Editor’s Note: This is the 336th in a series of articles recalling vanished Huntington scenes.
HUNTINGTON — A native of Caldwell, Ohio, Henry Shadwell attended the Ohio State University and later earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in music from Capitol College of Music in Columbus, Ohio. In 1918, he was hired to teach science at Huntington’s Central Junior High School.
His love of music prompted him to teach music after hours. He began urging the school board to offer music as a course and in 1924 became director of the first Huntington High School band.
One day in 1935, Shadwell invited two other West Virginia band directors, Charles Gorby of South Charleston and Carl McElfresh of Logan, to his home. As the three talked, they came up with a plan to bring many of the state’s high school bands together for a big weekend. They envisioned that the bands would first be judged for their concert skills and then join in a big street parade, followed by a program of intricate stadium maneuvers. The three decided that Huntington, with its broad streets, would be the perfect spot for the event.
And that’s how a long-time Huntington tradition, the West Virginia Band Festival Parade, was born. The first festival took place in 1936. Things started out modestly enough, but the ensuing years saw the event grow to monster-sized proportions. By the late 1950s, the annual festival drew nearly 100 bands.
Many visiting bands would stage their own impromptu marches at various times during the festival. On Saturday morning, all the bands would join in a seemingly endless parade that always drew a crowd of thousands.
The bands would form up at the Marshall campus, move down 4th Avenue to 8th Street, then on to Fairfield Stadium to perform. During the festival, many Huntington families lodged out-of-town band members free of charge.
Ultimately the Band Festival proved a victim of its own success. It had grown so large that no one city could handle it. So the state was cut into regions, with four smaller events conducted in various cities. And Huntington’s big parade became a well-loved memory.