By Jared Olar
One of the landmarks of arts and entertainment during Pekin’s bygone days was a military-style orchestra called “Gehrig’s 7th Regimental Band.” Gehrig’s Band is important in Pekin’s history because it was the first community band ever to be formed in Pekin, having a history that begins around the time the Civil War ended. The band’s founder, Edward Gehrig, was himself a veteran of the Civil War.
Here is the 1974 Pekin Sesquicentennial’s summary of the history of Gehrig’s Band, from page 156 of that volume:
“The first Pekin band was organized in 1865 by Edward Gehrig, Sr., a Civil War veteran and a reknowned (sic) cigar maker. Before moving to Pekin, Gehrig had organized and directed Spencer’s Military Band in Peoria, which was often hired to play at dances and other Pekin functions since there was no orchestra in the city. Finally, Pekin lured Gehrig away from Peoria in 1865 to establish his cigar factory and, incidentally or not, a community band. In 1880 this band assumed the title of Gehrig’s 7th Regimental Band. At the death of leader Gehrig in 1901, his son Charles assumed the role of conductor, serving for the next 20 years.”
The Sesquicentennial goes on to explain that during the 1920s Gehrig’s Band and Bauer’s Military Band used to play Tuesday and Thursday nights in the bandstand that once stood in front of the Tazewell County Courthouse. Other community bands from that era included the Roehrs & Dietrich Union Band, the Pekin Opera House Band, Peobel’s Band, and the Hal Jones Band.
All of those bands consolidated to form the old Pekin Municipal Band in 1925 “as a result of Illinois legislation allowing municipal bands to levy a tax for concerts.” The Pekin Municipal Band in turn is the predecessor of the Pekin Park Concert Band.
The Nov. 2017 issue of the Tazewell County Genealogical & Historical Society Monthly is devoted to local veterans, and features reproductions of portraits of the 24 members of Gehrig’s Band that were taken on or around Jan. 1, 1902, including a portrait of the band’s director and manager, Charles F. Gehrig, who also played the cornet in the band.