The Hoover Houses and Community Structures
Historic Structures Report
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A. Significance

Although Herbert Hoover would have seen the Bandstand only once in his life, he was familiar with the Cornet Band and the town pump. The Bandstand and the Saturday night concerts were symbolic of the way of life in midwestern towns during the last third of the nineteenth century and for the first third of this century. The West Branch Bandstand, because of its unusual design, was intimately associated with Herbert Hoover's hometown.

B. Structural History

1. The Town Pump and the Cornet Band

West Branch from the early 1870s had a town well and pump, located in the southwest quadrant of the intersection of Main and Downey streets. Herbert Hoover and his playmates would have been familiar with the town pump. In the third week of May 1884, three months after the death of Huldah Hoover, the Town Council purchased from Gruwell & Sons a Gould & Astor force pump for the village well. [1] This well, it was pointed out, was "handy to all the business houses and the hitching racks." [2]

Hoover and his friends also loved the town band. In the early 1870s a community band had been organized. Known as the "Cornet Band," the men dressed in "elaborate uniforms, coats with gold braid and epaulettes, and nifty caps with brilliant feather plumes." The band played for weddings, picnics, and occasionally for funerals. [3]

2. The Construction of the Bandstand

To W. W. Gruwell, editor of the West Branch Local Record, belongs credit for initiating the proposal to construct a bandstand at the town well. On July 28, 1887, he wrote:

Wonder if the Town Council could be persuaded to build an awning over the street well and fix up a platform . . . large enough to hold the town band; it would make a nice cool shade for the pump, and the band would serenade the town every Saturday evening free gratis. [4]

No action was taken to implement Editor Gruwell's suggestion until the summer of 1889, when a number of citizens decided that West Branch needed a community bandstand. A petition was circulated and presented to the Town Council on August 5, requesting an appropriation "to build a bandstand over the town well." Councilman J. W. Witter's motion to grant the petition was defeated by a vote of four to one. [5]

This vote prevented construction of a community bandstand until the summer of 1895. Meanwhile steps had been taken in the spring of 1892 to rehabilitate the town well. At that time an investigation shoved 15 feet of water standing in the well, and the Gould & Astor pump out of order. To relieve this situation, the depth of the well was increased from 17 to 27 feet. It was then walled by brick, laid in concrete mortar, and covered with a double-plank platform, eight-foot square. A new iron force pump was installed. The total cost of these improvements was $70. [6]

In the late spring or summer of 1895, the Town Council reversed itself and voted funds for construction of a Bandstand at the town well. Unfortunately, the Minute Books of the Town Council for this period are missing, so it is impossible to document the proceedings that led to authorization to begin construction and the expenses involved.

The Bandstand was completed in mid-August 1895, and the Cornet Band gave its first concert from it on the 17th. Members of the band told the editor of the West Branch Times that they liked the structure. [7]

3. Band Concerts, 1908-11

In January 1908 the West Branch Band was reorganized, and practice sessions commenced under the direction of George W. McLarand. The bandmaster was beginning his second year, and the citizens agreed that there had been a marked improvement in the performance of the band in 1907 over the previous year. Hopes were high that the band would continue to improve, and the town during the coming season would have a first class band. After a few more practices, the band planned to give a concert, the proceeds to be used to defray their expenses. [8]

There were a number of unforeseen difficulties, however, and it was Saturday evening, June 6, before the band gave its opening concert of the season. A large crowd was on hand, and all agreed that it was "an extra good program." [9] Throughout the summer, on Saturday nights, the concerts continued before enthusiastic audiences.

In 1909 there was a new bandmaster—J. A. Heacock. The summer's first concert was on Saturday night, June 19, and it drew a large crowd, "who expressed themselves as well pleased with the music." The boys, as yet, had not had much practice, but they believed they would soon regain their "old-time proficiency." [10]

The Saturday evening concert on July 10 was unusually well attended—the largest crowd of the season. Main and Downey streets were jammed with teams and horseless carriages, while the benches provided by the merchants were filled, and many in the audience had to stand. [11]

In 1910 the Bandstand was in use every Saturday evening during the summer, but by early spring of 1911 it seemed for several weeks that interest in the Cornet Band had lagged, and there might be no summer concerts. A plea for funds was made in late April, and enough money pledged to assure the bandsmen of the wherewithal to meet their expenses for uniforms and to pay a bandmaster. The editor of the West Branch Times therefore informed his readers on May 11 that the "usual Saturday evening concerts will be resumed to the satisfaction of the people who enjoy an evening of music at least once a week." [12]

The year's first concert was on Saturday evening, May 20. Among the numbers played were "Alamosa," a quickstep; "Mountain Echo," a waltz; "Lillie," a polka; "Glen Rose," a waltz; "Ladies' Band," an overture; "Silverton," a quickstep; "The Queen," a serenade; "Third Battalion," a march; "White Rose," a three-step; and "Castle Rock," a quickstep. [13]

With more and more cars being purchased by Springdale Township residents, the concerts drew record crowds. The concert on the evening of June 11 was especially successful. The business district was jammed with people. There were 28 automobiles "curbed at one time and all available hitching room . . . occupied." Many of the listeners sat in their rigs throughout the concert. When he described the activities in a column of the West Branch Times, the editor observed, "These Saturday evening gatherings have a social value seldom attributed to them. Much praise is due the band boys who are improving rapidly." [14]

The Saturday evening concerts were equally popular with the West Branch merchants. Their stores remained open several hours after the band had ceased playing, and with many farm families in town they were busy waiting on customers. [15]

4. The Removal of the Bandstand

On June 1, 1912, the Cornet Band entered on a new season, its last in the handsome Bandstand. The merchants, realizing that the concerts were a magnet which pulled large crowds into town on summer Saturday nights, had agreed to underwrite the expenses of the band. A new bandmaster, E. E. McElhinney of the 53d Regimental Band of Cedar Rapids, was employed to "instruct the boys and we hope in time to have a band that all should be proud of." McElhinney had held several practices, and the bandsmen were working hard.

Editor Frank Corbin of the West Branch Times asked his subscribers to "help the boys by speaking a good word or giving a little money." They should become band boosters, not knockers. [16]

Before the last day of June 1912, the Bandstand was no more. The decision by the Town Council to remove the structure was triggered by traffic congestion at the intersection caused by the increased popularity of automobiles. In addition, a runaway had raised fears for the structure's stability. At one of the concerts, an automobile had backfired causing a team hitched to a buggy on Oliphant Street to stampede. Turning east into Main Street, the team and buggy thundered toward the Bandstand. Pedestrians scattered as the band played on. The runaway entered the intersection, and as the buggy careened past the Bandstand, the right rear wheel struck the northwest support post. The wheel was torn off, and the Bandstand trembled. For a few anxious moments, it seemed to the bandsmen and onlookers that the structure was about to collapse. The stand soon ceased teetering; the team and battered buggy were corraled near the depot; and the crisis had passed. Many of the younger boys in the crowd now made sport of the bandsmen's momentary fright. [17]

When the Bandstand was taken down, Dr. Milo W. Munger purchased the structure, had it moved, and, after the legs were cut off, the upper portion was positioned in his back yard and used as a gazebo. Time and weather took its toll, and the gazebo-bandstand was eventually dismantled. [18]

Following the removal of the Bandstand and the town pump, the Town Council raised the town automobile speed limit from 10 to 15 miles per hour. In commenting on these changes, Editor Corbin wrote, "any autoist caught turning a corner without tooting his horn will be punished by being slapped on the wrist." With the Bandstand gone and the town well filled up, it was pointed out that the many West Branchers currently living in California, and, recalling the "cool, refreshing drinks they used to get from the well," could "content themselves with the thought that the town boasts a sanitary drinking fountain that can quench their thirst." [19]

Apparently, the street commissioner did not effectively fill in the well. On Monday, July 21, 1913, Port Scellers' big Port Huron traction engine, as it chugged up Downey Street, broke through into the old well. The huge engine passed on without getting stuck in the cave-in, but it left an immense hole which had to be filled.

Editor Corbin, on reporting the incident, criticised, "such a place as an old well should be covered over with a cement arch that would never give way, especially when located in a street." [20]

The removal of the Bandstand did not end the Saturday evening concerts by the Cornet Band. A mobile bandstand was built. Hereafter whenever a concert was scheduled, it was positioned near the intersection of Main and Downey streets. After the concert, the chairs were removed from the stand, and it was towed back to the shed, where it was stored when not in use.

The community concerts, on Saturday summer evenings, were continued, except when suspended for World Wars I and II, until the 1950s. They were then abandoned because the local people no longer turned out in large numbers, preferring to stay at home and watch television or go to drive-in movies. [21]

C. Photographs of the Bandstand

Because of its popularity, the Bandstand was much photographed. These photographs document its appearance. A number of these photographs are in this report.

1. Circa 1909 Photograph of West Elevation

This photograph, made in the spring, provides construction details of the wainscoting, red cedar foundation posts, 8 x 8 support posts, brackets, and shingles. The viewer's attention is called to the iron force pump, well, and wooden platform.

2. Circa 1910 Photograph of East Elevation

The subject photograph provides construction details of the wainscoting, red cedar foundation posts, 8 x 8 support posts, brackets, shingles, and flagstaff. In addition to the iron force pump, well, and wooden platform, is the tin drinking cup.

3. Circa 1900 Photograph of East and South Elevations

The subject photograph provides construction details of the wainscoting, red cedar foundation posts, 8 x 8 support posts, brackets, shingles, and flagstaff. This photograph was made in the winter after a snow storm.

4. Circa 1908 Photograph of North Elevation

This photograph documents the flagstaff, well platform, and color scheme.

D. Recollections of Details not Shown in Historic Photographs

Glenn Brown recalls that the foundation of the Bandstand was four red cedar posts buried in the ground. The 8 x 8s supporting the stand were bolted to the cedar posts.

Members of the band gained access to the stand by a ladder and trapdoor. The ladder was hinged, and when not in use was folded against the trapdoor in the floor of the stand.

The bench on which members of the band sat was a 1 x 12.

Brown recalls that the Bandstand was painted cream, with a dark green trim, and that a United States flag may have flown on special occasions from the flagstaff. [22]

Mrs. Golda Gruwell recalled that the Bandstand was painted yellow and trimmed in green. [23]

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Last Updated: 28-Jul-2006