Tuesday, March 6, 2012

First Congregational's Organ

Hutchings Organ Company, Boston, MA 1913 Opus 1688

The majority ofWyoming was settled in the late 1880s. Since that time, numerous Wyoming communities with many churches acquired pipe organs. Unfortunately many of the old organs are now gone, having been replaced by electronic substitutes, or abandoned altogether. A few fine pipe organs are still in existence in the state and many in their original condition.

Based on research by the Organ Historical Society there are approximately 50 pipe organs in existence in Wyoming today. Also, based on their research, the three remaining pipe organs in Sheridan are the oldest three still in existence inWyoming.

The Hutchings Organ Company of Boston,Mass.custom made the instrument for the First Congregational Church in Sheridan,WY. The installation of this organ was completed in the late fall of 1913 and the organ was dedicated on January 11, 1914. Opus 1688. Andrew Carnegie gave a substantial sum toward the organ with the balance of the funds raised entirely by the ladies of the Congregational Semicircle. The total cost was $7,000. The cost to replicate this instrument today would be in excess of $450,000.

Hutchings Organs were regarded as the Cadillac of organs during their time. Mr. Hutchings died in June of 1913, and his company subsequently closed up in 1917 which makes this one of the last Hutchings organs. There are very few Hutchings organs in the western part of theUnited States. Because of Hutchings quality, uniqueness, and scarcity, the pipe organs they built are regarded as having significant historical value.

Captain Conger of what was then known as FortMackenzie (the current site of ourV.A.MedicalCenter) lead in securing, selection, and planning of this organ. At that time Captain Conger was regarded as one of the leading musicians of the U.S. Army. He served as organist for the dedication service. One interesting bit of trivia was that it was noted in a newspaper article written about the dedication that Captain Conger had a pipe organ in his own home.

The instrument features three manuals, or keyboards, and a 30 note pedal board. It has a, bat wing, fold out draw knob console. This original 1913 console is still in use. This was the first instrument inSheridanthat was built already electrified. There are 15 ranks of pipes with 22 stops and 896 pipes. Another unique thing about this instrument is that the swell shades, which controll the volume, are located on top of the organ – unlike most pipe organs where the shades are in the front. This instrument retains it’s historical integrity – and is substantially today as it was when originally installed. The Mass Rowe chimes were added in 1975 as a memorial to Rev. Ebertz.

The pipe organ building firm of Morel & Associates of Denver has been servicing this organ since the 1930’s. A major renovation of the organ was completed by Morel & Associates in 1977. In 1985 the two main bellows were releathered. In 1994, in conjunction with a remodeling of the choir area, the console was moved onto a moveable platform – and located closer to it’s original location. The electrical supply to the organ was updated, and the electrical relay system was updated. In 1995 two ranks of pipes, the Cornopean and Oboe, were removed, taken to Denver by Morel & Associates, cleaned and regulated. Prior to these modifications the organ was plagued from time to time with problems stemming from it’s now almost 100 year old electrical system. Modifications were made in such a way as to not jeopardize the historical integrity of the organ.

There is a “sister” instrument in Montana. In Volume 31, Number 2, 1987 issue of The Tracker it cites a Hutchings Organ Company instrument installed in Helena, Montana at the Consistory Temple. It notes that the contract for this instrument was signed December 21, 1914 and the Opus number is 1705.

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