Bearnstow’s Peg-Leg Piano

A story for Bearnstow campers past and future

A permanent fixture, familiar to all Bearnstow past campers and workshop participants, is the grand piano in the southwest corner of Main Hall. Ever wonder why its rear leg is missing and replaced with a perfectly crafted log?

The old Island Park Bridge led to the popular dance pavilion shown on the left. Just a short trolley ride from Augusta, this was the place to be for a good time during the early 1900s.
Bearnstow’s piano dates back to the 1920s and 30s (perhaps earlier) and was used at the Winter Island Dance Pavilion on Lake Cobbosseecontee. In 1903, the Augusta, Winthrop and Gardiner Street Railway created a recreation area at the north end of Lake Cobbosseecontee, an large 8.6 square mile lake a few miles west of Augusta. The Island Park project, which included the open-air Dance Pavilion, was undertaken to attract riders on their trolleys.

It worked! Over the years thousands of people from all over the state and beyond came to hear the Big Bands and dance the night away. The trolley would make its way from Augusta, along the shore and then stop at the bridge to let people walk over to the Dance Pavilion on Island Park. It was clearly the place to be for a good time in the early 20th century. Read A Bit of History of Lake Cobbosseecontee on the Cobbosseecontee Yacht Club Web site.

Caretaker Clifton Frost in 1956

After many years of hosting the Big Bands, the Pavilion finally closed after 1941 when the U.S. entered World War II, and patrons became engaged in the war effort elsewhere. And the piano the Big Bands used now stands in Bearnstow’s Main Hall. Ruth Gruaert tells how it got there:

Bearnstow got the piano in 1946. I believe that it was our insurance broker who knew of a piano in a storage house in Augusta that was being condemned by eminent domain and that we could probably get it cheap.
The piano cost us $85 delivered to the Hall. The storage house supplied the truck and a couple of men with piano-moving know-how. They enhanced the foot bridge for the weight load, and about eight other men (mostly local neighbors recruited by our caretaker, Clifton Frost) very slowly maneuvered it by hand on its side into the hall.

Guy Lombardo is said to have had the piano’s leg cut, permitting its rear end to rest on the stage so he could be closer to his orchestra. Bearnstow’s caretaker Clifton Frost cut a log to the exact diameter and length.
Photo by Dasha Chernova

Once inside Main Hall, the piano had to be placed on a crate to prop it up because the rear leg had been partially cut off. Why was its leg cut? That is attributed to one very famous band leader. Among the many big bands to perform at Island Park was Guy Lombardo and his Royal Canadians (that’s Guy Lombardo of New Year’s Eve fame, who played “Auld Lang Syne” on radio and TV from New York’s Roosevelt Hotel and the Waldorf Astoria from 1929 to 1976). The story goes that Lombardo, in order to be closer to his orchestra, had the leg cut so that the rear end of the piano could rest on the low platform stage of the Dance Pavilion.

But it wasn’t long before it was clear that the ugly crate holding up the piano just wouldn’t do. So Cliff the caretaker cut a log to just the right length and diameter and sanded it down, and the piano has rested on its log leg ever since.