On a blustery March morning 100 years ago, those waiting in the Public Square for a city trolley to take them to the factories of south Lima or the grand homes along West Market Street experienced something they hadn’t experienced in a quarter-century: a blustery March morning.
That morning, Lima’s streetcar transfer station was itself going somewhere. Boarded up and placed on wheels, the six-sided station, improbably crowned with a band stand, began the journey to its new home on the grounds of the Lima Gun Club at Lost Creek Reservoir.
“The chill winds swept around the corners of the ancient transfer building, while those waiting for cars looked pathetically into the waiting room,” the Lima News & Times-Democrat wrote March 3, 1921.
The “ancient transfer building,” which stood at the center of the city’s streetcar system in the Square, was less than 35 years old; the band stand that came to be its second floor was a decade older. It, in turn, had replaced an earlier band stand.
That first band stand was erected after the city’s many bands tired of outdoor concerts that were a little too outdoorsy.
“A petition was in circulation among our citizens on Monday last, receiving numerous signatures, praying the city Council to erect a music stand on the Public Square, which our bands agree to occupy and play from at least once a week in favorable weather,” the Allen County Democrat wrote June 22, 1874, adding, “The prayer of the petitioners ought to be granted by all means, ‘Music hath charms,’ etc.”
The prayer was answered the following spring when a band stand was opened in front of the 1842 county courthouse, which stood in the southwest quadrant of the Square.
“The new music stand has been nicely fitted up and painted, and is really an ornament to the Public Square,” the Democrat wrote April 29, 1875. “A fine chandelier of four burners hangs from the center of the stand, lighted with gas, that gives ample light to the musicians, and so arranged that wind cannot disturb it. The stand was occupied by our excellent Silver Coronet Band for the first time on Saturday last. The really fine music, and the novelty of their new quarters, attracted quite a large crowd in and around the Square.”
The new stand attracted many of the area’s bands – the Lima Concert Band, Keller’s Juvenile Band, and the Young Germania Regimental Band among them. In July 1880, the Democrat wrote that “the Band gave one of their delightful open air-concerts in the band stand last night, which was enjoyed by a large crowd of our people who were promenading around the square.”
It also served as a prime people-watching spot. “A gentleman visiting our city last week, on Thursday evening, while standing near the band stand, remarked to us: ‘Well the city of Lima can turn out more handsome family carriages and buggies, and prettier girls, than any little city I have visited for years,’” the Democrat reported in July 1880. “There were some sixty buggies, carriages and barouches (a large, open, four-wheel carriage), filled with happy, smiling faces, then on the Square.”
In April 1881, six years after the band stand opened, the Democrat reported that “Messrs. Frank Hume and W.W. Granger, Jr., are erecting upon the alley entering the southwest corner of the square, a large covered and enclosed platform, where during two or three evenings each week, the thirsty citizen can drop in and have a cool glass of beer or lemonade, and listen to the music of the band, and to minstrel performances of home talent. It is to be what is generally termed a concert hall, but there is to be nothing of a character to shock the sense of anyone…”
A little more than two weeks later, the 80-by-20-foot pavilion complete with movable sides, which, according to the Democrat, made it the “best-ventilated building in the county,” opened with a warning from ownership delivered through the Democrat: “Good order will be maintained, for the gentlemen undertaking this attraction are determined not to have the rowdy element about them, and all disagreeable persons will be handed over to the police the moment they attempt any of their didoes (a trick or prank).”
By the spring of 1882, about seven years after the band stand opened, lobbying began to replace it.
“The old band stand is beginning to look dilapidated. Wouldn’t it be a good idea to tear it away?” the Democrat asked in May 1882. Four years later, it was worse.
“The old band stand on the Public Square should be repaired. It was built about a decade ago, and now some of the timbers have decayed away and need to be replaced. Some weeks ago, a team was hitched to it and, getting frightened at something, undertook to pull themselves loose, when a portion of the frame gave away, leaving the structure in rather a bad condition…,” Lima’s Daily Democratic Times wrote in April 1886. “It is not in its present condition, much of an ornament to the Public Square…”
A month later, a new band stand, funded by popular subscription administered by Public Square businessmen, was under construction closer to the center of the Square, which, according to the Times, was the wrong spot.
“Those gentlemen who have the management of the new band stand project have made a serious mistake in selecting a location for it, and they should have it removed at once, before any more weight is added to it, to the site of the old band stand,” the newspaper wrote May 24, 1886, noting that, at the old site, the courthouse steps provided seating while the courthouse itself shaded the band stand.
The gentlemen did not listen, and the new band stand opened at the end of May 1886 at the new site between the center of the intersection and the corner occupied by the Lima House Hotel. The new, larger band stand was elevated, with its floor 4 or 5 feet above ground and accessed by a ladder. A 150-feet tower with electric arc lights to illuminate the Square was built next to the band stand in 1887. It was removed about 1902. Nearby was a cast-iron watering trough for horses.
The new band stand was a popular spot for concerts, speeches and holiday celebrations.
“People began to gather about the public square, attracted by the band concert that took place from the band stand,” the Lima Democratic Times wrote of the September 1892 Labor Day celebration. “As soon as shades of darkness had hovered over the great crowd a whizz and an explosion in the air conveyed the intelligence that a grand display of fireworks was about to be made…”
In 1895, the city turned the band stand over to the street railway company for use as a transfer station as practically all electric railway lines crossed at that point. The railway company built a new foundation and first story for the band stand, elevating the original band stand above the heads of the crowd. The new first story had glazed windows, a station agent and free-standing electric heaters.
The reconfigured band stand continued as a venue for music and speeches. In October 1896, presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan clambered up a ladder to the band stand to speak to a large crowd in the Public Square. In July 1912, the Lima Daily News reported that “Monday evening, suffragettes will storm the Public Square. Possession will be taken of the big band stand in the center of the square and addresses will be made from this structure.”
At the end of December 1920, the county board of health condemned the band stand/transfer station, and it was sold to the Lima Gun Club. The gun club moved in 1928, leaving the old band stand behind, where it served for many years as the centerpiece of an informal public park before being demolished.
A new band stand was built in the northeast quadrant of the Square in 1978.
Reach Greg Hoersten at firstname.lastname@example.org.