The Noble and Cooley Drum Company preserves a family tradition and the rich history of the Pioneer Valley
GRANVILLE, Mass (WGGB) — This year our nation in celebrating the Sesquicentennial of the American Civil War.
Western Massachusetts played a major role in the Civil War effort. From the men who served, to the world famous 1861 Springfield Rifle, the areas Civil War connections runs deep. But the Western Mass connection to the Civil War didn’t stop there.
When the call to battle was sounded by Union drummers the instrument of choice was a Noble and Cooley drum manufactured in Granville, Massachusetts.
“We went through the transition from water power to steam power,” said Jay Jones, Owner and President of the Noble and Cooley Company.
“From DC electricity to AC electricity. Not many companies have gone through that many transitions of power generation. And we still have examples of all of it here.”
Through six generations the Noble and Cooley company continues to bang out the drum beat of success in tiny, tiny Granville, Massachusetts.
Walk around the century and a half old mill and you can see, smell, and feel the history that made this local company world famous.
From humble beginnings as a maker of toy and military drums, the onset of the Civil War turned the Noble and Colley company into the largest producer of military drums in the world. And the renewed interest in the Civil War has meant a boom in business.
“We supplied product for that conflict,” said Jones. “We actually dug out the tools and gigs and fixtures that we made those drums with 150 years ago.”
“We’re actually reissuing that drum for the 150th anniversary of the Civil War. We’re using the same species of wood. The exact same specs and dimensions using some of the old clamps and fixtures to make that drum.” And they still make that drum the old fashioned way.
Wood from local forests is shaved into thin sheets. The sheets are heated and steamed to make them plyable. The wood is then rolled on a machine just like they did 150 years ago.
“You take a piece of wood and stick it under the clamp, said Jones. “It rolls the hot piece right up. You hold it down, this is smaller than the finished piece. You open the machine up, take the form, slide it over the piece. And when you release it the finished piece of wood springs out in your form.”
Once the drum is rolled it can take up to four months for the product to cure before it’s finished into a work of art and a piece of history.
The company’s drums have been played with by grand children in the White House, and memorialized on magazine covers by renowned New England artist Norman Rockwell.
But the real success of the Noble and Cooley Company can be traced to the British Invasion of the 1960’s, when every young boy in America wanted to be a rock star.
“When the Rock and Roll came in, every kid wanted to be Ringo Starr, said Jones. “It pushed the toy business up to 100 dozen toy drum sets a day, every day from May through November. We had 60 to 70 employees. We had to make a lot of different products all at the same price point.”
“Penny’s and Sears and Toys R Us and Child World all wanted a drum set for the $49.95 price point. But they all didn’t want them to look alike. So we had to make five or six different items for every price point for all these companies. So we were very, very busy.”
These days Noble and Cooley continues to turn out its high quality reproductions, up to 60 dozen toy drums a day, and studio quality drums played by rock legends like Paul McCartney and Phil Collins. And to think it was all started by old Yankee farmers in Granville, Massachusetts.
“I do what I do because it is the family company. “You have the history to preserve the family history, to preserve the legacy of the company and the family.”
“I used to walk down here from the fourth grade. So I’ve been coming here every day since I was 10 or 12 years old. That’s what I do. I make drums.”
The Noble and Cooley Company offers tours of its Drum Museum the second and fourth Sunday of every month from noon until 3pm. In the month of December the Museum is open the first and third Sunday of the month from noon until 3pm.
To find out more about the Noble and Colley Company you can check out the website at www.noblecooley.com.