LIMA — When Jacob Altstaetter needed to gather his band for an engagement he didn’t need to look much farther than his farm between Cairo and Columbus Grove because Altstaetter not only led the band, he fathered it as well.
“The late Jacob Altstaetter, son of a German immigrant and operator of a 160-acre farm in northern Allen County, had a band and orchestra of 14 musicians which, in one respect, probably never has been matched nor will be in this area. The band was Mr. and Mrs. Jacob Altstaetter and their 12 children. Everyone in the family was a member,” the Lima Citizen wrote July 24, 1960.
“Mr. Altstaetter, his wife, Emma, and the children, complete with uniforms and the brass drum, lettered ‘Altstaetter Family, Columbus Grove, Ohio,’ were a familiar sight at farm institutes, fairs, church picnics and public parades from shortly after World War I through the 1930s.”
Jacob Altstaetter was born in 1861, one of 13 children. His father, also known as Jacob Altstaetter, was born in Hesse-Darmstadt, Germany, in 1811, and immigrated to the United States in 1832, eventually settling on 40 acres in Allen County with his wife. “There they lived for 63 years, reared 13 children, one of them Jacob, the father of the band, and acquired additional farmland,” the Citizen noted in the 1960 story, written on the occasion of an Altstaetter family reunion. “Their son, Jacob, took over 160 acres on which he and his wife raised the 12 Altstaetter musicians and on which the youngest son, Harold, still resides.”
The second Jacob Altstaetter did not get his love of music from the first. “Oddly enough, the first Altstaetter was not a music lover,” the Citizen wrote in 1960. “In fact, Bert (one of the second Jacob Altstaetter’s 12 children) recalls, ‘I remember my father telling us he had to go out in the barn to practice.”
Altstaetter, who played bass viol as well as tuba, which may explain his exile to the barn, and his wife, who played snare drum, began to make appearances with some of the children as the Altstaetter Band as early as 1914. On Dec. 29, 1914, the Lima Daily News in a column on West Cairo (as Cairo was known then) News announced the band would “play at the opera house in Columbus Grove, Tuesday night to announce the great mid-winter fair.”
The following year the band made its first appearance in Lima. “The orchestra is unique and the only one of its kind to be found anywhere,” the Daily News reported June 27, 1915. “Its members are all one family, and consist of the father and mother and their 10 children. They play 17 different instruments and have appeared in concert work all over this part of the state.” The Daily News later pronounced the concert at Grace M.E. Tabernacle on West Kibby Street “delightful.” On Sept. 12 of that year, the Daily News reported the band, “which has been so much praised by those who have heard it,” would play at a concert in Memorial Hall sponsored by the Daughters of Veterans.
The band wrapped up that eventful September playing before a “record-breaking crowd” of relatives at the eighth annual Altstaetter family reunion at the Charles Altstaetter Grove near West Cairo. In announcing the event, the Daily News on Sept. 17, 1915, noted that “no program has been arranged for the event. However, the Altstaetter family band will furnish music and sufficient entertainment for all.”
The band truly tried to provide entertainment for all. On June 16, 1916, the Daily News announced the Altstaetters “will give a free concert at their home in Monroe Township on next Sunday. … The father, mother and ten children play in the band. This same number is represented in the orchestra.”
Over the years the Altstaetter band and orchestra would play at such venues as the Perry Township public school picnic, held in 1920 at “Logan’s Grove on Stop 7 on the Ohio Electric” and, in 1921, at the annual homecoming and community day picnic in Taylor’s Grove near Uniopolis. The band entertained at the 1921 picnic of the Ohio Threshermen’s association in Faurot Park and, in November 1921, at “the big Mardi Gras parade and entertainment” in Leipsic. They were regulars at Women’s Christian Temperance Union events. In 1927, they provided music during the first Cairo homecoming.
The 1960 Citizen story described the band as “completely uniformed in blue with black trim, and later a white summer outfit.” And, “in addition to being a band, the family also was an orchestra, and with some change in instrumentation, played for church socials, school affairs and square dances.”
The Sunday News of June 13, 1915, said the Altstaetters “play every sort of known instrument and in addition to a full orchestra also have an Italian harp in their collection of instruments which are played by them.”
A story in the Lima Times-Democrat on May 25, 1918, said, “The instruments for both band and orchestra cost nearly $4,000. For the past three years they have played picnics, county fairs, commencements and celebrations of every kind. The class of music they play ranks from the simplest to the classic. Much of the success of the operation is due to the efforts of Prof. Al Kreisel, of 330 N. Jameson Ave., Lima, who has been their teacher for some years.”
Joining their mother and father in the band were the Altstaetter children: Emil Henry, the oldest son, born in 1890, Gilbert Wilhelm, Clifford Jacob, Marie Catherine, Waldo Emerson, Albert Arthur, Clara Helena, Lena Albertina, Lewis Calvin and Clarence Frederick. Harold, 4 years old in 1918, and Alice Marguerite, 6 years old that year, also would eventually play with the band.
The leader of the band, Jacob Altstaetter, died in 1940 and his wife, Emma, in 1944. Ten of the 12 Altstaetter children were still alive at the time of the 1960 reunion. Harold, the youngest and last surviving member of the band, died in April 2012.