the county paper. Subsequently several others were reported as having bought organs and it was reported that one lady had bought some sheet music!

As time went on, other instruments appeared. The piano took the place of organs. The Edison phonograph was invented and was all the rage. And then came the Victrola and the record concerts to which the guests were expected to listen (and not visit with each other until the concert was over.)

DeLand Band about the turn of the 20th century.

Professor Cushman organized a singing school in 1877, and there were others who conducted such schools from time to time.

D. B. Troxel became noted for the concerts, musical plays and cantatas which he put on when fifty or sixty took part. He encouraged anyone who had any musical talent to take part and everyone enjoyed singing in his choruses.

And then there was the band! Bands came and went through the 1880’s and 90’s and into the twentieth century. Until the township High School was formed, and an excellent school band, built up by Harry Merry took their place. The first mention of a band was in 1882 when a cornet band was organized. Sometimes it was spoken of as “DeLand’s Brass Band.”

The DeLand Cornet Band assisted by Miss May Murphy as soloist and pianist, plus the best of DeLand’s local talent gave a benefit concert.” (Miss Murphy was from Monticello.)

“1883 --- Our brass band ‘bowed’ at Farmer City for the 4th.” “Some new members have been added to the band. Now we shall hear the variations in time and tune incidental to such a change. But the boys must have a chance for impovement.”

In that same year, the band boys had a weight supper at Kirker and Porter’s new elevator. The receipts of over $70 was used to employ a competent instructor. In 1885, the band underwent reorganization.

Band practicing marching.

Several were going out of it and several coming in which checked its progress for awhile. The band played at all important local social occasions and at neighboring towns for special events. They gave strawberry festivals and other affairs to make money for new instruments from time to time.

On July 7, 1900 they gave an open air concert in their new suits and their new band wagon. They became a marching band and took part in a Republican parade at Monticello. Arthur Verner, the high school principal engineered this.

In 1902, the business men sponsored open air concerts during the summer. We have a picture of this band under the leadership of Thomas McMillen. The members and their instruments were: McMillen, cornet; M.F.McMillen, baritone; D.Barnes, clarinet; C.L.Gilmore, cornet; C.Harshbarger, tuba; T.M.McConkey and E.Summers, slide trombones; Cooper Bowsher and Ed Leischner, altos; J.W.Gessford, slide trombone.

“May 16, 1902 - - - if any musical tune, turn-tam-turn sound reaches your ears, just consider that it’s Will Haggard in the tinshop practicing as new bass drummer of our band.”

In October, the Farmer City Journal, after the band played for an old soldiers reunion there, reported: The DeLand band is a very clever organization and its playing was highly complimented. With a little strengthening in the cornet section, the boys could hold their own with the best country bands.


For a little while after this band gave up the struggle, DeLand did not have a band, but about 1914 or 15, a band of over 30 pieces was organized. W.E. Leischner was president of the organization; R. J. Murphy, Secretary and treasurer; E.T. McMillen, manager and Harry Merry, leader. This band grew in number until there were around 55 members and it played for all local events and many events in the surrounding communities for a number of years.

The comment of the editor on the first practice of the band was not complimentary. It read thus: “Most of the members were able to make some kind of noise and at the first practice, they made some noise. It really sounded like music until the clarinet section broke loose with some 16 clarinets crackling, sputtering and squeaking. However, the instructor, who had given 15 lessons during the day, and others said that it was fine for the first time. Maybe it was!’

DeLand Illinois Band in 1916.

But all the boys (and some girls) in the bands learned to play well and for several years we had summer band concerts on Thursday nights. Miss Nellye Motherspaw, who had a beautiful soprano voice, was their soloist and the band gained considerable fame. World War I put a crimp in their playing as many of its members left for the army. But there were enough of them left to send the boys off with the band playing. By 1925, the band had nearly disbanded because of lack of interest, but was revived enough to have concerts that summer.

At the community picnic that year, the Legion who had put on the picnic, gave the band a banquet in honor of their ten years of service. After that, the High School band was depended on for music for special occasions.

Arthur Illinois Article

From the 1973 Book, History of Arthur Illinois, 1873-1973.

Before the beginning of the twentieth century, each town had to have a band of their own, and the butcher, baker and the candlestick maker were all members. Every citizen bragged about his hometown band and followed wherever it went.


Arthur’s first band was organized in 1877 and called the “VonLanken’s Band.” The members were George Von Lanken, Henry Moler, W.A. Dawson, Gilbert Maddox, J.W. Barrum, Ed. George, A.D. Sears, Tittle Warren, John Warren, and Charlie and Frank Hunsaker. Later it was known as the “Arthur Merchants Band” and Dr. O.C. Bruce was the director of it for many years.

Sam Corbett, Dick Warren, Ned Hunsaker, Epp Fleming, John Warren, John Williamson, A.D. Sears, C.C. Bruce, Harry P. Campbell, Marion Watson, Frank Warren, Al McQuire, A.F. Warren, Frank Hunsaker, Chick Barrum.
Arthur Band of 1902, conductor O.C. Bruce. Harry Campbell, Frank Warren, Marion Watson, Geo. L. Conn, Orville Makepeace, Geo. Corbett, Chick Bar rum, Ola Fleming. Tuba-Epps Fleming, Lewis Winings, Jack Bassett, Whoopy Fleming, Earl Powell, Ora F. Warren, in front of Arthur Trust and Savings Bank.

In 1910, concern was shown in the newspaper Graphic, that Arthur didn’t have a band to play for such occasions as Decoration Day, Fourth of July, and other occasions. This was in the period between the disbanding of the Arthur Merchant Band and the formation of the High School band. By 1920 all High Schools had to have a band and Arthur had a good one winning state and national prizes. The director during that term was H.D. Darling. Francis Stevens was the star, though, and he spent his life after high school as one of the players in the United States Marine Band in Washington, D.C.

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