History lesson: Lewis County’s instrument expert

Lewis County's instrument expert
Published: Apr. 21, 2023 at 6:36 AM EDT
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LOWVILLE, New York (WWNY) - Many of us have seen the movie “Footloose,” right? It’s a small rural town where the religious adults don’t want the youngsters dancing or listening to music.

Well, Lewis County has its own Footloose story of sorts. And it all started in Copenhagen.

It’s 1869 and Charles Lanphere is born to a farmhouse just outside of Copenhagen. He was drawn to music at a young age, but his father didn’t want him learning to play instruments or performing — even in church.

“Being devout Methodists, their view initially was ‘you’re going to use a violin to play at dances and it’s an instrument of the devil, so no,’” said Lewis County Historical Society president Jonathan Miller.

Lanphere went behind his father’s wishes at age 10 and built a violin anyway using a wooden box and horse hair. He taught himself how to play and one day was discovered with his violin by his dad.

“His father was against it, found out about it, and decided he should be allowed to use it and go forward with it,” Miller said.

With his dad’s approval, Lanphere pursued his passion and went on to study at Potsdam’s School of Music. He had a special interest in biblical instruments and traveled to holy places to research them and recreate them.

“You can see a real commitment to making an instrument look the way his research lead him to believe they should look,” Miller said.

He made an extensive collection of instruments from ancient times and biblical days and would lecture all over, eventually returning to Potsdam as a professor of music.

Some instruments were donated there after his passing and are now on exhibit until June at the Lewis County Historical Society.

Aged by more than a century and mighty fragile, the instruments are still an educational resource and the legacy of Charles Lanphere.