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The Ruggles Pioneer Band


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The Ruggles Pioneer Band

First row left to right: Albert Hoover, Walter S. Hoover, Joseph Anderson, Cecil Moore, Harry Jones, Claude Sorber, Albert May,
Clarence Montross, Robert Traver, William Lamoreaux, Alfred Bronson, E.Y.B. Engleman, Band Master.

Second row left to right: Herbert Bronson, Ashley Traver, Elwood Oney, Floyd Montross, Harry Lamoreaux,
James Montross, Fred Sutton, Arthur Kocher, Sherman Hoover.


  century ago many rural communities took pride in their local band. These were voluntary organizations
  which provided a social outlet for its male members, entertainment at local churches, farm shows, parade grounds, amusement parks, and competition among country and city-based bands.

Prominent in the Back Mountain were the Renard and Ruggles bands.

The village of Ruggles was largely created by Josiah Ruggles and his son, C.W. Ruggles, merchants who settled in Lehman, Lake, and Ross Townships. The Ruggles community was located along Beaver Run astride Route 29 about two miles from Harvey’s Lake. Ruggles is largely in Lake Township, Luzerne County, but its old industrial sites were in adjacent Noxen Township in Wyoming County. The Ruggles family descended from Lorenzo Ruggles who was born in Connecticut in 1790 but who relocated in his very early youth to Hanover Township.

By 1872 the hamlet was known as Beaver Run, after its small stream which provided power for a sawmill and tannery. A partner in the Ruggles businesses was John J. Shonk. The Ruggles and Shonk lumber company built a steam saw mill in Ruggles in late 1873 but it was lost to fire by Christmas 1873 and was rebuilt and operational in April 1874. The sawmill was lost in another fire in late October 1875 destroying 30,000 feet of lumber. The mill was rebuilt by December 1875. In November 1874 the Beaver Run Tanning Company was built and employed 12 men treating 12,000 cattle hides annually to make leather. A. D. Shonk, eldest son of John J. Shonk, was superintendent of the Ruggles-Shonk lumber and tanning plants from 1875 to 1885 after which he had realty, coal and banking interests in the Wyoming Valley and in West Virginia. By 1883 the community name and post office was formally renamed Ruggles in honor of Josiah Ruggles. But the area was also known as Ruggles Hollow. The post office was officially in Luzerne County.

In the late Fall of 1884 young men in the Ruggles area assembled the Ruggles Cornet Band. They were Paul Kraft, leader; William Austin; William Armstrong; L. D. Kocher, Jr.; Fred Schultz; Sanford Steel; James Hoover; William Davis; Edward Nash; George L. Nash; Mack Kocher; George Sorber; Philip Sorber; Nathan Kocher; Otis Kocher; and Fred Davis.

In 1885 "Prof." James Barnum became the band’s musical director. Barnum was a celebrated church organist and the son of Judge Charles T. Barnum (1813-1887) who had one of the earliest homes (Barnum Place) at Harvey’s Lake near the Picnic Grounds. (James Barnum died in June 1929). The band practiced at the Ruggles school house on Tuesday evenings and at the West Corner School at the Lake on Saturday evenings. (James Barnum died in June 1929).

On February 13, 1888, the Ruggles and Shonk lumber mill was again destroyed by fire. A new mill was not completed until February 1889. Later in the year and certainly by September 1889 Albert Lewis, the county’s major lumberman with immense holdings at Bear Creek, the Lake, and Noxen, purchased the Ruggles lumber mill. He would also complete the Lehigh Valley Railroad through the region including a spur line completed in February 1889 along Beaver Run in Noxen Township to service the Ruggles industrial site. The Shonk and Ruggles tannery either was likely closed after the 1888 fire or in 1889 when Lewis bought the lumber mill site. In the late 1880s William Austin, who was earlier associated with Shonk, was the Ruggles saw mill foreman. Austin died from typhoid fever in October 1889.

The last news account of the Ruggles lumber operation was in May 1893 when the then foreman Albert Berry was injured and Edward Transue, the lath foreman at Lewis’ lumber mill at Stull, was sent to Ruggles during Berry’s recovery. In the 1890s lumbering at Ruggles was exhausted, but would continue at Stull, near Noxen, until 1906, and at the Alderson Lake mill until 1912-1913. The industrial town of Ruggles, its store, mills and related structures would disappear.

In the early 1900s Barnum’s band seemingly dissolved or evolved into Renard’s Band. In any event, George S. Renard became the leader, more likely, of a new Ruggles Band . Renard was originally from Plymouth. He married Fannie Shonk in December 1891, daughter of Albert D. Shonk. She was a niece of Cong. George W. Shonk and grand-daughter of wealthy John J. Shonk who owned immense lands in the Ruggles area where the Renards relocated to permit George Renard to work for the Shonk interests. They would have eleven children.

The band used Renard’s home at Ruggles Hollow for practice sessions. Under Renard the band gained much wider recognition and was equally called the Renard or Ruggles Band. Renard had a natural gift for inspiration, organization and politics. His band was host to the launching in 1905 of the Acoma, near the Oneonta Hotel, the last of the Lake steamboats. But after 1907 Renard’s role with the band seemingly ended as he entered politics. Over the next decade he lost two campaigns to become a County Commissioner but he did serve as Luzerne County Superintendent of Roads for 6 years. (He died in September 1928 in Kingston).

In 1908 Sherman Hoover and his father Walter Hoover reorganized the Ruggles Free Band, more popularly called the Ruggles Pioneer Band. Early members included Harry Hoyt, Tony Huminick and James Barney. At first the band offered free entertainment at area venues.

The Ruggles band would become the best known band in the Back Mountain playing at fairs, church gatherings, reunions, on the Lake steamboats, and at the Picnic Grounds. While the band was based at the Ruggles Church Hall, once located on Route 29 nearly opposite the Ruggles Methodist Church, members came from all over the general Lake region.

In October 1959 the Suburban News featured a history of the Renard Band:

In days gone by the season of the old Dallas Fair was a time of year when the marital music of the Renard Band of Ruggles quickened the stops of everybody who viewed the agricultural exhibits, bought cotton candy or placed a bet on the sleek trotters that came annually to race at Dallas.
For the period between 1900 to 1910, the Renard Band gained renown for its concerts during the summer at the Harvey’s Lake Picnic Grounds, at the Fair, at steamboat dedications and during the observance of patriotic holidays. Often during the late fall or winter it played to raise money for new uniforms and music.
Directed by the late George S. Renard, the band was composed entirely of local men - farmers, painters, butchers, stone masons and steamboat men.
The bandmaster, a former blacksmith at No. 11 Colliery in Kingston, loved music. So did the men he attracted to the band. The drummers came from Sorber Mountain; the cornet player was a stone mason.
Mr. Renard, himself, was a native of [Plymouth] who settled in Ruggles about 1895 to manage the farm owned by [the Shonk family] and which he and his wife, the former Frannie Shonk, Plymouth, later purchased. He gained considerable renown as one of this [Lake] area’s first candidates for County office, being defeated for County Commissioner by the late Ambrose West.

The Suburban News article also carried a photograph of the band at the dedication of the Acoma steamboat with more details:

The members, front row, left to right are: Walter S. Hoover, former Lake Township supervisor, school director and tax collector; William Freeman, a house painter; George S. Renard, bandmaster; Paul Kraft, butcher, familiar to many summer residents of Harvey’s Lake; Lee Sutton, a carpenter who also worked on the steamboats during the summer; Andrew Kocher, highly respected farmer and stone mason.
Back row: Fred Crispell, employee of the J.K. Moser Co., at Noxen; Harry Hoyt, house painter; William Hoppes, farmer; Arthur Hoppes, farmer, later employed by A.J. Sordoni; James Hoover, farmer and for many years Lake Township Supervisor; Joseph Kocher, worked on steamboats; Amos Hoover, farmer; Sherman A. Hoover, stone mason, farmer and lumberman. Mr. Renard said of him, "Sherman is the best cornet player I ever heard."
As the men walked down the country roads, gathers for practice, each would start to play his instrument. The Hoppes, father and son, coming down from Sorber Mountain would roll their drums, to be answered from another road by the cornet of Sherman Hoover, or the trombone of one of the other members, playing from the time they left home until they reached the band room.

Renard's Band - Acoma Dedication - June 29, 1905.
Renard is seated in Row 1, 3rd from left.

In early September 1930 the Pioneer Band was reorganized with James Montross, President; Albert May, Vice-President; Robert Traver, Treasurer; Claude Sorber, Secretary; and "Sherm" Hoover as Band Director. The band continued its practices at the Ruggles Church Hall and generally relied on church suppers, donations, and fees to maintain the band. Usually, the band charged $10.00 to play at an event.

In late 1931 the band adopted a standard cap for members. Herbert Bronson was elected band president and Elwood E. Oney as vice-president. Band practices were on Tuesday evenings but changed to Wednesday evenings beginning in 1932. Band meetings were dominated by finance issues. Fish and oyster suppers, “corn fests,” or other dinners were regularly held at the Ruggles Church in cooperation with the church’s ladies aid society.

In the early 1930s the bandmaster was Edward Y. B. Engelman (1865-1944) from Noxen. Years earlier Engelman had served in Williamsport’s Repasz Band, created in 1831, and by 1898 he led the Noxen Tanners’ Band. He worked in the Noxen Tannery and in 1909 he secured a United States patent for an improved table for a leather making machine. He became the "loft manager" for the tannery and later he was in the fruit farming business. In 1931 Engelman’s twenty-five member Ruggles Band held ten open-air Summer concerts in Noxen. His service with the band ended in mid-1935 when C. E. Terry became the bandmaster followed by Howard Cosgrove as the band’s teacher/director in October 1937. Cosgrove was paid $2.00 per rehearsal when there was only $11.00 in the band treasury. But the band purchased a .22 rifle from Sears Roebuck, sold off raffle tickets, and earned $28.02

The late Carleton Kocher, who was elected vice-president in mid-1935, recalled his band days in a May 1980 Suburban News article:

Kocher, although not one of the original members, joined the group in 1930, and played on and off for about five years. As he explains it, the members would get together mostly for the fun of it. He tells how he bought himself a trombone and an instruction book and sat next to one of the other musicians. That’s how he learned to play. Most of the members, he says, were self taught musicians, although several had played in George Renard’s band before branching off on their own.
The musical fare included band type compositions and hymns. The group played at the forerunner to the present Sweet Valley parade for several years. Starting at the cemetery across from the post office, the band would play a few tunes and march up to the cemetery near the fire hall, where they again entertained. Also, for $15 a gig, just enough to buy music, the group entertained weekly over in Noxen. They also played at the old Ricketts house on a number of occasions. [The R.B. Ricketts home at Lake Ganoga.]

Other events in 1934-1935 included concerts at churches at Roaring Brook, Mooretown, Noxen, Oakdale, and in Forty-Fort. While the band typically charged $10.00 it occasionally worked on a "free will" basis or donations. The band also played at the Harvey’s Lake Quoits Club games; the Lake club had a championship level standing in the region. Quoits is a game similar to throwing horseshoes. and was very popular in rural areas.

It was not unusual for the band’s entire treasury balance to run between $12.00 and $30.00. A concert in Noxen on August 7, 1935, raised $4.14. A June 16, 1936, ice cream social at the Ruggles Church raised $14.09. On August 1, 1936, the band played at the Stull Reunion and on August 9 for the Ricketts Reunion, both events for surviving family members of old lumber industry-now- ghost towns. Just after Christmas 1936 the band played at the funeral of Ray Wandel, one of its members.

In the mid and late 1930s Walter and Sherman Hoover, and for a time Lake steamboat engineer, Art Kocher, served as presidents of the band with Elwood E. Oney as the continuing secretary and Fred Sutton as treasurer. The band was led by a core of active but older supporters, with leadership from the Hoovers, but the band was in a decade-long decline. Other leaders were A. C. Kocher, Albert May, Floyd Montross, Albert Hoover, Fred Sutton, and Ray Wandel who regularly attended meetings and shared responsibilities.

Other members of the band at various times in the 1930s included Anthony Huminik, James Montross, Claude Sorber, Herbert Bronson, Carleton Kocher, George VanCampen, Robert Traver, William Lamoreaux, Harry Lamoreaux, Cecil Moore, Pat Elias, Joseph Anderson, Ray Rousey, A. K. Casterline, and Albert Hoover.

John J. Miliauskas, Jr.

The passing of Walter S. Hoover in February 1938 signaled a significant loss of continuing energy for the future of of the band whose members served as pall bearers for his winter funeral service. At one point only Sherman Hoover and his two sons Walter and Albert Hoover largely held the band together.

The band continued into the War years but with far fewer reported concerts. In the Fall of 1945 Elwood Oney, a band member and a former President of the Lake Township school board, received board permission to permit the band to practice in the Laketon school music room. They used the music room on Wednesday evenings for the balance of the decade. In 1948 the remnants of the band found new leadership in John J. Miliauskas, Jr., of Lehman, who then was an eighteen year old freshman at Mansfield State College as a music major. Now it was called the Ruggles Free Band which Miliauskas was able to expand to 30 members with a player as young as 12 year old John Bauer of Trucksville and with three women members, Helen Hoover, Jesse Armitage and Margie Bryden.

By 1950 Miliauskas (1930-2018) had merged the Ruggles Band and a Back Mountain band formed in 1944 into a 50 member Back Mountain Community Band with members from several colleges, former high school players and community members - including women members.

In 1956 Miliauskas was appointed band director of the Lake-Noxen High School and later as director of the Lake-Lehman High School band serving for 36 years with the bands. His 125 member band received numerous major awards. His son, John J. Miliauskas III, is director of the famed Tiger Marching Band of Towson University, Towson, Maryland.


Copyright 2018 F. Charles Petrillo