Elkhorn Band Shell
Sunset Park, Elkhorn, Walworth County
Date of construction: 1926
Builder: Jake Bauerman
The Elkhorn Band Shell is a highly intact example of an unusual type of building from the 1920s, constructed for a community steeped in musical history. The band shell features well-preserved Classical Revival details, but its more important attribute is its large wooden rear stage wall that rises to a dome shape, specifically designed for high acoustical qualities.
The location of the Holton instrument factory in Elkhorn was one of the catalysts for the band shell’s construction. In 1917, Frank Holton, who played trombone in John Phillip Sousa’s band, agreed to move his brass band instrument factory from Chicago to Elkhorn. His factory emerged from his invention of an improved trombone slide oil and a music shop he established in Chicago. By 1907, Holton manufactured brass band instruments in a factory in Chicago. In 1917, Holton was looking for a new factory location. Elkhorn business leaders financed a new factory to lure the company to the city and, in April of 1918, Frank Holton & Company moved into the new facility.
The city also has a long musical history. Many communities in Wisconsin fostered local bands in the nineteenth century; in Elkhorn, the community band movement dates to the 1840s. In 1883, the band incorporated as the Elkhorn Cornet Band and the group purchased new music and instruments in 1890. By 1912, the 20-member band was holding weekly concerts during the summer months. The local band entered a new phase in 1918 after the Holton factory opened. Among the factory workers were musicians who joined the local band, improving it significantly. During the 1920s, the newly named Holton-Elkhorn Band drew large crowds to its weekly summer concerts.
Elkhorn’s first outdoor band shell was built in 1875-76 at the northeast corner of the courthouse square. In May of 1926, the city council voted to help fund the construction of a new state-of-the-art band shell for the Holton-Elkhorn Band. Based on a design by a G. Pheby of Phoenix, Arizona, the band shell was said to be patterned after one in Mount Morris, Illinois. It was reported that the band shell’s interior design would have superb acoustical qualities from the construction of a back wall that was in the form of an inverted bowl. Along with the city’s allocation, funding for the $3,000 structure also came from the Holton Company, Frank Holton, the band, and the local community. The new band shell stood on the courthouse square until 1962, when it was moved to its present location in Sunset Park.
The Holton-Elkhorn Band continues to provide community concerts in the band shell during the summer.