Salisbury’s Central Park and community band through history

The Salisbury Bandstand has been the scene of park concerts for decades.

Salisbury had a Central Park?

Apparently yes, at least for a short time.

And Salisbury hosted summer concerts on Fridays at this Central Park, long before community band concerts were held at the city park.

On July 9, 1920, Salisbury began its summer series of free concerts by the I.O.O.F. band throughout July, August and September, at what was described as “the grove situated on Division street between the Peninsula General hospital and the Wicomico river, which from this time on is to be known as Central Park.”

It is not clear if this 1920 season was the first for this band organized by the Odd Fellows, but likely so. Benches were set up in anticipation of about 100 visitors, and the band was expected to have at least 16 musicians.

But attendance exceeded expectations with a crowd of over 500. Ice cream available at a booth run by the ladies of St. Peter’s Episcopal Church quickly sold out. For subsequent concerts, organizers provided more benches and ice cream.

The band director was listed as “E. Little.” The music included overtures, waltzes and others like the Gee Whiz fox trot. And of course there were marches, such as the Gate City, Lights Out, and the Tenth Regiment marches, to name a few.

The successful concert prompted the local newspaper to suggest, “Why not an amusement park?”

Noting that many who attended the Central Park’s concert were from out of town, the editorial worried that those folks would turn their attentions to the beach resorts. A “small, inexpensive but attractive amusement park in Salisbury would be a boon to those people.”

The next concert announcement hinted of the possibility of adding a merry-go-round.

The band concerts continued throughout the summer and donations for its support were increasing.

At the end of August, Salisbury held its annual fair attended by thousands over a 4 day period (extended to a fifth day due to rain). The first day of the fair exceeded 17,000, then a record for a Thursday opening.

Donations to the local band effort fell off by September, and concern was expressed in the newspaper, but they continued concerts through September, stating it was important to the community.

It is also not clear if those concerts continued after 1920. I am still checking but it looks like no more concerts were scheduled and the idea of a Central Park ended.

It could be that the bustling Salisbury of the time provided competition for venues, with its summer fair and growing downtown entertainment. And as any seasoned band leader knows, there are challenges with ensuring consistent summer concerts free to everyone.

The Salisbury Community Band of today, with its summer concerts in the city park, has its beginnings around 1937. The first conductor was Herbert Berry Marston, a former solo clarinetist with John Philip Sousa. Marston was also band director at Wicomico High School.

For me, each experience of walking across the park pedestrian bridge and hearing the music through the willow trees was a memory that lasts a lifetime.

So next time you visit our summer concerts in the city park, be sure to clap and cheer a little louder for the talented musicians, soak in the memories, and enjoy every note from this community treasure.

Linda Duyer lives in Salisbury and is writing a book about the community’s history. Contact her at lindaduyer1@yahoo.com.

 

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