This was then: The Edgartown Cornet Band

Back in the 1890s, cornets ruled.

The Edgartown Cornet Band poses on the steps of the Edgartown Town Hall about 1900. —Courtesy Chris Baer

The Edgartown Cornet Band, under the direction of band leader Richard G. Shute, played during the summer months in the late 1890s.

Chappaquiddick ferryman Charles Osborn is front and center, playing the bass drum. The tall mustachioed man playing the alto horn on the far right is Edgartown boatbuilder Rodolphus Morgan. In the second row, the second and third men from the left, just behind Osborn, are Channing Nevin and his father Bill Nevin. Bill was a lawyer who had moved to the Vineyard from Philadelphia; his son Channing would later become a popular Edgartown physician.

In the third row, second from the left and playing a cornet, is young John Wesley Mayhew. Mayhew’s parents had both died by the time he was 4 years old, and he was adopted by his uncle Beriah Hillman. He would go on to play football for Brown University (and be named an All-American in 1906), and after a brief stint as head football coach at Louisiana State University, Mayhew would spend much of his career in China, Vietnam, and the Philippines, working for Standard Oil.

Bandleader Richard Shute — seen in the back row just behind Mayhew, with his cornet — was an Edgartown jeweler and dry goods merchant, but is best remembered as an Island photographer whose stereo views of the Vineyard can still be found on eBay. Shute served as a musician in the Civil War, and later played with the Vineyard Haven town band.

A poster for “Lucier’s Consolidated Minstrels” is seen at the right. This group, which was billed as a “Russian Uniformed Military Band,” was led by blind cornet soloist and composer Joseph Lucier. The group toured New England with an extensive entourage which included blackface comics, acrobatic tumblers, clog dancers, “hoop rollers,” “baton manipulators,” a “bag puncher,” Marguerite Lucier’s “Serpentine and Spanish Dances,” a slack wire performance, and a contortionist “frogman.”


Chris Baer teaches photography and graphic design at Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School. He’s been collecting vintage photographs for many years.