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Bluffton's earliest community band

1881 band included several businessmen and community leaders

Civic pride is demonstrated in this 1881 photograph of one of several early Bluffton community bands. The village was only 20 years old when this band, complete with uniforms, organized.

Front from left, Peter Minzer, Chris Klay, Fred Bigler, Andy Klay and Alois Criblez.

Standing from left, Werner Althaus, George Benroth, Jacob Hauenstein, Alcid Bessire, Adam Keim and George A. Ritzler.

Here’s what we know about some of these musicians: George Benroth, Fred Bigler and George Ritzler were Bluffton businessmen. Ritzler and Benroth owned saloons. Bigler owned a meat market.

Chris and Andy Klay were brothers. Andrew was an entrepreneur who held several patents. Among his inventions included a gasoline engine and a plate holder for taking an indefinite number of photographs on one plate. For this invention he was elected as an honorable member of the Society of Inventors, Paris, France, where he was awarded a gold medal. The photo plate holder was manufactured by Peter Diller of Bluffton.

Werner Althaus became a professional musician and traveled the world with the A.G. Fields Minstrels. One news report stated the Minstrel company covered a distance of over 22,000 miles, nearly circling the globe.

Adam Keim was a life-long Bluffton businessman. According to the Bluffton News Keim owned one of the rooms in today’s Et Cetera Shop and it was known as “Keim Hall.” It was one of the village’s earliest locations for programs and public meetings prior to the construction of the Herr Opera House and the town hall.

In the Oct. 26, 1899, The Bluffton News reported this about one of its bands: “It is said by competent judges that the Bluffton Band furnished the best music in the parade last Friday. The Bluffton boys, under the instruction of Prof. Althaus, [referring to Werner Althaus] are improving greatly and are hard at work. Quite a large number went over to Lima last Friday to hear William Jennings Bryan. The Bluffton Band accompanied them and took part in the parade.



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