Bainbridge, like most of the small towns of Lancaster County, had no band prior to the Civil War. So there were no instruments in the community and no band experience to fall back on. The men and boys of age from farms, towns, and villages entered the army with no marching experience. When they finally got into a brigade with a band, for many of the soldiers, that was the first band they ever heard. During their service time, they could have heard some of the finest bands of the day from Boston, New York, or Baltimore. Those boys returned home to resume normal lives again which, of course, could never be as they were before.
We have to speculate much of what may have happened. The nearest towns which did have bands before the war were Elizabethtown, Marietta, Mt Joy, and Columbia. The Odd Fellows Lodge had just been established in Bainbridge in 1868 and in 1870 the Mechanics Lodge was formed. These two organizations both used band music for many of their functions, including many parades in and out of the county. Having to go out of the community for musical assistance was inconvenient and expensive. It seems certain that eventually some employees of the Wiley Distillery of Locust Grove broached this problem to Mr Wiley, who seeing a local need, volunteered to buy instruments and find a band teacher. That was around 1874 and, of course, it took several years to create a playing band.
The band was originally called the Wiley Band in honor of their sponsor. They found space to rehearse in the newly formed O.U.A.M. Lodge and eventually changed their name to the “Bainbridge Mechanics Cornet Band”. By 1883 the band was beginning an era of great activity, playing for parades, celebrations, and political elections. Bands of this time would hold one or more fairs each year to raise supporting funds.
In 1896 the remaining members of the Mechanics Band and some new blood with stronger leadership reorganized the band and called it the “Bainbridge Cornet Band”, a completely independent group not beholden to any of the lodges. According to older memories, the band rehearsed in a barn in the middle of town which much later became the fire hall. One of the first acquisitions was a band wagon (shown on the Home page) and for the lack of uniforms they dressed in their Sunday best. The band continued to be very active in the community and became especially close to the G.A.R., furnishing music for all their various activities. They gained a wide reputation for being a fine sounding band in many surrounding towns on both sides of the river.
Along came World War 1 and activities were disrupted for several years as the young men went into the service. The older members remaining home managed to keep the band in some minimal activity so that when the war was over the returning veterans had a band to return to. In 1919 the band obtained a charter from the courthouse. In 1920 the band purchased a building on Second Street which formerly belonged to the River Brethren Church and converted it into a band hall. The use of this building continued until World War ll. Around 1945, the band sold their band hall building although the band continued to rehearse there until 1950 when they moved to an addition built onto the Conoy Tavern.
After the war, in 1948, George Smith was elected assistant librarian and began to actively build the library. He discovered the location of band music from defunct bands and attended public sales of band properties. A partial list of the collections he acquired is: Metropolitan Band, Columbia; Mountville Band; Shawnee Band, Columbia; Tall Cedars Band, Harrisburg; Liberty Band, Middletown; Elizabethtown Band; City Band, Lancaster; Iriquois Band, Lancaster; and personal collections from E.W. Gerth, T.J. Krodel, J.W. Crawford, Charles Nissley, and George Luttenberg. In 1981 he purchased the Metropolitan Police Band of D.C.’s library, about a ton of music. The whole library was crossfiled according to title, type, and composer-arranger. The work was done by John Crawford, director Sam Zimmerman, and other interested members. It took nearly a year working several days a week to get all the music (over 7000 titles) shelved and carded.
The problem of a place to rehearse; a place to keep the band instruments and library, uniforms, etc, and just having a real home for the band became of prime importance. Their location in the Conoy Tavern became unavailable in 1954, and for a few years the band rehearsed at the J.E. Baker Co building. In 1957 the band was offered the chance to purchase the community hall for $2000. The deal was completed, and immediately repairs and improvements were begun on the building which is still used by the band to this day.
In 1960, S.O. Zimmerman became the director of the band. During this period the band was on a real high. It had developed a fine reputation and was well known state-wide. Through a militant youth movement more young faces were seen in the ranks than at any other time. Mr Zimmerman demanded higher standards of performance, a more professional attitude and strict adherence to business with regular meetings and constant attention to maintaining the treasury. Zimmerman soon discovered that he had a valuable resource in the person of Robert Berghaus. While in the army he had composed several marches, the first of which was “The President’s March” written in 1940. Zimmerman urged Bob to write a new march every year to be featured on the spring concert. In addition he wrote the “Columbia Bicentennial March” in 1988 shortly before he died. Very few bands are blessed with their very own march writer.
S.O. Zimmerman often repeated what the leader of the Lancaster City Band said about his band, “Give me 25 good men and I don’t need anymore”. And it was noted that young players were not welcome in that band. The important point being that a band that does not welcome young players is bound to die, as the city band did.
The preceding history was extracted from “A History of the Bainbridge Band” by John W Crawford.
Directors of the Bainbridge Band: (incomplete)
2002 to Present – Phil Smith
~1996 to 2001 – John Zimmerman
1987 to ~1996 – John Degler
1960 to 1987 – S.O. Zimmerman
? to 1957 – Lindley Selzer