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Amusement: Bands and Orchestras
With radio still in its infancy stage and with phonograph recordings providing a limited selection (and duration) of music, live entertainment was still the best way to listen to music. Willimantic continued to be a stop for major travelling acts, for example the Loomer Opera House hosting John Philip Sousa (composer of "Stars and Stripes Forever") and His Great Band of 50 in November of 1910.
While more bands would form over the next several decades, the most notable local musical groups around 1910 were:
- Tucker's Orchestra was lead by Charles Tucker from North Windham and was active from 1900-1907. The orchestra is said to have performed at all sorts of events.
- Helmold Concert Orchestra on 71 Main Street. This orchestra was created by C.C. Helmold in August 1900 after the collapse of the Old Opera Orchestra. The orchestra played in the Loomer Opera House until 1917. Instruments included were the violin, clarinet, piano, flute, trombone, cornet, and drums.
- While the Thread City Cyclers' existed as their own recreational group at the time, they also had an orchestra. They were primarily located at 781 Main Street. More information about the Thread City Cyclers can be found here.
- The Pickett's/The Peerless, this orchestra was formed around 1914 by George W. Hickey and not long after taken over by Robert Pickett. When Mr. Pickett passed away around 1919, the orchestra changed names to "The Peerless". The orchestra was successful around eastern Connecticut.
- The Majestics was fostered by George W. Hickey and C. C. Helmold.
George W. Hickey was a very important figure behind the orchestras in town. He was a promoter for more than 30 years and was involved in many orchestras over time. According to him, one of the best orchestras back in his day (1880s) was the old Opera House Orchestra. By 1920, the two leading orchestras were The Peerless and Majestic orchestras.
Bands, Drum Corps & Fifes
Willimantic was rich in entertainment in the form of melodramatic plays, comedies, minstrels, and shows. There were several bands that were formed and disbanded in the late 19th century and early 1900s. Some bands in Willimantic around the period under study are:
- Wheeler's American Band, was headed by Mr. Wheeler, was located on 135 Pleasant Street, and was active from 1900-1917. According to Allen B. Lincoln, this band was the longest in existence of Willimantic's bands. It also served the community during World War I by offering services for free, as well as providing charity every now and then.
- White Eagle's Polish American Band was formed in summer of 1920 by William C. Smith, a messenger at the American Thread Company
- The National and Willimantic Band was formed in 1876 following the disbanding of the old "Cornet Band". At some point there were two bands, the "Willimantic Band" and the "National Band" which were rivals.
- The Knights of Columbus Boy Band was organized in 1917 by Charles Wheeler and played at events until the 1930s. This band started out as "The American Boy's Band" and was part of a local Boy Scout Troop. When the troop lost its charter, Wheeler was able to get a new sponsor - the Knights of Columbus. Years later, the band became known as "The Thread City Cadets".
- Willimantic Fife and Drum Corps
- Thread City Continental Drum Corps, organized to memorialize the end of World War I (Armistice night) which falls on November 11th. The drum corps was organized by a pick of fifers and drummers. Their uniforms were considered the finest in the state because of their ancient continental design. Their entire costuming cost over $1,300 circa 1920. In 2023, this would be the eqiuvalent of $19,446.05 in 2023 dollars.
Willimantic also sustained one piano tuner (The A.C. Andrew Music Company) and three different retailers selling pianos and organs.