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
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The Citizen's Band of South New Berlin, New York

01 May 2021

 


Childhood is the small town
everyone came from.
~ Garrison Keillor 

 
Small town life.
It's universal theme
shared by every culture
in every age.
 
This is a story
about the life in one small town band,
  the Citizen's Band of South New Berlin, New York.


 
 

 
We will start with a brief introduction to the 13½ bandsmen. At the back on left, was Lynn B. Parker on euphonium. He was a salesman at his cousin's dry goods store. Next to him on valve trombone was Jay Manwaring. He was just 19 years old and worked as a bartender at his father's hotel. The slide trombonist was Mr. Luther C. Gage the band's instructor and leader. L.C. kept a barbershop at a hotel and had a side job as a photographer. Standing at the right, Will Coy played the tuba. He worked at the creamery where every day between 35,000 and 40,000 lbs. of milk was churned into 1,400 lbs of butter.

Seated in the middle row on left, was the snare drummer, Mr. Linn Gage. He was the undertaker in South New Berlin, and he probably got to know most folks in town better than anyone. Moving right, George Coss and Arthur Hayes played alto horns. Sometimes Arthur played brass trios at the church with Lynn Parker and Will Coy. On the mellophone was Edwin Gage. In a few months he would go up to the Normal School in Oneonta to get his teaching degree. At the far right on bass drum was Ernest Tillapaugh. He worked as a fireman at the creamery.

Seated on the grass lawn at left, was Truman B. Parker. He was Lynn Parker's cousin and the proprietor of the T. B. Parker & Co. store in South New Berlin where he kept a large stock of clothing for children, ladies, and gentlemen. No doubt he helped the band get their fine uniforms at wholesale price. To his right is Mr. Frank G. Dixon on solo cornet. Mr. Dixon was the postmaster of South New Berlin, and for a time the leader of the band. Beside him on right were the two clarionets, Ed Ten Eyck on B-flat, and Walter J. McIntire on the little E-flat. Walter also worked at the creamery, but later went on to run his own green grocery in South New Berlin.
 
Hidden in the center is a young boy holding a drum major's baton. I believe this is Frank G. Dixon's son, Edwin Dixon, born February 1898. Several men were married, but only F. G. Dixon had a son that matched that lad's age.
 
This is not a photo postcard or even a cabinet card photo. It's very large format print, nearly 8" x 10", and Mr. L. C. Gage mounted it on an extra-size board. It's quite possible that he hides in his right hand a pneumatic squeeze bulb to operate the shutter.
 
 
 

It's a wonderful portrait of a small band typical of those found in thousands of communities in America at the turn of the 19th to the 20th century. Usually it might be called a "cornet band", a term for a brass instrument ensemble that often included a clarinet (or clarionet as it was then spelled) or maybe a piccolo for the high descant tunes. But here in South New Berlin, the boys in this band preferred a much more democratic term, a Citizen's Band. 

The photo's card mount shows that it was pinned to a wall for many years instead of being in a frame. Still it's survived without too much damage, though I have digitally fixed a scrape line in the center and corrected it's faded sepia tone. But unfortunately there are no notations on the back for a date or a  name. In fact, until this past week I did not know any of the names of these 13½ bandsmen.
 
But with a little detective work, I found them.

On the the front page of their local newspaper. 
 
The Saturday, March 1, 1902 edition of the South New Berlin Bee, of Chenango County, N.Y. gave a full report on the short history of the band. It included all their names and more.
 
 
South New Berlin Bee
1 March 1902
 
 The headline says it better than I can.

The Citizen's Band one of the
Leading Organizations in this
Community***A Factor in the
Life of the Village.

 
 
South New Berlin Bee
1 March 1902
The band was organized in May 1899 and the report lists its original membership of 17 men, several of whom were still with the group. Previously the village of South New Berlin had supported a band for its local post of the Grand Army of the Republic (G.A.R.) for Union veterans. Over time this band changed its name to Citizen's Band, and the report gives their names too, with several musicians now members of the new Citizen's Band. The report adds:

Since its organization it has been ably managed, for, had it not been, it could not have existed so long. So much for those who have had the management of it, and the balance of the credit to the citizens for their liberal support. Many dollars have been expended for new instruments and handsome uniforms and today no band in any country village is better equipped than is this one; new music is also constantly being purchased. The band does not consist of a lage membership—14 or 15—but it is better to have collected together a small number of talented musicians than to have a large number who furnish volume, but no music. During the Summer months our Band has attracted many to the village by their evening concerts, which .proved to be very enjoyable.
 
We think we but truthfully state the matter when we say the Band has been a success all the way along, thus showing the public’s appreciation of a helpful and worthy organization. It is generally a hard matter to keep an organization of this kind together long at a time, owing to death among its number, removal of members to other villages and lastly by dissension and strife which too often plays an important part in causing a disbandment; although some of these features have entered into this organization, it has not materially interfered with it and today its outlook is bright.


* * *



As my readers know, I don't like to leave any stone unturned when researching a subject. But this contemporaneous identification in the South New Berlin Bee of the exact same photo is unlike anything I've encountered before. It was like a finding a lost key in the digital sands of the internet. A key that could open the lock binding the chains of history on this photo. I found it in the archive FultonHistory.com, a private collection of primarily New York historic newspapers that is free and open to anyone. If this was a photo of a brass band in Idaho, I'd likely never find this kind of information, but as fortune sometimes goes, because South New Berlin is in New York, (and not Germany) this wonderful archive has digitized its weekly newspaper for posterity.

 
 



Today, South New Berlin is unofficially classified in New York state as a hamlet, the smallest of its unincorporated communities. In 1902 the hamlet had a population estimated at 217 citizens. It was on the N.Y., Ontario & West Rail Road which linked it, 8 miles north, to New Berlin, NY, which then boasted a population nearly six times larger of 1,156. Both communities were located along the Unadilla River which winds its way southward through the hills and dales of central New York to join the Susquehanna River, eventually reaching the Chesapeake Bay. South New Berlin was, and remains, a crossroads in a region of farmlands mixed with forests. In this bird's eye view, which looks westward I think, we can't actually see the Unadilla, but it is beneath the bridge in the center of the photo. The bridge links the separate parts of the hamlet, the west in Chenango County, and the east in Otsego County.
 
This postcard photo was sent from South New Berlin to Mrs. Susie Root of New Berlin on 3 August 1931, but I suspect the photo is a decade older or more. It was published by the Eastern Illustrating Co. of Belfast, Maine, another small town on Maine's Atlantic coast. This company, established in 1909 by R. Herman Cassens, specialized in producing photo postcards of America's small towns for distribution to the thousands of small town shops. The Eastern Illustrating Co. became one of the largest publishers of postcards and at its peak printed over a million cards a year.
 
 



The short message reads:
Just got word
Otis was
worse so
dont see how
I can get
back until wednes-
day some time
Best Wishes
Sarah

 
 
 
In 1902 the South New Berlin Bee was one of several newspapers available to subscribers in the Unadilla valley. Six miles to the southeast, Gilbertsville, population 476, had the Otsego Journal. Eight miles east, the town of Morris, population 553, had the weekly Chronicle. To the north, New Berlin had the weekly Gazette. And nine miles west was Norwich, the county seat with a population of 5,766. This little city boasted of three newspapers, the Chenango Telegraph, (Republican), the Chenango Union, (Democrat), and the Morning Sun, (Independent). 

These papers were the social network hubs of their time, with news about everyone and everything. Alongside the band's report on the front page of the Bee were short paragraphs on events and people in the county and vicinity. "John Roban of Oxford winters 140 cows." – "The pay of the rural mail delivery carriers is to be increased from $500 to $600 a year." – "Miss Maggie Waldorf of Richmondville, has a lemon tree which is 14 years old, and has on its branches nearly 50 lemons." – "A piece of lead pencil an inch long was removed from the side of Frank Larkin a Cortland lad. He had fallen down and broke off a pencil in his pocket which pierced his side. It was thought for a time he had been shot." 
 
And most of the advertisements were for local business. Mr. L. C. Gage printed offers for photography studio. His brother Linn Gage advertised his funeral home. And Truman B. Parker placed ads for his clothing store.

Discovering the names of all the bandsmen in this small town paper opened up a rare opportunity to research their personal lives. I especially wanted to learn about one musician in particular, the euphonium player standing left in the photograph.

 
 
 
His full name is Lynn Bradley Parker. Like almost everyone in South New Berlin, he was born in New York, as were his parents. (It's amazing how carefully the census taker carefully repeated "New York" line after line, page after page. Not a single ditto " or abbreviation.) According to the report in the Bee, this photo of the band was taken in the summer of 1901, when Lynn would have then been living at the home of his cousin and employer, Truman Parker and his wife Harriet.  The couple were both nine years older than Lynn and, as recorded in the 1900 census, had been married for 5 years but without children. Curiously the marriage box for Lynn Parker had a W for widower. He was only 20 years old.

Census records do not reveal the drama of individual lives, merely the facts, and usually only a very few of those. But newspapers tell stories. According to the Bee, in June 1898 Lynn Parker married Miss Margaret Robinson of Garrattsville in a home ceremony in South New Berlin.  "The bride was very prettily gowned in a traveling dress of light tan cloth trimmed  with light bine sarin, while the maid of honor was tastily attired in white mulle. Mr. Parker is the genial and gentlemanly clerk in Mr. Babcock’s store and his friends are legion. Miss Robinson has been a teacher at the primary department of the school here for at least four years where she has given the best of satisfaction and is in every way an accomplished lady."
 
Tragically only a few months later, just before Christmas on 20 December 1898, Margaret Robinson Parker collapsed in the bedroom of her new home and died. For years she had suffered from a heart condition, but her end came suddenly without warning. The funeral service was conducted by the same pastor who had performed her marriage ceremony six months earlier. Her casket was carried by husband, brother and two cousins. Lynn Parker was only 18 years old.
 
The reason for my interest in this young man is that I have a companion photo to the South New Berlin Citizen's Band photograph. It is a large portrait of Mr. Lynn B. Parker in his band uniform and with his shiny double-bell euphonium.

 
 

This 8" x 10" print was also the work of Lynn's fellow trombonist, band leader, and probably his barber too, Mr. L. C. Gage. It's a handsome photo taken in a studio in front of a painted garden backdrop. According to the Bee, Lynn was one of the original members of the citizen's band when it was formed in May 1899. Lynn played tuba and was chosen to be the band's secretary and treasurer. The band met twice a week, on Monday and Friday nights, and aspired to become a first-class band. They were soon performing at county fairs, church socials, and giving regular summer concerts in the hamlet.
 
Less than a year later, on 28 April 1900, the Bee reported that, "Mr. Lynn Parker has just received a new $110 Euphonium horn. It is silver plated and a beautiful specimen, and the owner has a right to be proud of it ."
 
The double-bell euphonium is an odd novelty of the brass instrument family. It has a complicated plumbing with a separate valve, visible next to Lynn's left hand, that lets a player instantly change from the large baritone voice bell to the small tenor bell. It's an instrument intended for a soloist who can use this feature to create a dual vocal effect for a melody line. In 1900 it was a new fad to add one to a band, and a big investment for the citizen's band of South new Berlin. It also marks Lynn Parker as a talented and versatile musician.


 

 
Besides tuba and euphonium, Lynn also played trombone, and in February 1901, he played one in a sextet that they called an "orchestra". L.C. and Ernest Gage played violins, Walter McIntire was on clarionet, postmaster F. G. Dixon on cornet. and T. B. Parker played double bass. In this era it was very common for musicians to be proficient on multiple instruments, and many bands put together softer ensembles for fall and winter when it was too cold for outdoor concerts.


 
 
South New Berlin Bee
11 April 1901


In the 1902 report on the band, there is an unusual sentence that sticks out. "It is generally a hard matter to keep an organization of this kind together long at a time, owing to death among its number, removal of members to other villages and lastly by dissension and strife..." It's a very frank admission of the difficulties in keeping any volunteer organization going. Since Lynn Parker was the band's secretary, he might have been the author of this report. Was there some meaning between the lines that only fellow citizens of South New Berlin would recognize?

One local news item in the Bee from November 1900 said that Lynn Parker would be taking over as the band leader after the resignation of Mr. F. G. Dixon, the cornetist. Dixon was praised as an efficient leader since the organization had started two year before. "New music is being purchased and the boys propose to be in better shape than ever the coming year. Few villages of this size, or even larger, can boast of as good a band as we have right here in South New Berlin."

But this was a transition that many musical groups experienced. Was there another event that caused "dissension and strife"?

There was.
Something dark and never found in census records.

 
 
 
South New Berlin Bee
5 January 1901

In 1901, on the first Friday in January, there was a large party given in honor of Lynn Parker by his aunt, Mrs. Randolph J. Butts. Over 70 people were invited, including one young couple, Frank Follett and Miss Blanche Sargent who had been "keeping company" together for the past two years. The party was progressing nicely and everyone seemed to be having an enjoyable time, when Frank disappeared. When it was time for their turn at table, Blanche could not find him and Jay Manwaring, Lynn's fellow trombonist in the band, offered to escort her. 

Just then, Frank returned, acting oddly. When Blanche spoke to him, he asked her to go upstairs for a private conversation. Once alone, he accused her of changing her affection to Jay. When Blanche denied it, he pulled out a revolver and threatened her with it. Suddenly he turned the gun on himself, fired, and fell dead at her feet. Frank Follett was just a week short of his 19th birthday. He was also a member of the South New Berlin Citizen's Band.

 
I include the full sad story from the Bee to remind us of how newspapers once reported on all the aspects of life, from joy to sorrow. Even 120 years later we can recognize how shocking this tragedy was to the people of South New Berlin. But there was a detail missing in the Bee's account because everyone who lived there already knew it. Strangely enough it is found in the census records. 
 
On the same census page where Lynn Parker's name is listed living in his cousin's home, just six houses up the street is the residence of the Sargent family home where Blanch Sargent, age 20, is listed. Mr. and Mrs. Sargent had three children, but Blanche is not listed as a daughter but as a boarder, occupation - Servant. Two houses above is the Follett family, home to Frank Follett, occupation - Laborer, Creamery. And in between the two families is the home of Mr. and Mrs. Randolph Butts, Lynn Parker's aunt and uncle. It was on their lawn that Mr. Gage took the photograph of the Citizen's Band later that summer of 1901.
 
 
 

 
Here is a vintage postcard of N. Main St., South New Berlin, New York produced for T. B. Parker & Co. Though never posted, it has an undivided back for just the address which dates it to before 1907. The half-tone photo shows, I think, a horse watering fountain in the center of this little hamlet. The large building on the right is the F. Van Valkenburg Cash Store for Clothing and Dry Goods. I'm not certain but I think this may be where T. B. Parker and Lynn Parker worked. Mr. and Mrs. Frank Van Valkenburg were their next-door neighbors.
 
In the 21st century, the fountain at the crossroads of South New Berlin, NY has been replaced by traffic lights. Mr. Van Valkenburg's store still stands, though it's now called Toby's Auction Center. It's missing the tall roof pediment, but the window caps and fancy cornices are still there. In the postcard the smaller building between the trees is now the museum and library of South New Berlin. It appears that the hamlet's better days were in the 1900s.
 
 
* * *
 
 
 
* * *
 
 
 
 
 
South New Berlin Bee
23 December 1905
 
 
 
 
 
In 1902, Lynn Parker, the double-bell euphoniumist of the South New Berlin Citizen's Band was reported as having left the group for Albany to try out business school. It evidently didn't suit him and he soon returned to South New Berlin. In March 1903 he was playing brass trios at a church social with a Miss Ada Sherman on piano. By the end of September she and Lynn were wed. 
 

In December 1905, Mrs. Ada Parker and several women of South New Berlin formed a ladies musical ensemble, the Berlinian Symphony Orchestra. She was joined on violin by Mrs. Jay Manwaring, and on cornet by Mrs. F. G. Dixon. Mrs. T, B. Parker played bass. There was music, singing, and recitations so it sounds like a proper entertainment, but as it was Christmas time this  may have been a more farcical turn-about for the ladies and its humor does not translate a century later. 
 
 
_ _ _ 
 
 
 

 
In 1904, Lynn passed his federal service examination and was appointed postmaster of nearby Holmesville, 2 miles south. Soon afterwards in 1907 Lynn and Ada moved to the big city of Binghamton, New York, about 50 miles southwest of South New Berlin. Lynn had  secured a position there as a letter carrier. His fellow bandsman, Walter J. McIntire succeeded him as postmaster in Holmesville. 
 
In Binghamton, Lynn and Ada Parker settled into big city life there, though without children. Both were active in their Baptist church and Lynn transferred his membership in the International Order of Odd Fellows to the Binghamton I.O.O.F. lodge. Lynn's name shows up numerous times in the Binghamton papers as playing trombone in his church band. 
 
On 10 July 1931, Lynn Bradley Parker died in the city hospital. No cause of death was reported. He was age 51. Only a few month earlier in March he led a special program at his Baptist church entitled "The Life of Christ in Music."
 
  
Binghamton NY Press
14 July 1931

 

 
 

 
Most of the vintage photographs and postcards in my collection are of musicians whose names are unknown. And the greater portion come from small towns, with bands, just like the South New Berlin Citizen's Band, made up of amateur musicians, again without names. So when I found the newspaper's key to all their names it didn't feel right to pass over this rare chance to write about a more personal side to their lives in South New Berlin. 

The Citizen's Band serves as an example of how music making was once an important focal point for small town communities in America. These were close-knit places where everyone knew everyone else's business. Knew their families, their history, their skills and quirks. In a small town like South New Berlin, people shared joy and sorrow. And they shared music. In this time before radio and recorded music, it was a culture that required active participants, either playing music or listening to it. It created a bond of shared experience that is sadly not so common anymore.
 
There is another reason that I write this story of Lynn Parker. Over the past several years, and as recently as this past week, I've been contacted by someone who wishes to thank me for featuring their musical ancestor in my blog. It's a special privilege to be able to reconnect descendants with forgotten family stories and images. It's something I've learned to appreciate from my many blogging friends on Sepia Saturday, whose blogs are filled with wonderful family stories and beautiful photographs of their ancestors. It makes me proud to say after so many years, "Thank you for sharing!"


 

 
 
 

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where the band plays on,
and on, and on,
and on.






4 comments:

kathy said...

Well done, Mike! I know that research was time-consuming - many people and many parts to the story. Amazing that the same photograph was used by the newspaper, giving you the information you needed to press on. Lives were not always so simple back then, no matter how we like to frame the past as simple, as this story reveals. I love the fact that your posts have led to a descendant of someone you featured.

Molly's Canopy said...

Your opening quote says it all: "Childhood is the small town everyone came from.
~ Garrison Keillor." Having just finished a series about my own small town, your story of this band captures a piece of small town life. The photos are excellent, ditto the backround research. And those uniforms are to die for!

La Nightingail said...

A most interesting and informative post per usual. You never disappoint! Those band uniforms were certainly spectacular. Kudos to whoever chose them! Community and 'citizens' musical groups still certainly exist in small towns. Because my husband worked for the U.S. Forest Service we've lived in many small towns over the years and we've never lived in one that didn't have some sort of community musical group or more and what's more, surprisingly large audiences to enjoy their concerts. When we lived in the small community of Gasquet (listed as having 300 residents) and put on the every-2-years "Gascapades" people came out of the trees and bushes to participate and we had to put the show on 4 times to accommodate everyone who wanted to see it (the hall where we performed only seated 100 and people drove the 20 miles from the larger town of Crescent City to see the show!) In Groveland where the Pine Cone Singers - a community chorus - performs, we have 3 performances per concert seating approximately 600 in total. This, in a small community of 1500. And if you live in a collage town the colleges usually support community bands, orchestras, and choruses. The experience of belonging to these musical groups is unequalled by almost anything else and the communities they are a part of will happily brag about them and attend their concerts - sometimes attending a concert a second time to enjoy it even more which, of course, is very rewarding to the performers! :)

Alan Burnett said...

What can I say but "thank you for sharing"

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