Buried within the collections of the Local History Room is a box with a thick leather ledger inside. On the cover of this book, someone wrote in pen, “Chas. E. Dobbs, Daybook. Feb 1. 1906 to” and that’s it. However, the pages inside the ledger are a bit more complicated than a simple daybook, as newspaper articles and musical programs are plastered over the older handwriting that once marked its pages. The stories this volume has to share have gone unnoticed until now. As the cover note implied, the book originally belonged to businessman Charles E. Dobbs; but it was his son, William Lyon Dobbs, who used the book later on to showcase his own work in the local music scene.
William Lyon Dobbs was born in Newburgh on November 27, 1871. His father, a successful harness maker and leather worker, moved his family to Poughkeepsie to open a new store when William was just an infant. The store was located at 360 Main Street. His father continued in that business until his retirement in 1910.
Little William was stricken with the measles and chicken pox at a young age, and temporarily lost sight in both of his eyes. He eventually regained only the use of his left eye. With his abilities somewhat limited, William turned his focus towards music, and began learning the violin. In 1884, he joined the boys orchestra organized through the YMCA, and there he learned to play several instruments, including the piano and organ.
By the time he was 16, William had made a name for himself locally, and was hired to serve as the organist at the Methodist Church on Cannon Street (which later became the Masonic Temple). A few years later he was asked to play at the newly dedicated Trinity Church as well. In 1897, he had moved on to the First Reformed Church, where he also served as the director of the choir, and by 1905 he was hired by the Congregational church to serve as their choir’s director. (He is starting to sound like the George Washington of local churches).
At the turn of the 20th century, Poughkeepsie had plenty of small musical units and miniature orchestras, but William knew that there had never been a large and fully complete orchestra in this city, so he came up with the idea to create it! In 1900, he organized a group of partly amateur and partly professional musicians into a modest orchestra, and at their first performance in 1901, at the Smith Brother’s assembly hall, they made a splash. Soon, more musicians were itching to be a part of what became known as the Symphony Society, and they ballooned into a large organization. Under William’s leadership, the orchestra played regularly at the Vassar Brothers Institute and the Collingwood Opera House. While serving as the conductor for the Symphony Society, William also performed with several other organizations, including the 21st Regimental Band and the Mary Powell Orchestra.
Rather abruptly, William abandoned all of these groups in 1915, stating that he was, “feeling the strain at my prime in life,” and he transitioned into teaching the art of music. He worked from his home studio at 89 Cannon Street where he offered “a genuine education in music” with “no regrets” and the best for your investment. He would continue in this work, earning the title of Professor by some in the music community. In 1939, he retired from active music teaching and lived out his days at the Pringle Home for Aged Literary Men on Academy Street. He was one of the home’s last residents before it closed. He died on October 8, 1949, at the age of 77, and is buried in the Poughkeepsie Rural Cemetery.
Poughkeepsie Eagle News – 14 Mar 1900, 5 Aug 1918,
Dobbs Journal of Concerts, Q 780 D. LH Collection
Platt, Edmund. “The Eagle’s history of Poughkeepsie from the earliest settlements 1683 to 1905.” 1905, pg. 250
Andrus, Helen Josephine. “A Century of Music in Poughkeepsie, 1802 – 1911.” 1912
WilliamDobbLedger – A look inside the ledger that William used to highlight his career. Early 1900s. LH Collections
WilliamDobbStudio – A photo of the inside of William’s home at 89 Cannon Street, showing his studio. LH Collections
SymphonySociety1900 – A photo of the full orchestra led by William Lyon Dobbs. 1900. LH Collections
WilliamLyonDobbs – A photo of William Lyon Dobbs from “A Century of Music in Poughkeepsie”