After Wabaunsee County’s incorporated towns were established from the 1860s through the 1880s, the towns began to recognize the need for a park for the recreation and enjoyment of their citizenry. By the dawn of the 20th century, most of the towns had established a park, easily accessible by walking.
At the same time, virtually all of the towns established city bands which performed at parades, festivals, and opera houses. For some towns, the city band provided the only source of public musical performances.
Curiously, virtually all of the city bands contained only brass instruments, sometimes accompanied with a drum. And, all of the city bands in Wabaunsee County were male-dominated in their membership. Initially, many of the bands were marching bands, performing at parades, but for non-parade events, the need for an elevated platform for the band became apparent. Some towns used portable platforms, but many of the towns erected bandstands in their city parks. The bandstand doubled as a speaker’s platform and provided a shady spot in the park for picnickers and those who seeking shelter from a summer shower.
Eskridge, Kansas, platted by the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway in 1880, had no city park in its first twenty years of existence. In 1903 the City of Eskridge purchased an entire city block of property located between 4th and 5th Avenues and Main and Pine Streets from J. Y. Waugh for a new city park. Five years later in 1908 the City of Eskridge approved the construction of a bandstand, located on the west edge of the park. Rows of trees were planted throughout the park, and the bandstand was the first permanent structure in the new park.
In August of 1909 the City of Eskridge hosted the “Home Coming” celebration in the City Park, marking the 40th anniversary of the settlement of Eskridge at its first location, before the railroad platted the “new town”. The event was a gala affair, centered on the new bandstand in the City Park, and over 5,000 people traveled to Eskridge to attend the event.
In 1913 the City of Eskridge decided to move the bandstand from its original location on the west edge of the park to a new location in the center of the park. Some residents had complained that the bandstand was built too high off the ground level and at a high point of elevation in the park, resulting in some difficulty for the audience in hearing speakers and music. The bandstand was lowered by about three feet relative to the ground, and it was placed in the lowest point of elevation within the park.
The city bands began to wane in popularity by the 1920s, as live music presentations in the small towns shifted to the high school bands. However, the bandstand at Eskridge continued to be an integral part of the City Park for the next century.
This short film of the Eskridge City Park comes to you courtesy Tom Parish.