A Look Back at “Evenings in the Appleby Garden”

Augusta Magazine, Summer 1970

Gather up your outdoor chairs, blankets, and picnic baskets and join us on the lawn of Appleby Branch Library this Tuesday, June 4th for the inaugural concert of the Appleby Concert Series, a free cultural event Augusta Public Library has offered the public every summer for almost 70 years!

The idea for the concert series sprang up shortly after the home was gifted to the city of Augusta by Scott B. Appleby in memory of his wife, Annie de Prairie Appleby. Mr. Appleby and his son James presented the home with the stipulation that it would be a library. The palatial Greek Revival residence was formally dedicated as the Annie de Prairie Appleby Memorial Library on May 30, 1955 and a month later, on Tuesday, June 12th “Evenings in the Appleby Gardens” was born. Nestled in the heart of Summerville, the grounds of Appleby are shaded by fragrant magnolias and old oaks draped with Spanish moss, a perfect venue for lazing under a darkening sky to enjoy music and theater. While the summer months can be brutal, Summerville is situated at a higher elevation than the rest of the low-lying city, so it offers breezy afternoons and balmy nights.

1956 Appleby Concert Series Program

For the opening program on that first summer evening, Augusta Public Library co-partnered with the Augusta Music Club to present a concert of recorded classical music and a musical film. According to the Augusta Chronicle, Appleby Library had just received a state-of-the-art “high-fidelity record player” on which the audience heard Eine Kleine Nachtmusik by Mozart, Haydn’s Symphony No. 54 in G Major and Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite. And to finish the night a musical film entitled, Trio was shown featuring a pianist, violinist, and cellist playing selections from Schumann and Mendelssohn. Promoting the event, the Augusta Chronicle noted, “The garden is ideally suited to outdoor concerts. The spacious veranda can serve as a stage in fair weather, while a grassy terrace and lawn will accommodate a large audience. In the event of inclement weather, the veranda can be used for the audience and the program given in the adjoining rooms which is reached by French doors. Informality will be the keynote, with those attending bringing their favorite cushion or blanket as a ‘reserved seat’.”

Concerts of recorded music quickly gave way to live performances, showcasing some of Augusta’s preeminent talent in the music, dance, and theater worlds, as well as visiting artists from around the country and sometimes the world. Another seven concerts were scheduled during the summer of 1955. The second concert of the series was performed by a group from the Augusta Civic Orchestra which attracted an audience of over 300. The images below show a program for the concert series in 1956 featuring a performance by The Madrigal Singers performing a program of early secular music and a ballet performed by Alexis Dolinoff who was a soloist with the Russian prima ballerina Anna Pavlova and danced with the Metropolitan Opera Company in New York before opening the Dolinoff Ballet School on Walton Way in Augusta.

1956 program showing Alexis Dolinoff’s “The Ballet”

The special collections department of the Georgia Heritage Room is the repository for Augusta Public Library history. Included within this archival collection is seventy years worth of material chronicling the Appleby Concert Series. Among the records are programs like the one below, offering a detailed look at the high level of cultural entertainment the Augusta Public Library was putting on display for the public. Over the years, summer nights on the lawn of Appleby Branch Library was the place to be and became a performance venue for such prestigious groups as the Augusta Choral Society, Augusta Symphony, Augusta Civic Ballet, Georgia Dance Theatre, and Augusta Players. The bar was set quite high and on any give Tuesday evening, folks might be regaled with a dramatic reading of Shakespearean monologues and on another night an academic lecture from a visiting scholar. The variety was endless.

1960 Appleby Concert Series program

In recent years, the Augusta Public Library has expanded the musical selections from solely classical performances to include jazz, soul, country, and rock, gaining a wider appeal. On the ticket for this summer season are The Dulcimer Guy (June 4th), De Ceadaoin (June 11th), Doug Flowers Band (June 18th), Goodnight Lizzy (June 25th) and AE the Cool (July 9th).

Please join us tomorrow, rain or shine, as Augusta Public Library kicks off another season of concerts on the beautiful lawn of the Appleby Branch Library.

Follow the link to learn more: https://arcpls.org/concerts/

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