Out of the Archives - Wellsville Cornet Band – The following story is a small part of a much longer story written by Marcellus S. Madison (Matty) during a recuperative visit to California. While Matty does not specifically date this piece, I believe it to be circa 1875, as the 1875 Hamilton Child’s Directory has the following listed under Wellsville: Wellsville Silver Cornet Band, (Wellsville,) E. B. Curtis leader. Note that in the story, Matty lists himself as a member of the band.
Researched & Transcribed by Mary Rhodes, 2009
Memories by Matty
Published Feb 13, 1930 in the Allegany County Democrat
Here in California, at any rate, in San Francisco, if one gets on a street, or trolley car not knowing just where he wants to go or whether he is on the right car or not, the conductor will set him right and tell him what car to take to reach his objective, giving him a transfer for the other car. Very courteous and obliging are all the conductors. In compiling my story for the Allegany County Democrat, this time, I purpose to take another car than the Main Street line and a little later may transfer to Main street and go on with the Main street story. For a starter, I want to call attention to a genial gentleman who resided in Wellsville in the ‘70’s. He was a bonny Scotchman and as pleasing in his line of labor as is his well known countryman, Harry Lauder, that prince of entertainers. The gentleman I have in mind, Allegany County Old Timers will remember is Joseph Gillies. Knew him as a landlord, when he kept the hotel at Stannards Corners, called the Gillies Hotel, afterwards conducted by Jones & Dodge; knew him as Landlord of the Charles Hotel at Angelica and knew him, some to their sorrow, as Sheriff of Allegany County.
When Mr. Gillies was Allegany County’s Sheriff, the county jail was located in Angelica, where all violators of law liable to arrest, and who were gathered into the fold of genial Joe were held for trial. Mr. Gillies had the reputation of being human, and, while he kept a vigilant watch on those committed to his keeping, he believed that a man or woman no matter what he or she were entitled to a fair trial and decent surroundings until proven guilty of the charge against him or her, not all who were “pinched” in those days were guilty of charges made against them at the time of securing warrants for an arrest no more than they are in this period, and Joe Gillies was man enough to not condemn before a prisoner had a fair trial. Time enough then for punishment.
After leaving Angelica, Mr. Gilles located in Hornell and, with “Hi” Herty, an old conductor who served the Erie Railroad Company on trains 6 and 9, making the run then from Hornell to Dunkirk one day and returning the next day, leased and operated the Page House in the Maple City for a considerable time.
In the days mentioned, local option was in force, and the question of license for the sale of liquors was decided by the vote of the qualified electors in each town. A circumstance occurred at one time that showed plainly there was more than one way to skin a cat so to speak. The hotel at Stanards was located, partly in the town of Willing and partly in the town of Wellsville. It happened that the bar room was in Wellsville, the balance of the building was in Willing. Wellsville, by vote of the people, decided against granting any licenses to hotels or saloons in Wellsville township. Did the proprietors of the Stannards Corners Hotel close up and go out of the liquor selling business? No sir, Willing voted in favor of license and all that had to be done was to move or change the location of the Stannards Hotel bar. That was easily done and the bar room was switched into another part of the building that was in Willing township, license was asked for in Willing and business at the bar went on as usual. No one violated the law and the sagacious dispenser of alcoholic liquid raked in his harvest of wealth. Wellsville did not have license but it did have those who were in the habit of patronizing the hotel or saloon and many of these found their way to the nearby hamlet and satisfied their desires for beer, whiskey or wine as the case might be.
The license question is a hard animal to handle. It is attracting the attention of many honest men and women today. Many men who voted for license in days gone by would today object strenuously to having the saloon again. The saloon has gone forever. But, modification of the Volstead act and the 18th amendment and a law favoring the manufacturing of light wines and beer of not to exceed a 2 ¾ per cent of alcoholic content, to be dispensed only under federal jurisdiction to those who desire to retail the drinks named and giving the sale at retail to any who could furnish a suitable bond for obeying the law governing the sale of such drinks would go a long way toward putting a stop to the bootlegging of poisonous concoctions that are sold throughout the land and causing untimely deaths in every community. No, this country does not want the saloon back, but the question is: “How best can the elephant now on our hands be brought into subjection?”
While we are delving in the things and personalities of the past – sort of singing of the days that are gone, let us take a look in on the old time Wellsville Cornet Band. The band that was organized, drilled and was under the leadership of E. B. Curtis. The timber that the leader had to build the musical organization with was all home grown. Among those who were members of that group I call to mind the following: E. B. Curtis, Welcome Coats, George Alger, William Dunham, Charles Kendall, Will Maybee, Chet Griswold, John Frey, Charles Helme and M. S. Madison. Not one of the bunch had ever had any musical training or teaching, but some of the gang had musical souls and a natural talent that only needed cultivation and to be like the man from Missouri, “shown,” and the newly organized “Brass Band” was soon properly drilled and on the way to win public favor or a flat failure.
The band boys met once a week for practice, holding their sessions in the back end of the tin shop and hardware store of the band leader, Mr. Curtis. His store and shop was then located on a part of the lot where now stands the recently built Woolworth five and ten cent store, Main Street. The dismal sounds that emanated from that location on the evenings of practice night, were enough to have driven people in that section insane. But, they had to take the medicine, and the unearthly sounds that Charley Kendall got out of his clarinet, and the intonations that John Frey dug up from the bottom of his big bass horn were enough to send a community in search of a barroom, or some other place to make a man oblivious to all and everything in his zone of hearing. These conditions did not, fortunately for the good people in that part of Wellsville, continue so very long. The band boys carried their instruments home after the regular practice and got in their disturbing noises in other localities and in smaller doses, until the next regular practice night. By keeping everlastingly at it, the practice night in a few weeks became a less terror to the folks on and near Main street. The Band men were getting the rough spots smoothed out and able to produce a resemblance of a tune. Perhaps those near by who were so afflicted with the racket got used to it. One may swallow some bitter pills in this life and after a long time of enduring it, become so accustomed to a situation it is hardly noticed by themselves.
It did not matter to the band boys how much of a kick was broadcast by the public; they had organized for a purpose, and kick, or no kick, the band played on. It has been said that all things come to him who waits. Don’t you believe it. Things worth having, come, in this day and age, to him or her who go after it. It has always been so. It was in the early days of the Wellsville Cornet Band and is the same now. The band had worked faithfully to master the rudiments of band music and having a leader who was not easily discouraged, had reached a point in their musical life where they had a repertoire of four selections. Had just four pieces that they could play, in a fashion, and feel safe in going to the end of the selection without breaking down. Wonderful.
Right at that point in the bands’ career, the leader had a call from Coudersport, Pa., to make a bid on furnishing a band for a Republican mass meeting that was soon to be held in that Pennsylvania town. Did Curtis put in a bid for that job? You can just gamble he did. And he got it too, good, fat pay for every member of the band. The Wellsville band made the trip to Coudersport in a four horse rig with a wagon that had been faked up for the occasion. It had a high seat in front for the driver and a continued story seat for the balance of the gang, a side seat that went from one end of the wagon to the other and back on the opposite side of the rig. The bass and snare drummers had a seat at the rear of the rig with a contraption that held the bass drum in position. With a United States emblem of Liberty and Freedom – a handsome “Old Glory” floating to the breeze, the band men were loaded in the wagon. For a send off and to get their lips in shape, a brief stop was made in front of the Hotel Fassett, and one of the four pieces the band had mastered, “Hail Columbia”, was let out on the air. The landlord of the hotel was happy to be honored with the distinction of the band’s first serenade, and gave the men a cordial invitation to come in and “have something.” As a rule, band boys, in those days, never threw an invitation of that kind over their shoulder, and in they went. They had “something,” some of them did, and others took soft drinks or a cigar. All the way to Coudersport, at each public house on the way, the boys would have the driver stop and a selection was played, for practice.
I have not told the list of the selections the band was qualified to handle. Here is the entire equipment: “Hail Columbia,” “Hail to the Chief,” “Yankee Doodle” and a simple March. I do not recall the name. Wasn’t that the limit? But, the band got away with it, gave satisfaction, got their cash and had played the four piece program so many times during the day and evening of the big mass meeting, every mother’s son of the band knew their part and had no use for a book or light.
That was the start of the original E.B. Curtis Wellsville Cornet Band. All of its old members have “bit the dust” with the one exception of M. S. Madison. He is tooting his horn out in California and with the mild weather conditions, the enervating influence of God’s bright and glorious health giving sun, so abundant in the Golden State, while like the old gray mare, “Not What He Used to Be,” in all things and mighty glad of it, he is still in the ring.
Other interesting events in connection with the old Curtis Band might be told, but, we will let it go at this time…”
If I remember rightly, the last census gave Wellsville Township a population above the five thousand mark. The village had close to that number. The question that comes to the front at this time is, what is the population of the young and prosperous city now? The census to be taken soon will settle the question as nearly as can be figured. In the enumeration of living souls in the corporation, one wonders what figures will be revealed. Since commencing the work of enlarging the Sinclair refinery property, tank building, road construction, and increased numbers in the various departments of the big plant in the process of taking from crude oil the many bi-products of this wonder base of wealth, workmen in large numbers have been brought into Wellsville to assist in the building and reconstruction of the big business. These men who are employed by the Sinclair Corporation, all doing their “daily dozen” to provide a living for themselves and families are not residents of Wellsville. They are, many of them, from outside towns. Belmont, Scio, Belvidere, Andover, Whitesville, Buffalo and other points have been combed for helpers. Some of this quota have brought their families with them, have located and intend, no doubt, to make permanent homes in their new field of labor. Others are residents of the towns from where they have been located for years. The question is, how many are there that will be numbered as bona fide residents of Wellsville? That is the question that is of interest to the business men of the city.
In speaking about the census, I am reminded that the 1920 census fixed the center of population of the United States near Bloomington, Ind. Whether this center is going to be moved westward outside of Indiana by the 1930 census is a question. W. M. Stewart, federal director of the new census was a guest at the Palace Hotel in San Francisco, yesterday. Mr. Stewart says the center of population in the United States has been in Indiana for almost a generation. Mr. Stewart pointed to the certainty of great growth in numbers of inhabitants California, Missouri and Texas, stating that he would guess the center will be farther west, or more properly, west by south.
As stated previously, what Wellsville business is more interested in is the number of men and woman, who are real bona fide residents of the town. Are those who are finding labor in Wellsville and laying up a portion of their earnings for the proverbial rainy day, going to remain? Are they buying homes and making improvements for the future? Have they cast their lines in the well stocked business fishing pond of the place with the intention of doing their share in making it a pond worth fishing in? Those are some of the interesting questions that perhaps the new census may review.
To be continued
M. S. Madison
San Francisco, Calif, Feb 4, 1930
Memories by Matty
Published Feb 20, 1930 in the Allegany County Democrat
Well, here we are again. Yesterday I took a ride on a trolley car out to the Pacific Ocean, distance from my rooms about six miles. In making the trip I passed three cemeteries. One contains the remains of members of the Masonic fraternity and the second of Odd Fellows. The third place of burial of the dead is an old time cemetery where many of the pioneers of this section of California were laid to their eternal rest. This plot of ground, close to the street, has stone walls around it and shows the ravage of time! The wall in many places has crumbled and presents an appearance of decay, and the absence of once dear and loved ones who probably tenderly cared for those who are committed to mother earth in this sacred and beautifully located burial ground.
In passing this particular cemetery, my mind wandered back to Wellsville and to the Johnson cemetery at the foot of West Genesee street, close to the banks of the Genesee River. And then an old, and in his time, well known resident came into my mind, one who was familiarly known as “Uncle Nat Johnson.” It is of this once quaint Wellsville character that I am prompted to make mention at this time. Sixty eight years ago, when the writer first moved with his parents to Wellsville, Nathaniel Johnson was a man well along in years then. His home was a little distance from the Erie Railroad station, where now is the freight depot of the Erie. The house was across from the tracks of the Erie railroad close to the roadway in the rear of the Wellsville Burial Case Company plant, between that and the Elmhurst Dairy. “Uncle Nat” had accumulated considerable wealth, even in that period of Wellsville’s life, having made shingles, which he shaved by hand, bought and sold lumber and made some good money in real estate that he had accumulated. He at one time owned the land where is now located the Erie property, between East Pearl street and Farnum street, I have been told, and when he sold the land to the Erie Company for the location of a passenger and freight station, Mr. Johnson had the sagacity to have stipulated in the contract made with the Erie Company that all passenger trains of the Erie Railroad should for all time make regular stops at the Wellsville station. No passenger trains allowed to go through the place without making a stop at said station. That was a mighty shrewd move on the part of “Uncle Nat,” and that contract made at the time the Erie was looking for a location, is as binding today as it was the day it was made. The Erie management has lived up to the contract, barring the exception of a few months ago when an attempt was made to cut Wellsville out of service as a regular stop for train 6, except by a flag to pick up one or more passengers, I understand. It did not last for only a brief period – I think for a couple of days. The big guns of the Erie may have “got wise” to the fact they were violating their contract. At any rate, train 6 was at once put on its regular schedule making Wellsville as before, a regular stop.
“Uncle Nat” was a frequent visitor at the station when the trains from the east pulled in. In the summer time he invariably went about the streets and over to the station to meet the incoming trains, without any covering on his feet. He was as barefooted as any boy that ever romped in the open, and he took delight in his appearance. More than one commercial man who visited the old town in those days, mistook Mr. Johnson for some poor backwoodsman hanging around the station with the hope of catching on to some job whereby to connect with a little coin. Often he was approached by some haughty Knight of the Grip and asked to carry luggage to some hotel or down town to some store where the traveling man hoped to take an order. The best part of the joke is, “Uncle Nat’ always accepted the invitation and accommodated the traveler, taking the dime or quarter that was tendered him for his service. “Uncle Nat’ could have bought and sold those he served in that capacity, and they never knew it.
Another good thing that Mr. Johnson did for the benefit of Wellsville was the provision he made for the permanent care of the grounds of the Johnson cemetery. This was left as I understand, in the care of the officials of Wellsville Lodge No 230 F.& A.M. The little burying ground was in a dilapidated condition until a few years ago when the Masonic order got busy, had a new fence placed in front of the grounds, considerable work done in improving the grounds inside the fence, and with the work contributed by the late Martin Moogan Sr., the resting place of those still in that cemetery was made much more attractive. Old grave stones that had fallen over, some of them broken were reset, weeds that overrun and hid the graves in many instances were cut and other improvements made that were real improvements. Many of those buried years ago in this cemetery have been removed to Woodlawn and are having perpetual care under the supervision of the Woodlawn Cemetery Association. The graves that are still occupied by loved ones dead and gone, and many of them without any living relatives or friends to care for, it is hoped may have the care of the Woodlawn Association in time. Would it be possible for the local order of the Masonic fraternity to use the funds left in the care of the Lodge for taking care of the ground be used for this purpose?
The original hotel building now known as the Hotel Brunswick, at the corner of North Main and West Pearl street, owned and conducted by Clark Wells, and which has recently been reconstructed and marked alternations made in the structure, was a conception of Nathaniel Johnson and one of his investments in Main Street property. At the time the building was erected, the owner’s name N Johnson was set in the upper story front of the structure, and I think is still there. Henry Wilcox was an early riser and in the summer time used to open the barroom and lobby of the hotel about six o’clock in the morning. He was in the habit of throwing the doors of the hotel open to give the place an airing and in the mean time would draw a chair in front of the door to the lobby of the hotel, set himself in the doorway where he could get the benefit of a sun bath and take in deep inhalation of fresh air. One morning as he was in his accustomed and chosen position in the doorway, a German, I cannot recall the man’s name, who peddled fresh meat about town with a two horse rig, was coming down East Pearl street to Main with his outfit. His horses were spirited animals and becoming frightened at a piece of paper that was blown up in front of them as they were about half way between the Erie tracks and Main street, shied to one side of the street and made a wild dash for Main street.. They were going at such a rapid pace when they came from Pearl street on to Main they could not make the turn quick enough to take the street, and plunged into Mr. Wilcox, who was seated in his chair in the hotel doorway. One of the animals went clear through the entrance to the hotel and landed on the floor of the hotel lobby. Mr. Wilcox was sent spinning from his chair and was severely cut and bruised on his face, arms and body. One of the horses was slightly injured but no bones were broken. The meat wagon was wedged in the doorway and took considerable work to loosen and get it out. It might be well to state that after that occurrence the early rising Landlord sought another location to take his morning sun and air.
The Old Union School
My mind now turns to the old two story wooden frame building that in the 60’s stood about where the former High School building, I mean the building that was used for the High School before the present large and handsome high school auditorium on West State was constructed. The place referred to was then known as the Wellsville Union School. Could locations of school houses, academies and colleges talk, what tales some of them might tell. Tales of joy, of disappointments of sacrifices made to get the rudiments of the English language a start toward an education, and the thrill that came when the last or highest grade had been passed through and the successful student had received his or her certificate of honor and with the graduation class exercises had been complimented by the teachers and Board of Education members. To many of them it was their last day in school; to others it was the opening of doors to a higher education to be found in some University or college, and to all it was the letting down of bars and an opportunity to enroll in the school of “hard knocks” in a big world that few of them really knew very little about. Some of the pupils who attended the old Union School and went out into the world to buck up against experienced others, found hard work and plenty of it. Some of them have made good and reached places and positions of trust and honor and are still holding the thought that anything worth having is worth working for, and have learned that education is a continuous story, a story that is never finished until the curtains of life are pulled down. These are the ones that have been successful. Others that have missed the mark they aimed at in their younger days are still hopeful, and, like some of the oil producers in the Allegany and Bradford fields, do not give up, discouraged because they have found “dry holes,” but continue to sent the drill down hoping, always hoping, that the next venture will give them a flowing well and profitable returns. A few of those who started in life’s race in those days of long ago have failed, miserably failed, and in most instances with no one to blame but themselves. How come? Bad habits, recklessness, no thought for the tomorrows, mighty poor selection of associates etc. A man is not a failure because he has not accumulated vast wealth. The hand of Fate in many cases has retarded his actions. Ill health may have been a reason for not being able to lay up a competency for old age. The men and women who have failed are the ones who have not walked in the paths of honesty, have indulged too much in “get rich quick schemes,” and forgotten to use their “nut” (good judgment,) and it may be, tarried too long with the cup that inebriates.
The writer of this was one of the little chaps who attended the Old Union School in Wellsville, and when only about “knee high to a grasshopper” had the distinction if not the honor of being the first one to open the doors of the school buildings mornings for two or three terms in the 60’s. He did the building of fires in the school house, sweeping, dusting and shoveling snow from the walks in the winter season, and when not busy with his lessons did his part to make life miserable for the man or woman who “taught young ideas how to shoot.” Among the many teachers who have held positions in the old Union School of Wellsville, may be mentioned Henry Lewis, Mr. Rankin, Mrs. Thos L. Smith, C. B. Macken and that veteran and dearly loved teacher, Mrs. Addie Elwell, who is still a loved and highly respected resident of the old town.
There was an incident in the early school days of the writer that he had never forgotten. Among those attending the Union School at the time mentioned and during the administration of Professor Rankin, the principal, were Erastus Pooler, C. B. Macken who later was a principal of the school and one Frank Orvis. Pooler and Macken had seats together at the extreme back part of the room in the second story of the building. Orvis had a seat about half way down between the front row and the seats occupied by Pooler and Macken. The writer held a seat in the third row from the front. As quite common in those days, at times paper wads rolled up by mischievous hands were sent spinning at some lad who was sitting at his desk with head bowed low over his book intent on mastering some intricate problem, to attract his attention. One day the mischievous party was either “Rast” Pooler or Chauncey Macken. The victim the paper wad was shot at was “Sell” Madison. The wad of paper fired by Pooler or Macken hit the target, Madison looked up to see who had made the assault on him. First directing his optics on the floor to where the paper wad had caromed from his head, he cautiously reached one leg out and with an eye on the teacher, Prof. Rankin, to see that he was not wise to what was going to be next in the play, “Sell” got hold of the wad. He then, cautiously looked back to the rear seats in the room and caught both Pooler and Macken with broad grins on their faces. Feeling that he had located the firing squad, “Sell” drew back his good right arm and was just ready to let the smiling faces of his suspected assailants get the wad as hard as he could possibly fire it, when something happened that was not taken into consideration. Rankin, who was a southerner, had a temper like a wild cat and before Madison had let the wad loose, he yelled: “Madison, throw that at me!” If I had complied with the demand I know darned well I could have taken a thrashing. I did not throw the wad at the principal, and he must have reconsidered his demand, for he next told me to bring the wad to him. An explanation was made that the culprit was only trying to get even with some one who had thrown the wad and hit him,. He was excused but admonished to let that be the last time of an attempt to throw anything at another pupil during school hours, inside the school room. I can not say whether it was the last time or not. There was just as much deviltry going on in schools in those days as there is now, maybe more.
To be continued
M. S. Madison
San Francisco, Cal Feb 11, 1930