The following is taken from "Ilion 1852-1952." We thank the Mayor and other officials of Ilion for granting us permission to provide this information to our visitors.


Social "affairs" have always been an integral part of the lives of the townspeople. They have found release from toil in many ways through the years, from neighborhood parties to the most elaborately planned recreation. Strawberry, peach and ice cream festivals were popular, as were lawn parties, candy pulls whist parties, straw rides, and clambakes, County Fairs were exciting in the 1850's. The ground, located just north of the canal, was the scene of the Agricultural Society's Hops, for which Col. William Smith's Quadrille Band of sixteen pieces assured spirited dancing. The usual exhibitions of farm stock, handwork, etc. provided diversion for the more sedate element.

What was probably the most brilliant social occasion in the history of the Valley occurred in 1874. The famed Spanish Ball was the climax to several months of lavish entertaining of the Spanish officials who visited Ilion in connection with their large order of rifles. No expense nor effort was spared, as is illustrated by the fact that Pat Gilmore's world famous band was secured from New York City, as well as the renowned cornetist, Arbuckle. The interior of Maben's Opera House, decorated with massed Spanish and American flags, hardly compared, in splendor, with the colorful regalia of the band and the guests. The concert, dancing, and supper were recalled with superlatives for years. TheHherkimer Democrat deemed the affair "a magnificent combination of beauty, pleasure, music, mirth, fashion and rare social enjoyment." But perhaps theNew York Graphic paid it the gretest homage by stating that "It is a question whether the famed Brussell's Ball, given on the eve of the Battle of Waterloo, excelled the Spanish Ball".

Maben's Opera House was a commodious public hall, seating 1,000, built in 1870 by Dr. H. B. Maben at a cost of $20,000. It occupied the second and third stories, including galleries, of the brick building now occupied by the Ilion Sentinel, an ornament to the village and a convenience to the public. There were seven scenes and the drop curtains which represented the Prodigal Son, away from his father's house, in search of pleasure. It was lighted by gas with reflector suspended from the ceiling. Plays, bazaars, fairs, concerts and many sport events made this the social center of Ilion before the turn of the century. The Loyal Citizen proclaimed editorially, 1871, that "the annual rash of demoralizing theatres, minstrels and low claptrap amusements generally, had arrived with their impecunious debouches". Despite such a dim view of those who trod the boards, such dignified artists as Julia WardHhowe, Henry Ward Beecher, Eva Tanquay, the Fisk Jubilee Singers, and many others gave real pleasure to Ilion audiences. In the 80's much of the entertainment and many of the lectures were sponsored by the Literary Club.

There were many besides newspapermen who raised their voices in criticism of vice. The Ilion Temperance Union with Philo Remington as president, organized in 1865, strongly advocated reforms for the moral uplift of the citizens. There was a Loyal Temperance Legion 1891, also a Prohibition Club, with a reading room in the Osgood, and "The Knights of Sobriety, Fidelity and Integrity". Also the W. C. T. U. active since 1875. Temperance was the temper of times with many a long rally designed to alleviate the prevalent evils. A chess club was promoted by young men "who refuse to compromise themselves at low-lived billiard saloons". On the other hand, Ilion had the reputation of paying out more money for literary and dramatic entertainment than any other town between Albany and Utica.

Eliphalet Remingon, Sr. had built, in the early 40's a commodious residence, the brick structure which later functioned as the Remington Arms Co. office. This historically important home was offered to the village as a museum in 1936 when many of the arms buildings were demolished. Due to the exigencies of the depression days, the offer was not accepted. Two of Mr. Remington's sons, Eliphalet Jr. and Philo, built homes on Otsego Street opposite the first Armory building, where the Capitol Theatre now stands. When, in 1867, large orders for the Remington Breech Loader were placed by the U. S. Navy and several foreign countries, Philo urged to build a larger house to entertain diplomats and representatives. Despite initial objections, Philo, a man of simple tastes, agreed to build the mansion on land now owned by the Arms Company on Armory Hill. Built of pink and grey sandstone, it was turreted after the manner of European castles. Gravelled walks and drives interlaced the landscaped lawns which were further decorated by gardens, greenhouse and terraced fountain. The interior was a decorator's paradise, with its carved black walnut woodwork, mantels of Italian marble, and imported tiles, carpeting, and furnishings. The beautiful $65,000 building, completed in 1870, had three stories, with a ballroom on the top floor. The grand staircase was marked at the bend of its sweeping curve by a wall niche in which stood a suit of midieval armor. In a day when "modern" conveniences were uncommon, the mansion boasted two bathrooms, a kitchen and laundry, all supplied with running water pumped from artesian wells driven in the factory yard beneath the hill. Heating was provided indirectly by radiators beneath the floors and twin boilers in the cellar. Speaking tubes afforded communication between the rooms, and an elevator provided transportation for trunks to the attic. The great house opened its doors with charming hospitability to great and simple folk alike. It was with great reluctance that the descendants of the Remington family decided to raze it, rather than to have it become a neglected eyesore to the community. It was therefore demolished in 1928 and so passed another famous landmark. The large barn on the estate, now know as "The Stables" was purchased by the Little Theater Club. Today Arms buildings stand on the Remington cow pasture and encroach on the garden, once fragrant with Mrs. Remington's favorite flowers.

In 1886, a Bal Masque, arranged by the Standard Club of the Typewriter, the "toniest" event in many years was as successful as the regulated Standard Typewriter.

In the 1880's and 90's the women of Ilion, like others throughout the country, became champions of their rights in intellectual, political, and social life. In this period were organized a literary society which featured Temperance programs: The Travelers Club in 1890, The Historical Club in 1893; both essentially literary and study groups. The latter two have functioned continually since their inception. The Shakespeare Club's membership includes men as well as women. With an initial membership of nine in 1904, it has developed through the years into a group of 55 which today reads modern plays as well as Shakespeare.

The Little Theater Club, organized two decades later, 1924, has provided entertainment in theatrics for themselves and many others through their presentation of modern productions. The late Mrs. Rome Worden gave impetus to a desire of a small group to form such a unit, utilizing her attic as stage and auditorium.

There were many theatres, from 1900 on, devoted to motion pictures, the forerunners of which were phonograph concerts at the YMCA Hall and animated pictures as shown by animotiscope at the Opera House. The Opera House showed the first real "movies". Some almost forgotten theaters include the "Grand" at Main and Morgan, and the "Casino" in the Wilcox Dancing Academy. A typical nickelodean of the times open from 12 to 1 p. m. for the working men, was later called "Big Ben" when renovated in 1916 during World War I. This was on First Street just west of "The Sentinel". The Temple Theatre in the Odd Fellows Temple was popular for years but fell into disuse when the Capitol Theatre opened in 1925 with Frank Whitney and Ben Young as co-owners and operators. This has a capacity of 1200. Beginning in 1928, an orchestra under the direction of Clarence Flint added an especial attraction for a few years. Since 1928 Sunday performnces have been allowed by virtue of a special election.

In 1916 Ilion had its first community Christmas tree. It was placed on the Armory bank opposite Monumnet Square--sponsored by the Board of Trade. The Remington Typewriter and Military Bands furnished music and community singing was enjoyed.

Ilion's first radio convention and fair was held in 1922, for a whole week in Harter's Hall on First Street. This village had the most powerful receiving station in this part of the State at that time.

The Ilion Community concerts, organized in 1947, by Miss Eleanor Brennan and other local music lovers, have brought well known musicians to the village for the past five years. Subscription tickets to the series of three or four concerts a season have been purchased by residents of neighboring towns as well as by many Ilionites. These were held in the High School Auditorium.

Ilion may well be proud of her bands and their splendid record of providing music through the years. J. D. Ingersoll's "Brass Band" played at the celebration of the ending of the Civil War. The Ilion Armory Band gave concerts at Maben's from 1875 and continued to provide entertainment through periods of reorganization and changes of name. The Ilion Military Band functioned until well after the turn of the century directed at various times by P. A. Stubblebine, R. Thompson and P. Gantt. Concerts were given at the "Lift Bridge Park" and near the new West Hill School.

The first Remington Typewriter Field Day, 1905, was the inspiration for the existence of the Type Band. The band was organized that fall with thirty-five members. F. G. Clark as president and P. H. Putnam manager and director. The company officials purchased $1,000 worth of music and trim blue uniforms. In the early years concerts were held at Bridge Square, at the head of the steps leading from Main to the brow of Weisbecker Hill, or "most anywhere we could draw up our chairs". Torches were used for evening concerts and later small lights attached to the bandsmen's caps were tried but proved a nuisance. In desperation the members memorized the marches, so, regardless of flickering light, the band could "play on". They gave performances in many villages besides their own, always winning acclaim. In 1916 they marched down broadway in the Preparedness Day Parade. Under the direction of Lietenant Edwin Daniels, a former member of Sousa's Band, a symphonic quality was developed. Five hundred dollars was appropriated for a "permanent" bandstand in 1920 during the period when the band played opposite Monument Square. Again, in 1926, the Typewriter Band participayed in the 300th Anniversary of Broadway parade. Their radio broadcasts were enthusiastically received. After the depression of the thirties Sammy Nile, a former featured soloist, reorganized the Rem-Rand band with 14 members in 1936. The First Armistice Day Program with the band was presented in 1937, which has been continued every year. A platform was erected opposite the Soldier's Monument during World War II in order to bring the concerts within easy reach of the public, for the "shell", removed from Memorial to Russell Park in 1933, could attract only a limited number of music lovers due to gas rationing. New uniforms, costing $2,000, were provided in 1948 upon the occasion of the band's performance at the Comunity Sing at Cooperstown where 7,000 people gathered. More than 3,000 "fans" gather each summer in Russell Park to hear programs presented by the Remington Rand Band and the recently organized Fireman's Band.

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Created 5/23/02
Copyright © 2002 Paul McLaughlin/ Judy Breedlove/ Martha S. Magill
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