Longtime bandleader's death breaks a major link to old mill town


June 08, 1998|By Sally Voris | Sally Voris,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

DANIELS -- the mill town that thrived about five miles upriver from Ellicott City -- lost one of its strongest enthusiasts when William Thomas Webb died last month at 85.

Bill Webb had been leader of the Daniels Band since the early 1930s, except for a few years during World War II. He insisted that the band play "what people want to hear."

Webb's father served as volunteer librarian weekday evenings at the local community hall, where the band practiced. Some horns had been left in the hall one night in 1925 -- the year Bill Webb started high school -- and he picked one up and started playing. He didn't stop for seven decades.

"Just people in the town and outside the town who could play" was the way Webb described the members of the band. New members were recruited by word of mouth. Last year, the band included two drummers, a trombone, two euphoniums (baritone

horns), three trumpets or cornets, three clarinets, an alto saxophone and a tenor saxophone.

The band has played at the July Fourth picnic at Daniels since the group was formed in 1879. It is the only mill-town band in the Patapsco Valley that has survived. The band has never charged for its performances, though it accepts donations.

At Christmas, Webb resigned as leader and passed the baton to Dr. Gary Rudacille, a dentist who practices in Ellicott City. Rudacille is the only remaining band member who grew up in Daniels.

When Webb was born, the town was named Alberton. The name changed when C. R. Daniels bought it in 1940. The town had about 200 brick homes, a company store and the mill. The mill owner tore the houses down in 1970, and the mill itself was closed after Hurricane Agnes flooded the valley in 1972. Eventually, a fire destroyed the mill.

That was the end of Daniels, except for Gary Memorial United Methodist Church, which sits on a hill overlooking the ruins of the mill. Through stories and traditions, former Daniels residents keep alive the memory of the town whose ruins sit in the hollow behind the new Hollifield Station School.

Webb was interviewed last year as part of an oral history project funded by the Maryland Historical Trust. In that interview, he shared stories about life in Alberton and described the band as "a labor of love."

"He did love that band," agrees Rudacille, who will be leading the the group when it performs July Fourth in Daniels.

Heritage Sunday

On a grassy lawn screened from Dorsey Road by a chain-link fence covered with wild grape and honeysuckle, Dorsey Emmanual United Methodist Church held its second annual Heritage Sunday in a white big-top tent donated by the Elkridge Furnace Inn.

Beneath the tent, some 100 folding chairs had been set up. A wooden table adorned with a basket of fresh fruit, a vase of flowers and a simple golden cross served as the altar.

A large cross, made of stained lumber and draped with a translucent red cloth, stood next to the altar, and an upright piano had been wheeled to the front of the tent where a vase of several dozen red roses was placed in front of it.

The pastor, the Rev. Colin Phillips, a native of Scotland, presided. He wore red tights with garters at the knee and a bright red tunic with a high neck and long sleeves and decorated with piping of gold and black and a lion on the front.

Some men wore old-fashioned suits, shirts and ties; some women and girls were dressed Victorian-style -- long-sleeved, high-necked dresses; one person in the crowd wore a traditional West African robe and hat.

The event was reminiscent of revivals held at the Wesley Grove tent meetings at the turn of the century within 500 yards of the current tent.

"Thousands of Baltimoreans came to these revivals and stayed for the summer," said Phillips.

Ushers served ice water in paper cups on the sultry Sunday afternoon, when the temperature reached 95 degrees. The two-hour program featured solos, duets, instrumentals and selections sung by the choir and the group in ragtime, traditional, gospel and contemporary styles.

The program was simple and direct. Donna Townsend and Idella Anderson sang "He Is Here," listening for the other's voice as they harmonized.

A breeze swept through the tent.

"He is indeed here," said Phillips, "Did you feel that wonderful breeze?"

Sports sale

The Centennial High School junior varsity and varsity football teams are sponsoring a Sports/Exercise Equipment Yard Sale on Saturday to raise money to buy helmets.

All sporting and exercise equipment is welcome -- from baseballs to exercise bikes. It may be donated or consigned at a 50/50 split. The team will pick up or deliver large items.

The yard sale will be held from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. in the school parking lot. Equipment may be dropped off from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. The rain date will be Sunday. Information: 410-461-9265.

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