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With the (Rohrersville) band

Band hall dates to early 20th century

Band hall dates to early 20th century

October 10, 2009|By PAT SCHOOLEY / Special to The Herald-Mail

This is the 177th in a series of articles about the historical and architectural treasures of Washington County.

Pleasant Valley, tucked between Elk Ridge and South Mountain in the southern part of Washington County, is a rural area 16 miles from Hagerstown. The small village of Rohrersville, strung along winding, hilly Main Street, presents an array of 19th-century buildings. Two churches raise spires to the heavens. Houses crowd the street.

But the most unexpected structure in this quiet town is a sturdy brick hall with an elaborate sign fixed above its double entrance doors. Representations of the stars and stripes and Maryland's state flag drape either side of this sign. Routed grooves separate each color from the next as the sign proclaims, "Rohrersville Band Hall Organized 1837."

On the left side of the building, the carefully carved cornerstone states "Town Hall built by the Rohrersville Cornet Band 1916."

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The hall stands on sturdy- stone foundation walls that open at ground level in the back. Masonry between the stones is finished with raised German pointing. The building is three bays wide and four deep with pilasters at its corners and between the windows. These windows have four-over-four sashes placed under gently arched lintels made of header bricks.

The building is about 64 feet long and 36 feet wide, containing a single room with a stage at its far end and a balcony above the door. The original tin ceiling, with its wide, pressed-tin cornice, still exists under a dropped ceiling which was installed later to improve acoustics. In the basement is a space of similar size. The structure fills the lot, with an alley on the right leading to the town cemetery.

McCoy founds a band

In 1837, G. Washington McCoy moved to Rohrersville from Sharpsburg. He was 20 years old. That same year, he gathered a group of like-minded men and established McCoy's Cornet Band. At that time nearly every community had a band that would play at picnics, revivals, weddings, funerals, political rallies - any event that called them. Band activities took place in evenings and on weekends, for members all had regular occupations.

The band organized under a constitution and a set of by-laws, electing officers, a board of directors and a leader of the band. All the members of the band voted on which jobs to accept, how much to charge or what to accept in lieu of cash payment. Sometimes they worked gratis for causes they supported, sometimes for dinner or for expenses, but it was always a group decision.

Fines of 12 1/2 cents were imposed on band members for missing practice without an excuse, being late or for "using profane language, smoking segars (sic) or leaving his seat without the consent of the President" or refusing to play the music selected by the leader. They practiced seriously and played frequently.

Band funds itself

Income from gigs did not fully support the band, so band fairs were also held. These offered bingo, food, games and prizes to raise additional funds. Net proceeds from the 1910 fair totaled $126.43. Band funds were used to buy instruments, music lamps and uniforms for members. These items were then loaned to members who were responsible for their care and for returning them to the band in good condition when they left the organization. The band also paid for repair of instruments and for music.

Eventually a bandwagon was purchased, and the band then needed to keep it in repair and arrange for horses to pull it. When uniforms or bandwagons were replaced, the old ones were sold and the funds added to the treasury. In 1886, they sold instruments to members of an African-American band in Burkittsville. Only occasionally did the band choose to divide funds among members; band finances were set up to support the band itself.

Elections were held each year. McCoy served as bandleader or captain for 46 of the band's first 54 years. He was a talented musician and the driving force behind the band. He would buy just one piece of music for each song the band chose, then write arrangements for each instrument by hand. McCoy himself played the fife and the E-flat clarinet.

Early in his life, McCoy worked on construction of the C&O Canal. He purchased a home in Rohrersville on Main Street and later established a marble yard in a building next to his house. Here he carved gravestones and other marble objects from marble quarried on the Shifler farm north of town. McCoy died in 1897 at the age of 79, leaving his third wife and six married granddaughters.

Building its hall

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