Military-themed drum and bugle corps, often made up of teenagers and sponsored by veterans organizations or churches, were very popular throughout the 1800’s. In about 1859 a group of five local men from North Sewickley Township formed a fife and drum group probably known as the Houk and Newton Drum Corps. The men were local residents Charles Newton, William Newton, William Houk, Elisha (or Elijah?) Houk, and Albert Houk. The group later became known as the Belton Drum Corps, named after the small settlement just south of what later became Ellwood City. One member of the group, Charles Newton, enlisted in the U.S. Army during the Civil War and served as a drummer.
In the coming years the Belton Drum Corps grew in size and became well known while playing at political rallies, civic gatherings, veterans reunions, and military recruitment drives. It was especially popular during times of conflict such as the Civil War, the Spanish-American War, and the Great War (World War I). In 1907 the group, often made up of older men, was reorganized and renamed as the Ellwood City Drum Corps.
On June 20, 1913, a group of twelve Drum Corps members (not all members went) and twenty-one military veterans departed Ellwood City via the Pennsylvania & Lake Erie (P&LE) Railroad bound for distant Gettysburg, where a ceremony was taking place honoring the 50th anniversary of the famous Civil War battle of July 1-3, 1863. The experienced group had a whirlwind trip and were a big hit in Gettysburg. They were honored by leading the massive Union advance on the Confederate camp, were the star attraction at several muscial gatherings, and invited by Governor John K. Tenor to accompany him and play at several political events in Harrisburg. The group were hailed as heroes as they returned home in time to play at an patriotic event in Butler on July 12.
The Ellwood City Drum Corps – and other local groups such as the VFW Drum & Bugle Corps and the American Legion Drum Corps – were very popular all throughout the 1920’s and 1930’s. Among the most celebrated groups from the region was the Croton School Band of New Castle, made of young schoolchildren. The last reports I can find show the Ellwood City Drum Corps active in 1941 just prior to the United States’ entry into World War II. It appears the group was disbanded at that time. The drum & bugle corps of the modern era, often sponsored by high schools, are still popular and often show their skills and school events, civic parades, and national competitions.
This photo shows a dozen members of the Ellwood City Drum Corps and two veterans (both seated) in Gettysburg in July 1913. The group made an impressive showing at an event celebrating the 50th anniversary of the famous Civil War battle. Drum major Harry L. Clark is out front and the group included original members Charles Newton, William Houk, and Albert Houk. From left to right they are identifed as: H. Conway (seated), A. Wiley, W. Houk, C. Newton, W. Hazen, W. Mehard, H. Clark (out front), B. Main, W. Thompson, E. Houk, A. Houk, T. Rouser, J. Wolfe, and P. Fletcher (seated). Full Size
An early photo of the Houk-Newton Band as a Memorial Day service at the Slippery Rock Presbyterian Church in May 1890. Three of the six men in the front row are identified – from left its unidentified, unidentified, Charles Cunningham, Jack Galbreath, unidentified, and John Guy. (1890) Full Size