The Liberty Band has held a significant place in Middletown history due to its longevity. The band, in various incarnations, served Middletown for over 100 years. Though the band is not active today, its Liberty Band Hall is still standing today as a reminder of this history.
Though the building located on South Union Street is now known as the Band Hall, the building used to belong to the Salem Lutheran Church, in Oberlin, PA. They erected and dedicated the building on November 22nd, 1846. In 1897, they enhanced the church by adding a steeple, a vestibule, and a recessed balcony. However, the church decided to build a new church building in 1912 and the Liberty Band was able to buy the old building for $125 in 1916 and have it moved to its present site in Middletown.
The parts of the building were brought over in separate pieces by horse and wagon. The building measured 30 x 40 feet in total, with the main support beam being 10 x 12 inches thick. The interior walls of the hall were made from a plaster composed of horsehair and clay. The floor had wooden chairs scattered for the players and a small wooden podium for the conductor. To make up for a lack of heat, the band purchased a large potbelly stove from Redman’s Hall to produce a satisfying amount of warmth inside. The Band Hall lacked bathrooms, proving a rather tiresome problem for some. After long usage from the band, the wooden floors developed deep stains of tobacco juice from the constant chewing done by many band members.
Middletown’s first band was Baumbach’s Brass Band, which was formed in 1858 and consisted solely of brass instruments, as the name states. The band then changed its name to the Original Harmonic Band of Middletown in 1868. For a while the instruments were still mainly trumpets and cornets, but they started to gain more diverse members as time passed. When the band changed its name again in 1875 to the Liberty Band, the group included trombones, trumpets, cornets, contra tubas, french horns, clarinets, and percussion.
The music produced by the Liberty Band became increasingly popular over the years and at one time there were forty members in the band. The Liberty Band served as both a marching band and concert band, performing in parades and celebrations while also performing concerts for locals. For parades, the Liberty Band would usually perform classic, well-known marches while switching to casual yet entertaining pieces during concerts.
Overall, the band continuously flourished until World War II. Around the time that many band members that served in the war returned home, the group began to struggle with scheduling, music selections, concerts, debate of unionization, and the band’s purpose in general. On top of this, the Band Hall itself faced frequent encounters of vandalism. Windows would be smashed; the area would be covered with trash and the roof of the building had an issue with leaking while the inside desperately needed repainting. The Liberty Band did not have much money to cover these expenses, so they started renting out the hall for rummage sales, as a polling station, and then to Albert’s Auction. However, in the end it was not the bills, but the internal problems of the band, that broke them up. They were unable to find a positive solution for the numerous personal disagreements, and the band split up on March 31st, 1966.
The music in the hall and the instruments of the band were given to the Bainbridge Band, New Holland Band, and other music groups. To serve as remembrance of the Liberty Band, all the organizations given these things have the Liberty Band Stamp.
In 1972 Hurricane Agnes severely damaged the building. The Redevelopment Authority of the County of Dauphin took ownership of the hall. In turn, they leased the building out to the Borough of Middletown who began leasing it to the Middletown Area Historical Society in 1975. The Historical Society was able to buy the building and its surroundings in 1981 from the Redevelopment Authority. With the usage of county, state, or federal grants, the Historical Society was able to replace the leaky roof and paint the outside of the building. A member of the society, Mr. William Thompson, was able to preserve a few of the original windowpanes while reglazing and resealing all the windows and also installing screens to protect them. The area of the Band Hall and Old Ferry House is maintained by volunteers of the Historical Society, working to bring it back better than ever. The Middletown Area Historical Society hopes to obtain sufficient funds to begin repairing the inside of the building to fully refurbish it.
The Old Ferry House is located right next to the Band Hall, making the area hold two historic places side-by-side. The Ferry House was known as “The Barracks” or “The Fort” during the mid-18th century. This is because of its temporary use as a stockade during the Revolutionary period to hold Hessian prisoners. Before this time, it was inhabited by Indians who left an important insight on Indian life at the time. Because of the building’s importance, the U.S. Department of Interior placed the Ferry House in the National Register of Historic Places in late 1975.
Story prepared by: Alexis Jefferson
Burkett, Georgia, and The Middletown Area Historical Society. “The Liberty Band Hall.” 22nd Annual Colonial Arts and Crafts Fair, by The Middletown Area Historical Society, Jednota Press, 1997, pp. 6–7.
DeHart, Grace, and The Middletown Area Historical Society. “The Liberty Band Hall.” 11th Annual Colonial Arts and Crafts Fair, by The Middletown Area Historical Society, Jednota Printery, 1986, pp. 5–6.
The Middletown Area Historical Society. “Did Middletown Have a Town Band?” 29th Annual Middletown Colonial Arts & Crafts Fair, by The Middletown Area Historical Society, Triangle Press, 2004, pp. 5–5.