Bands and Music from Sandusky's Past

Ron Davidson
Oct 7, 2013

 

This week's history is a preview, or review, depending on when you read it, of my program on Monday at the library on the important role of bands and music in Sandusky's history. And it will be a brief teaser for a video presentation that will premier at the library on November 1. Musical groups not only entertain the people, but they tend to reflect the culture and interest of the people participating, both as entertainers and the entertained. 
 
It is safe to say that music has existed in some form as long as human culture has existed, but music as a profession and a public resource is still relatively new (only a few centuries or so). Sandusky's public music culture arrived in the mid-nineteenth century, brought here most prominently by the wave of German immigrants who began settling in the region mostly after 1848. The first known organized band in Sandusky was the Jaegerband, formed in 1851. As one can guess from its name, the band included German immigrants, and we can guess that the music they played was of German origin.
 
Several other bands began performing in Sandusky around the same time, and many, if not most, were German-influenced. Some that we know a little about include Professor Himmel's Band (founded 1854), the Sandusky City Band (1859), and the Germania Reed Band (1871). But the most popular band of the era was the Great Western Band. Founded in 1867, the band performed at many functions around Sandusky, as well as in many other places throughout the midwest. From its beginning until it disbanded around 1890, the Great Western Band was often the primary musical entertainment at most public events. Images in the library's collections show the band performing at Sandusky's celebrations of the national centennial in 1876; programs describe their concerts at many public halls and events. The Great Western Band, one of the earliest performing bands at Cedar Point, broke up around 1890, with many of its members reorganizing as the Ackley Band.
 
Eugene B. Ackley was among the most popular musicians of his day in Sandusky. He arrived in the city as a young man and promptly became the leader of arguably the most popular band in Sandusky through much of the twentieth century. Ackley's Band often served as house band at Cedar Point. The Ackley Orchestra, another of his many musical groups, also played frequently at Cedar Point. Additionally, Ackley eventually led the Cedar Point Orchestra, which played for vaudeville shows and dances at the park's coliseum and ballroom. This would be enough for most people, but Ackley also contributed significantly to the music education program at Sandusky High School, directing the school orchestra on several occasions and contributing a library of music.
 
Cedar Point faced brief local competition in the 1890s when the Johnson's Island Pleasure Resort was in business. Of course, this competition included the Johnson's Island Band, organized in 1893. After this resort closed just a few years later, it appears that band members reorganized as the William Scouton Concert Band.

Music in twentieth century Sandusky became even more popular and diverse, particularly with the advent of the Jazz Age. The Fox Sisters Orchestra, founded 1906, may have been the first all-woman band in Sandusky. (That needs to be investigated.) The Harmonettes followed in their footsteps twenty years later. In 1933, the Harlemetts, led by Paul Alexander, became the first known African American orchestra in Sandusky. The Boys and Girls Band, under the sponsorship of George Boeckling of Cedar Point fame, gave children opportunity to become musical performers. And of course, locally-performed music continues today, with large ensembles such as the Firelands Symphony Orchestra, and many smaller bands playing clubs and parties. 

Photo captions:

#1 - The Jaegerband is considered Sandusky's first organized band.

#2 - The Great Western Band was probably Sandusky's most popular band in the late nineteenth century.

#3 - Ackley's Band was a reuglar fixture at Cedar Point; its leader, E.B. Ackley, was Sandusky's foremost musician for much of the twentieth century.

#4 - An all-woman band, The Fox Sisters Orchestra, was founded in 1906.