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HP Sutton: McCook's No. 1 band man
Monday, October 3, 2005
Harvey P. Sutton, while not in the first wave of McCook businessmen, probably established McCook's first jewelry store, in 1889, a business, which his son, Harold Sutton continued into the late 1960s.
The Sutton business building, in the 200 block of Norris Avenue is now a part of the McCook National Bank buil-ding. A reminder of that business, a large clock, stands at the library wing of the High Plains Museum on Norris.
H.P. Sutton was a good jeweler, and a good businessman. Sutton's Jewelry was an of-ficial testing station for railroad watches for the Burlington Railroad. At various times, besides diamonds and watches, Mr. Sutton also sold bicycles and band instruments. The mezzanine of the jewelry store was the location of McCook's first radio station.
But as important as the Jewelry Store was to McCook, H.P. Sutton was even better known as McCook's No. 1 band man. It was because of Sutton's musical talents that he was brought to McCook in the first place.
Harvey was born in 1860, in Naples, New York. While still in his teens he joined a circus band and toured the United States as a member of that group. While touring Nebraska he became very ill at Ainsworth,.
He was forced to leave the circus band temporarily, and it was in Ainsworth that he was nursed back to health. During his convalescence he met and married his wife, in 1886. Together they made the decision that he would leave the circus permanently and "get a real job" -- his first jewelry store.
In 1889, The Burlington Railroad was in the process of organizing a band, to be made up of railroad employees. Though Harvey was in the jewelry business in Ainsworth, he had not gotten music out of his system, so when the Burlington officials contacted him about the job in McCook, he was very willing to listen.
Harvey's son, Harold told a story about his father's first visit to McCook. The interview with the railroad officials went well. Sutton was assured that jobs with the railroad would be provided for enough good bandsmen to make up a top-notch organization.
Harvey met with a number of the railroad V.I.P.s that day, men who were eager to show him the town and meet with leading townspeople (at downtown saloons).
The trouble was that it was springtime and the saloons were all featuring Bock Beer, and there were a lot of saloons to visit -- too many. By the time Harvey was scheduled to return to Ainsworth he was "completely befuddled, worn, and tired."
Boarding his train to Ainsworth, he concluded. McCook was too fast a town for "even a circus man like him." He decided to stay put in Ainsworth.
This was not to be, however. The telegraph lines were hot from the messages from the Burlington officials, and a delegation even called upon him in Ainsworth, urging him to reconsider his decision. Finally, H.P. succumbed to their arguments and agreed to move to McCook -- but it was extremely hard to forget all that Bock Beer.
H.P. Sutton and McCook seemed to be made for one another. Over the next 25 years that "Col." Sutton conducted the Burlington band, he built up that organization into one of the finest, and most popular bands in the Midwest. The band was in great demand, and regularly performed in concert and in parades in cities and towns situated along the Burlington Line from Chicago to Denver.
Mr. Sutton was not just involved with the Burlington Band -- also known as the Nebraska Brigade Band. He was instrumental in establishing a band in McCook High School.
In 1909 McCook High boasted a band of some 26 young men -- only men were eligible. By 1915, though, MHS also laid claim to a school orchestra of 15 instruments, of which three of the players were young ladies.
Harvey Sutton had many interests, aside from his business and the Burlington Band. He was an avid sportsman. As a young man he played on one or another of the city's many baseball teams.
His lifelong interest in the sports took him to a great many games as a spectator, often to Chicago with Railroader, Harry Culbertson to watch the Chicago Cubs. During World War II he never missed a game played by the McCook Airbase team. He could always be found sitting with the Airbase band.
Hunting and fishing were two other of H.P. Sutton's avid interests. It became a tradition for Sutton and some of his cronies to take a fishing excursion on his birthday. This string of fishing trips was finally broken in 1945, when he was 85 years old. Sutton was still eager to take the trip, but was unable to find any of his old fishing buddies who were in good enough shape to make the trip with him.
In 1945, Mr. Sutton had been retired from leading a band for many years. But that year, Mr. Kelly, the leader of the McCook High School Band, prevailed upon the "Father of McCook Bands" to pick up the baton one more time.
He conducted the McCook band in a concert arrangement of one of the Burlington Band's old favorites, to thunderous applause of thanks, from a full house of concertgoers.
In McCook, H.P. Sutton is remembered for building the beautiful Frank Lloyd Wright home on Norris Avenue -- the only Frank Lloyd Wright- designed home in Nebraska.
Actually, this project, which stretched over several years, and tried the patience of all involved, was primarily at the insistence of Mrs. Sutton. The letters between Wright and Mrs. Sutton depict a contest of egos, over the design and construction of the home, and are of great historical interest in their own right.
Tom Colfer, who was an attorney in McCook for many years, told the story of the night the Wright/Sutton home caught fire. Tom was a teenager at the time and was watching the fire from across the street with a several of his friends. Col. Sutton came running out of the house with books that he was attempting to save from the fire. When he saw the boys he quickly prevailed upon them that they accompany him back to the burning house and help him bring out an antique grandfather's clock.
The boys were able to find the clock on the main floor, without trouble. The base of the clock was a type of chest. When they attempted to bring it out Tom said that it seemed to weigh a ton, which Mr. Sutton explained by saying that it was filled with more books -- valuable books.
It took four of the boys to lift the clock and chest, but they managed to carry it safely across the street. It was only when they set the clock down that they looked into the chest to see what kind of books that weighed so much.
To their surprise, instead of books, the chest was filled with various bottles of liquid spirits, which in those prohibition days were strictly illegal. Mr. Sutton was very grateful to the boys for saving his "clock and chest," but apparently the bad effects of his original Bock Beer experience did not completely ruin the good Colonel's taste for liquor.