From the Mansfield Historical Society Newsletter, Vol. 37, No. 6, November 2001
A year ago, Roberta Smith reported on her discoveries about the Mansfield Fife and Drum Corps. Renown for being one of the best Drum Corps in the state, at one time it consisted of 16 men – 13 drummers and three fifers.
Jared Gorton Freeman was one of the drummers and it was said of him “he could get as much out of a drum as anyone in the state.” He owned the house, now known as the Altnaveigh Inn [currently the Spring Hill Inn], from 1867 until his death in 1906.
Nathaniel Perkins, of Mansfield’s Pleasant Valley, was one of the fifers and because of his skill in playing his instrument he became known as ‘Whistling Perkins”.
For many years the Mansfield Drum Corps was the outstanding group in the state and participated in numerous contests and captured prizes. On Sept. 6, 1882, the Willimantic Chronicle reported that “The Mansfield Drum corps went to a convention at Wallingford last Thursday and returned in the evening with the first prize for drumming.”
Recently two other articles from the Willimantic Chronicle surfaced that report on balls given in the Town Hall (now part of our museum complex) and give the names of some other members of the Mansfield Fife and Drum Corps.
Willimantic Chronicle, Jan. 28, 1880: The ball given by the Mansfield Fife and Drum Crops last Friday evening was a creditable affair to those who got it up and managed it. There were sixty-five dancing tickets sold, and a more quiet, orderly gathering we never saw assembled in the hall. The music was excellent, and we cannot speak too highly of Mr. Richardson’s calling. Mr. G.W. More and Col. Macfarlane were excellent floor managers, and appeared as bright and good-natured at the close of the dance as at the beginning. A large number of spectators were present, and spoke highly in praise of the occasion. Among the dancers we noticed the veteran Capt. Macfarlane, who tripped the “light fantastic toe” apparently with as much enjoyment, and certainly with as much alacrity as any of the more youthful dancers. Supper was served at the house of Mr. J.G. Freeman [now the Altnaveigh Inn], a member of the Drum Corps, and which is, without doubt, the best snare drummer in Tolland county. The tables were well laden and were well patronized during the evening. Cooking of the oysters was superintended by Capt. Albert, which alone would be a sufficient guarantee of their toothsomeness. Dancing was kept up steadily until after 3 o’clock, when the company began gradually to depart, and by 4 o’clock the old hall was as empty and silent as ever.
Willimantic Chronicle, March 1, 1882: The ball given under the auspices of the Mansfield Fife and Drum Corps (the last of the season) at the Town hall last Friday night Feb. 24th, was a grand success and will long remain a memorable affair in the minds of those present. The music furnished by E. Jackson, F. Jackson, F. Bliss, A. Freeman and C. Cummings, was good and all that could be desired. Most if not all of the performers are members of the corps thus showing to the world that they have the talent and can furnish music suitable for most any occasion. The corps consists of fifteen pieces, drums and fifes, and are equal if not superior to any in the state. The general director was the pleasant and genial N.P. Perkins of Pleasant Valley. Floor directors: Geo. W. More, J.M. Wallen, A.H. Freeman, O.G. Hanks. Prompter: O.M. Richardson.
How delightful to imagine the Old Town Hall reverberating with music and filled with couples dancing into the wee hours of the morning!