Grafton Cornet Band celebrates 150th anniversary
A formal portrait of the Grafton Cornet Band taken in 1885 in their new tan uniforms. The young cymbal player in front is Aiden F. Prouty, who began playing with the band when he was about 10 years old.

Grafton Cornet Band celebrates 150th anniversary

GRAFTON — The Grafton Cornet Band will celebrate its 150th anniversary on Sunday, Aug. 27, at 4 p.m., with a free concert on the lawn of the town library.

This concert will take place rain or shine. If there is rain, the concert will take place in the White Church. Bring a chair or blanket for comfort. The historical society will also be open, displaying historical photos, magazines, and newspaper articles to celebrate 150 years of band music in Grafton.

The band proudly keeps its original 1867 name even though all band instruments are included now, not just the cornet family.

The small town of Grafton (population 679) supports its own community band, with a three-room band hall that provides storage for instruments and a 500-title music library.

Vermont's second oldest continuously performing band was conceived in March 1867 by Francis Phelps, who gathered Grafton musicians at the home of Vestus Wilbur to discuss the idea of a band for the town. A talented Keene, N.H., musician, Solomon F. Merrill, was asked to be the band's first musical director, and the Grafton Cornet Band was formed.

When the first Decoration Day - the forerunner of today's Memorial Day - to honor the Union dead in the Civil War was held on May 30, 1868, the newly formed band took part in services in Grafton. They haven't missed a Decoration/Memorial Day service since.

From its beginnings, the band has included not only Grafton residents, but many other Vermont and New Hampshire residents in the Connecticut River valley region.

The band is noted for the long dedication of many of its members. Some, such as Charles L. Park of Grafton and Bruce Corwin of Brattleboro, joined the band as early as age 10 and stayed for 60 years. Park went on to become musical director for 40 years. Corwin, the recently retired musical director, was with the band for 65 years and was its director for 42 years.

Baritone player Doug Switzer of Brattleboro, and tuba player Richard Desrochers of Grafton, have been with the band 65 and 56 years, respectively. There are a few more who have played with the band for many years, but membership has always ranged in age from early teens to octogenarians.

The band started out featuring cornets and drums. Francis Phelps drove a team of four cream-colored horses that pulled a bandwagon with members playing as they rode in and out of towns. One Memorial Day, they drove a total of 40 miles through South Londonderry, Jamaica, and Townshend, playing in four different towns along the way.

The band's first female member was Mary Palmer, a piccolo player. By 1942, the band had three women playing with the group: Charlotte Noyes, Betty Williams, and Myrtle Nichols.

By 1885, it was decided to build a bandstand at the corner of Townshend Rd. and Main Street to give concerts. A second bandstand replacement was built in 1902 at a cost of $8.13 and the third and last band stand was built in the early 1920s. The bandstand no longer exists and the band now plays its concerts in front of the library or at the Grafton White Church.

After 1915, when cars were readily available for members to get to various towns, the band marched in parades. It continued to march on foot until 1986, when it purchased a flat-bed truck and converted it into its official bandwagon.

That bandwagon was replaced this past year with a newer similar version.

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