Front View of Thomas House

Ward-Thomas Museum

Ohio Association of Historical Societies and Museums

Five images of buildings and grounds

Ohio State Band—Niles Ohio

Ward — Thomas Museum
Home of the Niles Historical Society
503 Brown Street Niles, Ohio 44446

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Phone: 330.544.2143
Mail: PO Box 368 Niles, Ohio 44446

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Close-up of Ohio State Band Drum head.

Close-up of Ohio State Band Drum head.

"The Ohio State Band, Niles, Ohio”

"The Ohio State Band, Niles, Ohio”
Among those in that picture were Superintendant of Water and Lights of Niles, Bert Holloway, trombone; Service Director Oliver Evans, trombone; Thomas Williams, Baritone; Seth Phillips, flute and piccolo; Thomas Evans, a West Park Avenue florist, cornet; W. R. Gilbert altophone; Elmer Caladine, cornet; Russell (Rusty) Carter, snare drum; Prof. Chas. Bitner, director; John McDermott (at the left), manager of the band; and Jimmy McGaughey (Muggs Brawny), porter and handy man.

Niles Concert Band.

Niles Concert Band.
Taken at Brady Lake, ca 1948.

A picture of the Niles Concert Band in front of the Waddell Park Swimming Pool house, possibly at the dedication in 1934.

A picture of the Niles Concert Band in front of the Waddell Park Swimming Pool house, possibly at the dedication in 1934.

1931 picture of the Niles City Band in Central Park in the Thomas Pavilion. The band was under the direction of Arnold Campana.

1931 picture of the Niles City Band in Central Park in the Thomas Pavilion. The band was under the direction of Arnold Campana.


During his lifetime, Ray Gilbert had a remarkable ability to recall details of events long past. He was a prolific writer for area newspapers for nearly a half century. His many articles were written in the Niles Times, later compiled by Grace Allison into the book “Walk Down Memory Lane” which is presently on sale at the museum. The following is one story in the book.
Ohio State Band, Niles, Ohio
The Ohio State Band organization was formed in 1896 in Trumbull County under the guidance and directorship of Prof. O. R. Farrar. It functioned successfully in Warren for ten years under band leaders: 0. R. Farrar, followed by Prof. Chas. Hewitt, Prof. H. Thayer and William Ackley.

Warren's famous Ohio State Band entered the year 1898 riding away up high on the crest of popularity. They were also in debt to the tune of $1,100. This was created by the issuance of a note to them and held by the First National Bank of Warren. With these funds new instruments were purchased. Also new and up-to-date band headquarters were acquired on Market Street not far from where the Robins Theatre now stands. There was a furniture store on the first floor. The spanking new band rooms were located on the second floor, and the third floor was used as a storage room by the furniture people. An elevator allowed access from the first to the third floor. The band members rehearsed nearly every night and they would play for parades, concerts and small parties. At one time the band had a membership of 35 regular players.

Robert Elliott was proprietor of the Elliott Hotel and also owner and manager of the Warren Opera House. A dance hall was on the third floor where the band could play. Mr. Elliott would furnish the hall, the heat, and the light and we would split 50-50 on the profits, if any. We advertised that the admission would be 11 cents for each and everyone attending. The dances, we called them by a high sounding title: "Promenade Concerts," made an instant hit with the public. Great crowds came, more each time. The fame of these concert dances spread. People from Niles, Girard, Youngstown, Sharon, New Castle, and even visitors from Pittsburgh and New York flocked in. Money rolled in each time. The hall could accommodate between 400 to 500 people; and while it was somewhat crowded, yet they all had a grand time.

It is safe to say that those Promenade Concerts given by the Ohio State Band taught more young folks how to dance the Waltz, two-step, regular schottisches, Cuban Waltzes, etc., as was the fashion on the dance floor in those days with all of the dancing schools and instructors in the Mahoning Valley. I venture to say that hundreds of Niles people took in those concert dances. A great many members of prominent clubs in Niles, such as the famous Vendome Club, the Narcissus Club, and many others, were regular attendants at those parties. In fact the dances were so much in demand that it was necessary to hold them two and sometimes three times a week. The band paid off the debt of $1,100

Another time that summer the Ohio State Band played for the Merchant's Picnic at Conneaut, Pa. Six or eight of us stayed until the last train left on the main line of the Erie. We arrived in Warren about one o'clock in the morning (Sunday). When we reached the bandstand in Courthouse Park, one of the boys suggested that we play an open-air concert. And, we opened up with "A Big Time In The Old Town Tonight." We had just finished that one when the police arrived on the dead run and chased us out of there P.D.Q.

Interest died down in Warren for the band and on October 7, 1906 a meeting was called and a proposition from Bert Holloway for the Niles Business Men's League offered to buy the band outright for $400. It was accepted. So, in the year 1906, the great Ohio State Band became a Niles institution. John L. McDermott was made manager and Prof. Charles Bittner director. Niles was ready to support a band and have open - air concerts. So, the Ohio State Band became a local institution and remained the prize of our city for another four years. The band played many important concerts outside of the area and presented each week, in the summer months, open- air concerts in the park, which is now the McKinley Memorial location.

Along about that time there was a roller skating rink built here in Niles, located right where the U. S. Post Office on West Park Avenue now stands. It was named The Niles Amusement Company and John L. McDermott, together with Bill Thorns, was in charge as manager. By special arrangement a band of seven members furnished the music for a couple of hours each evening. They were each paid $1.15 per night. After a few weeks playing, the boys concluded that that was not enough, so they made a demand for 10 cents per night more. This management refused to consider. Then we went on a strike and picketed the place. The Niles people (whether for the fun of it or not) backed us up to the limit with the result that the attendance fell down to almost nothing. After much loud and explosive talk the management gave in and we each received our $1.25 per night.

But, with the increased musical activity in our public schools, and the formation of high school bands, interest in this famous band dwindled, and it finally passed out of the picture. The band folded its tents and silently faded out of sight, but not out of mind - at least in the memory of our older citizens.

The Ohio State Band & Wet-Dry Battle in Niles, by Ray Gilbert.

The year 1908 witnessed some stirring and exciting times in Trumbull County, and especially in our city of Niles. The state legislature of Ohio had passed the Ross County Local Option Law, and a petition was circulated and properly signed to make Trumbull County dry.

Naturally there were decided differences of opinion as to the outcome of this issue, the first of the kind ever attempted in this county. The wet element, supremely confident that such a thing could not possibly happen, freely expressed their opinions whenever the opportunity occurred. The dry element, with their solid, united forces, and who, truth to tell, had all the argument on their side, were equally confident that they would win. The battle was on, and the storm center of the whole county was in Niles.

The dry people had an active working organization in every ward in our city, and mass meetings were held in every one of them. The Ohio State Band was hired (18 members strong) We would head the parade to the different ward meeting places, play a couple of lively tunes, and then the band would be dismissed while the meeting would take place.

One time the dry meeting was held in the Bert Street school house. (now Belmont Avenue) The Ohio State Band was there and performed their usual stints, after which the musicians headed back to the bright lights in the main part of town. Half of them came back one way, and half the other way. One section arrived up on State Street (Mill Street then). One section arrived up on State Street after coming up from the Penns depot past the old Drake and McConnell flour mill.

They had been serenading at various points on the way back, and just as they reached State Street the first group of musicians struck up the old familiar tune, "How Dry I Am." As it turned out, the Bert Street meeting had not lasted as long as usual and the entire county dry committee was coming up the street and came face to face with the band as they opened up. That was just one too many for the Dry Committee. The county, as we all know, did vote dry by a big majority, but the Ohio State Band did not help the issue anymore. They were fired right then and there'

One of the biggest meetings of that whole campaign was held on East Park Avenue, alongside the Old Allison (later the Antler) Hotel. The band paraded through the downtown district and a great crowd followed them to the meeting place. On this occasion there was a joint debate scheduled, between Bishop Kilpatrick of Warren — speaking for the dry issue, and Mr. Midnrey of Youngstown, orator for the wet element. Each was to give a 15 – minute address, and it was understood that there was to be no interruptions from the audience.

These two men, both forceful speakers, expounded their views and ideas thoroughly. Mr. Mindrey stressed his firm belief that by voting the cause dry it would cause a great influx of "speakeasies" to be established in the city, and I guess he was about right about that count. Mr. Kilpatrick, on the other hand, held forth the undisputable fact that money spent for drink was money foolishly thrown away, causing misery and distress for the families of the imbibers.

Yes, the band played (and was fired) and Trumbull County went dry in 1908. By the same token there are many deep-thinking people today who are of the opinion that Old Trumbull might repeat and go dry again if certain conditions are not rectified.

A Grand Organization Folds UP
The great and colorful Ohio State Band, which was the pride and joy, first of Warren, and later of Niles, was sponsored in the beginning in Prof. 0. R. Farrar. It flourished for 10 years in the county seat, afterward locating in this city. It began to fall apart at the end of the year 1910.

About the last episode of the Ohio State Band was at a camp installed on the Meander Creek, on the John Frech farm, very close to where the great Meander Dam of the Mahoning Valley Sanitary District was built. This camp lasted for six weeks, and was the mecca for all sport- loving, music-loving and fun-loving people in this part of the country.
There was a concert every night of the week, and the program was varied occasionally when a number of Niles fellows, notably Jim Holloway, Lon Lockwood, Butch Lewis and others would ride out there on their fast, fiery ponies and put on a regular Buffalo Bill rodeo.

The name adopted for this place of hilarity was "Camp Niles America." The sky was the limit on the eats and everything else as well. For instance, one Sunday morning we had 21 spring chickens for breakfast. And on the last day the band campers put on a grand ox roast and clam bake, which was attended by a vast throng from all around this territory. Many Niles residents still remember "Camp Niles America."

So, the famous Ohio State Band, founded by Prof. Orien R. Farrar, finally folded up its tents and silently slipped away from sight, but never out of mind of many members still living in Niles and elsewhere. Besides, hundreds more of our citizens, who were thrilled and delighted with the music, the parades, and the open-air concerts given to them by one of the most celebrated bands of musicians in this whole country; and these people were always ready to back them up to the limit, win, lose, or draw.


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