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  • Writer's pictureJoe Pace

Granite State of Mind, #103: The Bandstand, Exeter

Not a gazebo.

There are 234 towns and cities in New Hampshire, and none of them has as enduring and iconic a symbol as the Bandstand that graces the center of Exeter's picturesque downtown. The Bandstand has just embarked on its second century, having been constructed in 1916. Town benefactor Ambrose Swasey conceived of the project (sometimes known as Swasey's Pavilion), in consultation with fellow favorite son Daniel Chester French and French's friend Henry Bacon. French and Bacon, of course, are known for their slightly more famous undertaking - Bacon designed the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC while French sculpted the seated martyr. Bacon was the architect for the Bandstand, built of pink Milford granite, white marble, and bronze railings. There's a central bronze plate depicting the zodiac, reflecting Swasey's interest in astronomy, and the copper roof is framed by pine cone filials, lion heads, and gargoyle spouts.

It is a beautiful structure, and has remained so throughout its life with ongoing attention from town employees as well as volunteers, including the floral ministrations of the Exeter Area Garden Club. This is probably the appropriate place to remind the audience that the subject is very much a bandstand and not a gazebo - it has been home during its entire existence to the Exeter Brass Band - a proud local tradition in its own right. The Brass Band has been playing since 1847, the longest continuously organized brass band in the country. There is no truth to the rumor that Dave Emanuel has been with them the whole time. Town records indicate that the Band (then called the Exeter Coronet Band) played when candidate Abraham Lincoln visited Exeter in 1860. Ambrose Swasey was ten years old at the time, and was so excited by the event that he and his brother lit a bonfire at the family farm on Newfields Road that required the attention of the town fire department.

The Exeter Bandstand occupies both the physical and cultural center of town - it's vital to many directions given to visitors (turn left at the bandstand!), and it graces the sleek, classic Town seal. It is graceful, historic, welcoming, and timeless. Like Exeter itself.

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