All posts by Chris Leipfert

100 Years Ago in Whitehall 1886

In July Father Ethier’s band cleared $50 at an open air concert. This second concert of the summer finished enough money to pay for the erection of their bandstand and to buy some music. This was before the 1892 bandstand was erected on the east side of the canal and the church edifice was near the corner of Saunders Street and now Broadway.

 Doris B. Morton, Town Historian – The Whitehall Times – July 24, 1986

The Juvenile Cornet Band 1887

Whitehall, according to old programs and newspapers, has always had musical talent, Following a century-in-years tradition, Whitehall now has another band, that of the Whitehall School Alumni.

Back in December, 1887, on a Friday the Juvenile Cornet Band of Whitehall was organized by the Rev. J. S. Ethier, who was its director. The original group was composed of 16 boys but this number grew so rapidly that by its first anniversary there were 75 active members, ages 10-18 years. Others were taking lessons and would soon join them. The boys practiced three nights a week, Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays in the rectory of Notre Dame des Victoires on Wheeler Avenue. Father Ethier also gave private lessons for those who wanted to catch up. The boys practiced marches, chorals, quicksteps, waltzes, gallops, serenades, schottisches, gavottes, overtures, etc., besides the scales and exercises of Ripley, Collins and Samuels methods.

Father Ethier was the founder; conductor and patron of this Juvenile Cornet Band, At one time he himself owned 50 of the instruments. He copied by hand many of the pieces of music that each boy had mounted on cardboard in a book with his name imprinted. Father Ethier composed several of these pieces. He trained the boys in military evolutions to use while marching in the streets, practicing them in Temperance Hall. During the first year the band filled 36 engagements in and out of town.

Father Ethier was an artist, specializing in crayon portrait drawing. He advertised in the local papers for patronage, $15 for a framed product, the proceeds to be used for the benefit of the band. He bad spent $1500 himself on the band project, His stated philosophy was: “Music cultivates and elevates the minds of our young men, refines and moulds them into serious practical habits of gentlemanly life,”

At the close of the first year the temporary uniforms of the boys were worn out. There was only $130 in the uniform fund. To furnish enough to outfit the whole band it was decided to have a fair and festival about Christmas time in Griswold Hall. The chosen uniform was to be the colorful one of the Zouave type — short jacket, baggy blue or red trousers and tasseled cap or turban. An oil painting of one was displayed in the store windows preceding the fair and in the hall during it.

The fair and festival was held during Christmas Week in 1888, from Wednesday through Saturday of one week and repeated Thursday and Friday of the following one. Its attractions consisted of a concert every evening by the full band in which each boy was given an opportunity to show what he could do; an oyster supper; and a sale of articles donated by friends. One highlight each evening was an award by vote of some article given for that purpose. Some of these were gold pieces, lamps, silver and glass dishes, barrels of apples, crackers and flour. Evidently a gold watch was the cherished prize won by Louise Lortie who had only a few more votes than Maggie Nolan.

Patronage was excellent; the first Friday night was the biggest with 530 tickets being sold. The net profit was $923.90. Immediately a uniform committee was appointed, the clothes being ordered from G. S. Simmons & Co. in Boston at $15.50 each. They were worn for the first time when the band “turned out” on Washington’s Birthday anniversary, 1889. By this time the boys were practicing in their spacious rooms in Anthony Renois’ block.
During this year the Juvenile Cornet Band had been written up in papers of communities where they appeared like the Troy Catholic Weekly but more – notably in the national Harpers Weekly in an article entitled “The Military Band of the United States,” by Leon Mead.

Another fund raising affair was a musical and dramatical entertainment given in Music Hall at Easter time, 1889. Two French Comedies that had never been presented before in this country were produced by the boys — “The Departure for California” and “The Despair of Jacrisse.” The full house provided a net of $121.46 for the band. The evening ended with the Rev. Mr. McMiilan of the Episcopal leading three cheers and a tiger for Father Ethier and his band.

After Lent in 1890 the band gave a presentation of the French drama “Vildac” and a farce “The Two Blind Men” besides a repetition of 1889’s comedies accompanied by music from the orchestra formed from members of the band appearing for the first time.

For several years after this newspaper accounts list the activities of the Juvenile Cornet Band as it appeared in concerts, sponsoring excursions on the lake, leading parades and entertaining a field.

Could it be that there is still in existence ore of the photographs showing 78 members of he band and orchestra, including Rev. J. S. Ethier, the leader, and John Bellegarde, the drum major?

Doris B. Morton, Town Historian – The Whitehall Times – April 5, 1973

Bandstands in Whitehall 1892

Bandstands have been in evidence in Whitehall for nearly 100 years. The first one was built in 1892 (history in a previous article) by public subscription. It stood on North Williams street south of the old footbridge abut opposite the present marine hardware shop of Walter Newell Jr. For the first few years weekly summer concerts held large Audiences standing on the canal bridges.

The bandstand was built especially to accommodate the newly formed (December 1891) ninth Separate Company Military Band which was the principal band in earlier years. It participated in social functions and parades in neighboring communities. Many people recall the first bandstand that disappeared when the canal was moved eastward into Wood creek. The second bandstand stood in Riverside Park, erected on scaffolding that rose from the canal grass land to the east wall of the old canal. The date could be the 20’s to the 50’s. Memories of it are vague. Many recall there was a bandstand with a roof there and that as children they played on it. Before its appearance on special occasions in the park bands played on the deck of a boat anchored south of the middle bridge.

Early pictures of Riverside Park after this construction in 1914 through the efforts of village officials and the Civic League do not show a bandstand. Any pictures that might be copied or further recollections of its existence would be appreciated. I’ve been told that this second bandstand was condemned in the 1950’s and the third stand, a simple square slab surrounded by white board fencing, was made. For many years the Granville band, sponsored by the chamber of commerce played, on it the Fourth of July. This stand is being replaced by a replica of the stand of 1892, pictures of which are on display in the post office foyer.

This stand in progress is part of the project proposed by the Historical Society of Whitehall in 1979. It is a part of the early action portion of Whitehall’s Urban Cultural Park proposal. Land and water conservation funds are available for park improvement only. Therefore Whitehall’s grant proposal included picnic facilities and park benches for Skenesborough Museum Park and more park benches for Riverside Park. The fact that the stand is to be a replica of an 1892 bandstand to be in keeping with the Victorian buildings of the Main Street Historic district made it most desirable and caused the awarding of the grant.

Because the bandstand is the most visible part of the park improvement, the building of it had to come first, according to New York State Park and Recreation. Any federal grant is never more than 50 per cent matching which means that any amount of money awarded must be matched locally by cash or volunteer services. Proof of these expenditures must be made to the government before any government money can be received. Previous conjectures in The Whitehall Times are that the bandstand might cost between $14,000 and $20,000. Planned expenditures will be much lower. The Whitehall Urban Cultural Park Advisory committee has until December, 1983, to complete use of the grant money.

Doris B. Morton, Town Historian – The Whitehall Times – July 22, 1982