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Guest column: Music in Flemington — long, long ago
Guest columnist

Judy Shippey, Guest Columnist

When I turn left from Highway 84 onto the road through Flemington, I often get a sense of being transported back through time to a quieter, simpler time.

 I realize full well that that other time had its rough and rugged side also, with no “modem conveniences” (stoves powered by fuel other than wood, indoor plumbing, medical assistance, etc.), but those thoughts are overshadowed by the remembrance that in those days grownups and young people alike made their own entertainment — there were no plaintive cries of “There’s nothing to do!” or “I’m bored!”

More about that entertainment later, but first I want to take you with me back to the year 1815. At that time the plantation owners in the Midway District began to look about for healthier places to spend the summer, rather than the swamps where they had originally settled for rice growing. They called these little summer villages “Retreats.” In 1815 William Fleming was looking for a place to establish a retreat for himself and his friends.

He found a tract of unsettled land about 10 miles west of Midway and there he established a retreat which he named Gravel Hill. After he had selected a parcel of land for himself, he gave other tracts of land to his friends!

All of these settlers were members of the Midway Congregational Church in Midway and, even though it was 10 miles away, they attended services there as often as possible. Gradually, the summer “retreat” homes became more permanent and they began to have church services in a log cabin at Gravel Hill. Around 1832 Simon Fraser gave four acres of land upon which to build a permanent house of worship at Gravel Hill. However, even though they had services at Gravel Hill, they still were members of the Midway Church and attended services there as often as possible. The Gravel Hill church appears to have been a branch, rather than a mission of the Midway Church. This situation continued until 1865. In 1850 it was decided to rename Gravel Hill to Flemington, in honor of William Fleming.

Now, skipping ahead several decades, back to the entertainment! The earliest record available tells us that around 1888 the Flemingtonites formed an organization to bring a taste of culture and refinement to their village. To this end they organized the Flemington Musical Society.

This society met every two weeks in the home of one of the members.

In 1888 there were at least 102 members of the Society (l hope they didn’t all come at the same time!). At these meetings, original poetry was read, recitations were given, music, both instrumental and vocal, abounded, and all in all a most enjoyable time was had by all!

On October 25, 1977, the Liberty County Historical Society presented one of the most enjoyable programs I have ever witnessed; they decided to perform a reenactment of a meeting of the Flemington Musical Society! Of course, the performance was held in the Education Building of the Flemington Presbyterian Church (an historic landmark itself and listed on the National Register of Historic Places).

The church building simulated the home of Captain James Bacon Fraser in Middle Flemington. I am going to divulge the Program to you, but before the evening was over, attendees and performers alike got more than they bargained for! The Program opened with a vocal duet by Capt. James B. Fraser and Joseph Bacon Fraser (Dr. Whitman Fraser and Olin Fraser). They were followed by a recitation of “A Woman’s Question” by Miss Mamie Martin (Mrs. Kay Martin Sweat). She was followed by Hugh C.

Norman (Herbert Norman) singing “Aunt Dinah’s Quilting Party.”

Then came Miss Mada McDonald (Mrs. Eugenia Barrs Cox) giving a stirring recitation of “Lips That Touch Liquor Must Never Touch Mine.” A solo, “Londonderry Air” was next rendered by R. Frank Cassells (Jeffrey Hurst).

Aeneas S. Way (William C. Cox) then declaimed “Polonius Advice To Laertes.” Mrs. Eva Edwards Way (Mrs.

Olive Way McDowell) ascended the piano bench and presented “The Little Brown Church.”

NOW, HERE IT COMES! Because I seemed to bear a resemblance to Miss Laura Fraser, I had been asked to sing. Mrs. McDowell was to accompany me.

Aware that my selection was a little more “highbrow” than the vocal selections the Society was accustomed to, I explained to them that I had just returned from study in Europe and the Beethoven art song “lch Liebe Dich” (I Love Thee) was highly popular there. What happened next is still in reality a mystery; somehow Mrs. McDowell’s eyeglasses got broken and shards of glass fell on the keyboard! With fingers cut and bleeding, Mrs. McDowell was indomitable — she played on! I have since learned that the audience had no idea what was going on — they thought she was just behaving strangely!

Dr. Fraser’s “beeper” had gone off earlier and he had to leave, but he was back in time to look at Mrs. McDowell’s cuts after she finished playing. The piano keyboard had blood on the keys and it had to be wiped off before the Program could continue! I remember feeling sorrow and alarm for the next pianist, Miss Laura Martin (Miss Laura Adele Shave), who played “Prelude” by Wright, but thank goodness no further incidents happened! Mrs. Mamie F. Martin (Miss Anne Dominey) played “Who’ll Take The Place Of Mary,” and Gordon Cassells (Olin Fraser, Jr.) concluded the Program with a guitar and singing rendition of our beloved “Dixie.”

Hostess for the evening was Mrs. Eliza Sumner Martin (Miss Eliza Sumner Martin), and refreshments were served by Mrs. Sara Rahn Kallquist and Mrs.

Sydnea Keel Miles.

Just thinking back to that time has made me yearn to have an opportunity for our present, “modern day” society to have organizations similar to the above in which to participate. It was fun and educational! Come on, Historical Society, let’s do it again!

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