What the original builders had in mind for the building situated at 2849 Horseshoe Pike in Campbelltown is uncertain, but it has always been more of a community building than a fire hall.
All that Bob Kain has really done is carry on that tradition. Given those ideological similarities, Kain has sort of put his own personal spin on the concept of “repurposing.”
Architecturally and cosmetically, the one-time home of the local fire company and the Campbelltown Community building is an inspiring throwback to a slower time. But now, the historically-significant structure houses Kain’s Country String Shop and Music Academy, a vibrant hub for local musicians of all ages and skill levels.
That connection with music and the arts has sort of made time stand still inside the building. There’s strong feeling of community that continues to manifest itself there.
“When it was built, it was built as a fire hall—but it wasn’t just a fire hall, it was also a community building,” said Kain. “Hence the auditorium. They used to have square dances in the hall. We have snap shots of kids performing plays on the stage. The arts were a part of this building for a long time. This was built for the community.”
Kain opened the string shop in 1993. In 1998, he purchased the fire hall with the intent of housing the Music Academy.
“We had the Music Academy going before we moved the String Shop here. It has worked out very well,” he said. “I like to repurpose things … I don’t own the building. The building owns me.”
A physical tour of the building that houses Country String Shop and Music Academy reveals the tweaking and renovating Kain and his wife Nancy have done to make it functional—a lower level dedicated to Kain’s music repair and instrument building shop, a kitchen, private lesson rooms upstairs and of course an auditorium, complete with a stage.
Visitors can still imagine the sights and sounds of the past: the community gatherings, the old-school fire engine, and even the one-time barber shop.
The Campbelltown Fire Company and Community Building was constructed in 1930.
“The big room upstairs was a recital hall and an auditorium,” said Kain, a 69-year-old local resident. “The elementary school was in the old township building [just to the north] and the students would walk down the alley and use the auditorium. In the community building, there were a lot of things going on. There are all kinds of old stories with this building. At one time, a barber had his shop here, and he would also drive the fire engine.
“When it was a fire hall, the top floor had no walls,” Kain continued. “It was a pool hall. It was a men’s social room. At some time or another, the police office was here. C&M Sheet Metal business was located here for quite a few years. Then a heating and cooling business was here, and that was before me. And the building stood empty for a while, but I brought it back to fit my purposes.”
Upstairs, Kain’s Music Academy pays tribute to the Campbelltown community spirit, while also honoring the importance of live music and performances. Local recitals, some informal, are still staged at least once a month, and within the private less rooms students can learn the finer points of playing the violin, cello, fiddle, guitar, ukulele, bass, brass, and woodwinds from seasoned instructors.
“We give a lot of private music lessons in the Music Academy,” said Kain. “It’s students from eight to 80. We have some older people who are picking up instruments again. The importance of live music is really hard to measure. I think people only realize the importance of live music when they don’t have it.
“We have kids studying music,” added Kain. “Music has been such a huge part of our culture. Right now, the lockdown [from the Coronavirus pandemic] is taking us away from it. We have students who are getting away from it. In my opinion, you need that one-on-one instruction.”
Kain, who holds a degree in music education from Lebanon Valley College, once taught music himself.
“There are things about [teaching] that I miss,” Kain said. “I don’t ever pick up an instrument any more. Normally, I put in a 12-hour day here. There’s just not enough time.”
Much of that time is spent repairing (and sometimes building) string instruments.
“I’ve been involved with music and music education all my life,” Kain said. “I guess the word is ‘satisfying’. It’s taking an instrument that’s in disrepair and making it playable. It’s taking something, and making it something that excites students.”
Kain’s businesses have been hit as hard by the COVID-19 crisis as any local business has. But he still went to the shop every day, more out of habit than necessity.
“It’s cut me off at the knees,” said Kain of the pandemic. “I’m a non-essential business. I’m technically closed. My repair business has been cut down to less than 10 percent of what it used to be. I’m lucky if I bring in $200 a week, and it should be $2000. I’m hunkered down in the basement. I still have bills to pay.” (Editor’s note: This article was reported prior to the partial reopening of businesses as part of the yellow stage advancement for Lebanon County.)
Yet, in these uncertain times the importance of music takes on a whole different meaning. There are few things more soothing, which possess more stress-relieving powers, than music.
“I have private contractors who work here giving private lessons,” said Kain, specifically of the Music Academy. “We kind of have a family here and many of the instructors kind of have their own rooms here. People seem to enjoy coming here, because it’s not your typical cut-and-paste music academy. That’s why it’s so hard for me to come in here, because there’s nothing happening.”
As life gradually returns to normal, the hope is that people will remember the importance of music and community in their lives—and think of the Country String Shop and Music Academy.
“We’re here,” concluded Kain. “There are people who live close by and don’t even have a clue about what’s going on inside. It can be a little frustrating. The variety of things going on here is amazing, from instrument building and repair to the recitals to the lessons to the young people.”
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