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Organ history

A History of the Organs of First Church

1863 - Research in the church archives has recently revealed a treasure trove of information about a pipe organ purchased in 1863 from the E. L. Holbrook, a manufacturer of organs in East Medway, Massachusetts. A small instrument with two "rows" of keys and possibly a limited pedal division, it was probably placed in the balcony against the east wall where the choir now sits. During renovations to the balcony in 1968, a platform of floorboards was discovered in that area along with an abandoned one-octave pedalboard, all of which may have belonged to the old pipe organ. In a letter written to the Holtkamp organ committee around 1968, a 94 year-old church member speaks of fond memories of pumping the organ in the balcony in his youth. A letter written by Sarah Porter, circa 1890, refers to the choir and organ being located in the balcony. In the 1890s, church documents speak of a plan to consider moving the organ to the pulpit platform in the front of the church. This never happened, and what became of the Holbrook organ is not known. An early photograph of the Meetinghouse shows no organ in the balcony nor behind the pulpit, but what seems to be a small reed organ on the floor in front of the pulpit platform. Perhaps, for a time in the 1890s, the church had no pipe organ.

1901 - A large pipe organ of 41 ranks was purchased from the firm of J.W. Steere and Son. An extension to the Meetinghouse was built behind the pulpit area to accommodate the instrument. It spoke through an arched facade of pipes directly behind the pulpit platform. (Years ago, the original high pulpit had been removed and was, according to Sarah Porter's letter, "inconsiderately thrown away." It was this blank wall that was opened up for the organ chamber and facade pipes.)

1927 - A new pipe organ of 34 ranks was built by the Austin Organ Company of Hartford using some pipework from the Steere organ. It occupied the same space. The console was located on the main floor to the right of the pulpit platform.

1957 - During the restoration of the east wall and the high pulpit desk, the pipes of the organ were moved to the balcony directly opposite the new pulpit. They were enclosed and covered with grill cloth. The console remained in place on the main floor. No changes were made to the organ other than to move it.

1969 - A new organ of 33 ranks was purchased from the Holtkamp Organ Company of Cleveland, Ohio and was installed in 1969. The choir, organ pipes and console returned to their original location in the balcony. The exposed pipework added visual integrity and beauty to the organ installation.

1999 - The tonal resources of the Holtkamp organ were expanded with digital electronic sound additions provided by a customized Ahlborn sound module installed by the Organ Music Corporation, and the console was updated with digital technology by Allen Miller Associates.

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