Historic Pipe Organ Perishes in Fire

The First Baptist Church in Lebanon lost its organ in fire last month. This is a similar organ from 1900 being restored by A. David Pipe Organs in Pomfret.

People from all over came and asked, "Can I play your organ?” said Rev. Dale Edwards.

The 1892 Hook & Hastings organ at the First Baptist Church in Lebanon was listed in the Organ Historical Society's database. It had 14 stops and eight ranks. The pipes were painted gold and stenciled with designs unique to the organ.

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It was a tourist attraction for members of the American Guild of Organists, who traveled to historic churches just to play a few notes.

“My entire 25 years there, people were coming by, wanting to play that organ,” said Edwards.

The organ, built into the wall of the church, was worth around $80,000. It was destroyed by fire Dec. 29. The wall with the organ collapsed along with the church roof. The remains are unsalvageable.

The pipes on Hook & Hastings organs were typically painted gold and they were stenciled. Each stencil was done individually and each was scaled to fit the different sizes of the pipes. A. David Moore Pipe Organs in Pomfret is restoring this 1900 organ. It's almost identical to the one that burned in Lebanon.

Hook & Hastings was a popular New England organ company that produced about 3,000 organs, beginning in the early 1800s.

“(Hook & Hastings) was like a precursor to Henry Ford (Motor Company),” said organ restoration specialist Tom Bowen of Sharon.

Hook & Hastings made sizes and types of organs like Ford made types of cars.

The organ that burned was a size five, which sold for around $1,200 in the late 1800s.

Tom Bowen toots an organ pipe in Pomfret. Bowen works for A. David Moore Organs as a restoration specialist. 

The old organ keys were made of elephant bone. The bone is so thin the wood can be seen through the white. When A. David Moore Pipe Organs restores organs now, they cow bone.

The organ that burned was almost as old as the historic gothic-style church.

“It was quite a workout (to play),” said Edwards.

Organs that old were pumped from the right side to produce air before electricity. That task was usually given to a child who would draw graffiti on the organ at the same time.

"Just a few years ago we had that pipe organ all refinished,”said Dennis Merrihew, a sound engineer for the church who was there the night of the fire.

In the video above, John Atwood plays an organ the company is currently restoring.

A. David Moore Pipe Organs, a company in Pomfret, tonally altered the organ around 2004.

Moore is currently restoring a similar organ from a church in Littleton, N.H. Like many organs, the Lebanon organ was used less and less in Sunday services, but it remained a fixture in the church.

Merrihew remembers a Dartmouth College student playing the organ 35 years ago.

“He played that so beautiful,” he said.

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