This is a blog about music, photography, history, and culture.
These are photographs from my collection that tell a story about lost time and forgotten music.

Mike Brubaker
{ Click on the image to expand the photo }

The Starbuck Cornet Band

12 March 2011

On first glance, the Starbuck Cornet Band of Starbuck, Minnesota would seem to be a band from the big city given the number of musicians. But in fact it is a very small village in central Minnesota on the western edge of Lake Minnewaska. This 1909 photo postcard of the band in a less common montage style, was produced by photographing a grouping of 7 photos mounted on a larger hand decorated display. With five tubas and nine other low brass, they must have made a pretty strong impression in concert.

In the center is the band leader, Prof. Charles A. Townsend, holding a cornet that, despite the low clarity, shows off some elegant engraving. A search of the internet produced a nearly identical montage photo of the Starbuck Band used as a promotional card for the C. G.Conn Company of Elkhart, Indiana. Prof. C.A. Townsend recommended the Conn band instruments as the best in the World. This was a popular gimmick used by the musical instrument industry to stake out new territory. It certainly worked in Starbuck, whose population in the 1910 Census was only 497.

The card was sent March? 16, 1909 to L.G. Gardner of Alexandria, MN.

How do you like the looks of this bunch? Grace says to tell you she got your card tonight. better drop her a line once in a while.
We gave a concert and dance at Lowry the 26th Cover(?) Big doing.

The writer Prof. was Charles Townsend himself. Born in 1877 in Minnesota, he married Grace Hutchins in 1898 and in the 1900 Census for Folsom, MN he records his occupation as musician. But sometime between 1900 and 1910, he moved to Villard MN, only a short distance NE of Starbuck, to work as a school teacher. Sometime in the next decade though, things change for C.A., as he remarries and relocates 130 miles west to Amherst,South Dakota where he leads another cornet band there, but dies in 1925 only 48 years old.

Today the title of "professor" would require multiple college degrees, and it seems unlikely that Charles ever had even one. But at this time in the world of music, it was enough to have talent and determination to succeed as a bandleader, and Prof. C.A. Townsend would seem a fine example of a real "Music Man".

But the real reason that the Starbuck Band has a special fascination for me is my own family history. My grandfather, Wallace R. Dobbin, was born 1906 in Glenwood, Minnesota which is at the eastern end of Lake Minnewaska, 10 miles from Starbuck.  His father - my great grandfather, William Dobbin was a rural mail carrier in Pope County for many years and I feel sure that someone in my family heard this band around 1909-10. If only I had known years ago, I might have chosen a Conn horn too, the best in the world!

My contribution to Sepia Saturday


Howard said...

Wonderful photograph. Prof. Charles A. Townsend seems very young to me. All of the musicians look very proud. I wonder what they sounded like?

Brett Payne said...

What an interesting subject for a postcard. It looks to me as if it was a photograph of an album page. Thanks for sharing it.

Christine H. said...

What a great find. I don't see many postcards with horns, and it seems that any postcard with a musical instrument on it is highly collectible and expensive. I'm always looking for postcards of people playing the accordion, but even those are too expensive for my tastes.
Mike, on an entirely different note...I wonder if you've read Geronimo Rex by Barry Hannah? The book was almost universally hated by my book club, but that might serve as a recommendation for some people. For whatever reason, including the role of horns and bands, I think you might like this book.

Bob Scotney said...

Fascinating photo with so much to see. For a moment I thought there might be a Starbucks coffee connection.

Alan Burnett said...

Mike, it is a great image. It is also a fine example of how scanning and the internet can enhance such postcards because once you click and enlarge it you can almost get imside the image and see so much more. Thanks for sharing.

Postcardy said...

That's really an interesting arrangement of band members.

Tattered and Lost said...

What a wonderful piece of vintage marketing.

L. D. Burgus said...

It is a large group from a small town. Really done well for marketing. Interesting post.

barbara and nancy said...

Prof. Townsend looks so young to be a professor or a band leader.
Great postcard.

Erin Rom said...

Charles A Townsend was my great-grandfather. This is an excellent addition to my family history. Thank you for publishing it.


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