Brandon’s Bandshell: Over 100 years in Williamsport’s outdoor stage

In 1931, residents gathered to hear a performance at the Bandshell. Image courtesy of photographic archives at the James V. Brown Library.

WILLIAMSPORT – In anticipation for upcoming renovations to the Brandon Park Bandshell, over a century of musical performances are remembered for filling the stage. 

City engineer Jon Sander said in October that the stage was experiencing cracking, the back wall had issues, the structure needed a new roof and gable and the facility inside needed heating and air conditioning work. Repairs are expended to cost as much as $280,000. 

The Bandshell in Brandon Park was dedicated to Williamsport in 1912. However, the park land was “the gift of A. Boyd Cummings” in 1890. According to John Megginess’s book “The History of Lycoming County”, “It was so named by him in honor of his sister, who married John Brandon, one of the early publishers” of what is now the Sun Gazette. 

The 43-acre donation was called a “magnificent” gift that “will forever remain a memorial of its generous donor.”  

On July 7th, 1912 “a project, which will be of interest to every resident of Williamsport, was launched last night at the open air services held in Brandon Park, when Rev. W.C. Rittehouse, a senior pastor of St. John’s Reformed Church, stated that it is proposed to erect a building from which suitable religious services and secular services as well may be held,” a writer for the Sun Gazette said in the July 8th, 1912 issue. 

Subscription cards were distributed to the 2,000 people who were gathered as Rittenhouse explained “that the idea was to erect a band shell with a platform on which a big band may be seated and which will have acoustic properties that will carry a voice a long way.” 

The writer in that July 8th issue explained that pastors were having difficulty having their voices heard by the large crowds that gathered for Sunday night services back in the day. 

This writer said that the “disadvantage of the chorus and the orchestra in not having an elevated platform from which to render their parts prevented the audience from enjoying fully” the experience.

Construction of the project concluded in November 1913. However, it would not be fully dedicated until June of 1914 at a special ceremony. 

“In the presence of an immense crowd of over 8,000 people the Brandon Park Bandshell, one of the most substantial and beautiful in the state, achieved finally by the perseverance of the committee…which raised the first $2,500, and the generosity of the citizens of Williamsport was formally dedicated and handed over to the city if Williamsport last night,” a writer for the Sun Gazette said on Jun 17th, 1914. 

That night, Mayor Samuel Stabler said, “It is with pleasure that the council of Williamsport has accepted the very cordial invitation to be present on this very pleasant occasion of the presentation of this music pavilion to the city.” 

He added that “this evening as we are gathered here and look upon this very substantial building, we remember how incessantly have labored this committee, the various clubs, the public press and individuals, that this undertaking might be a success. And as a result of their untiring efforts, we have this magnificent building, a building that does credit to the beautiful park.” 

He concluded his remarks and said, “As the executive, and on behalf of the City of Williamsport, I accept a beautiful gift, and in the name of the city thank all who have contributed to its success. May this building stand as a memorial to your labors long after you have gone to your reward.” 

During that night, the bandshell held its first concert under the direction of Professor Gustav Kliemann. He conducted a “large male chorus” that “sang several splendid selections” which was met with “great applause.”  

The bandshell would serve for years and years in this capacity with many religious services and hymn signs held.   

In the 1940s, a Community Sing was started in August 1940. During that first show, nearly 8,000 residents showed up and sang together. In the April 22, 1990 issue of the Grit, it was discussed that kids would show up and display their talents and band leader Johnny Nicolosi also performed  there in 1955. 

During 1990, jazz and pop singer Patti Austin performed in August as a part of a program celebrating Brandon Park’s first century.  

This past summer, the Uptown Music Collective held its annual Summer Music Festival in July. 

“The Summer Music Showcase is a much-anticipated performance event for the students of the Uptown Music Collective, many of whom have been preparing for months for this opportunity to perform to family, friends, and the Williamsport community on the bandshell stage,” according to a NorthCentralPa.com article. 

Author

  • Writer Don Everett Smith Jr. is a recent transplant to Lycoming County with his wife, Laura, and their cats and tortoise. Don has written professionally for over 25 years with several articles, short stories and books to his credit. He is also a known horror and true-crime writer with a specific interest in history.

Don Everett Smith Jr.

Writer Don Everett Smith Jr. is a recent transplant to Lycoming County with his wife, Laura, and their cats and tortoise. Don has written professionally for over 25 years with several articles, short stories and books to his credit. He is also a known horror and true-crime writer with a specific interest in history.