Jacksonville Bandstand

It is extremely rare for anything to leave teh National Mall in Washington, D.C. As Rod Wellenkamp, President of PLHM said, “We are delighted that the Smithsonian Institution has entrusted this national treasure to the care of the Prairie Land Heritage Museum.” A gala re-dedication was held at 10 a.m. September 24, 2011.

The Bandstand was built in 1878 and 1879 at a cost of less than $500 on the grounds of what was later called the Jacksonville State Hospital. The Hospital was then a self-contained city with over 100 buildings and everything needed to sustain life and provide protection and services, including a complete carpenters’ shop.

There are no records to indicate whether the intricate millwork on the Bandstand was made in a specialized shop in a city like Chicago, or whether the entire Bandstand was made by that carpenters’ shop.

There were two identical Bandstands, the East and the West, plus a smaller one to the north. Bands made up of patients, of patients and staff, of patients and residents of Jacksonville, and later war veteran patients all performed in all three Bandstands, one at a time, so most of the patients housed in the various buildings could hear the band music. Once the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus was in Jacksonville, and between Circus performances members of their excellent band joined with patients to entertain other patients.

At the suggestion of a local historian I searched the photographs held by the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and found an excellent photograph of the Bandstand in what we believe was its original condition. It was close to the ground, just as the Bandstand is now at Prairie Land, and has intricate decoration on the roof.

The Bandstand when completed will again have that carved wooden roof decoration for the first time in over 70 years as it has been recreated by the 80 year old carpenter, Hap Vortman, who is assisting with reconstruction.

Both the East and the West Bandstands were raised up higher in 1930, and on the back of the photo is written: “West Stand to be raised and Ladies’ toilet provided under. East Stand to be raised and Mens’ toilet, shower and dressing room provided under.” Prairie Land has the East Bandstand, the Men’s one.

In 1983 the Bandstand was dismantled by the National Museum of American History, and after being rebuilt, dedicated on July 4, 1984.

We have the Bandstand back only because on October 8, 1982, Jon B. Bauman, Bureau Manager, Illinois Department of Central Management Services, in a letter granting an exemption to the Department of Mental Health to donate the Bandstand to the Smithsonian, stated, “The exemption is contingent upon the understanding that the Smithsonian will return the property to the State of Illinois at which time when it is no longer used for display in the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C.” Every word of that letter is important.

On April 21, 2009, the Director of the National Museum of American History wrote a letter to Governor Pat Quinn offering “This unique piece of Americana…that played a significant role in the history of music therapy in the treatment of mental illness” back to Illinois. Later the city of Jacksonville was informed that the Bandstand would cost the city $425,000, and the city council turned down the offer.

I decided that somethign did not seem quite right about that, so I decided to take on the project of getting the Bandstand back to Jacksonville. After more than a year of effort, and with some help from some people in Washington, D.C., the Bandstand was returned to Jacksonville along with a check for $25,000. Prairie Land expresed an interest in it, and eventually Jacksonville gave the Bandstand and the money to PLHM.

Contributed by Lonnie Johns

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