Trumbull church brings 1849 pipe organ back to life
It won’t exactly be a Christmas miracle, but something pretty close to it if all goes according to plan.
Christ Church Tashua’s historic 1849 Simmons and McIntyre pipe organ was damaged in June after a partial ceiling collapse in the church’s 170-year-old building sent pieces of plaster raining down on the delicate instrument.
Luckily, Richard Hamar, 81, who installed the refurbished organ back in 1968, was available to get the instrument back up and running. Todd Rossel, senior warden, said the goal is to complete the repairs in time for the church’s Christmas Eve services. Hamar beat that deadline, with the help of some Christ Church volunteer assistants.
“The congregation is very excited to have it back up and playing,” Rossel said. “Since the collapse, we’ve been using a piano that we roll in on Sundays, but it’s just not the same.”
To make the repairs, Hamar had to disassemble the organ and remove the 295 pipes. After toting the pieces back to his shop, he spent months repairing them. The work will allow the organ to sound as good as it did before the collapse. In fact, it may sound even better since some of the organ’s pipes had been bent through normal wear and tear over the past 50 years.
“Some of these pipes are four feet long, and they would collapse under their own weight if you handled them,” Hamar said, indicating the boxes of pipes scattered around Christ Church’s balcony waiting for installation.
Reconditioning the tin/lead alloy pipes is a meticulous process, as is replacing each one in its proper place, a process that has not been done since the organ’s 1968 refurbishment.
The organ itself was built in 1849 by Simmons and McIntrye. The company had been founded just four years earlier and Hamar said he believes the Christ Church organ is the sixth one the company ever built.
“Later they would build some bigger ones,” he said. “They built the organ at St. Paul’s Cathedral in Louisville (Ky), and in the chapel at Harvard.”
Christ Church’s pipe organ was originally delivered to a Dutch Restoration church in Bridgeport. When that church closed in the 1860s, the organ was donated to Christ Church where it was a featured part of Sunday services until it fell into disrepair in the early 20th century, Rossel said.
“The church got a Hammond organ, and the pipe organ sat upstairs for the next four decades,” he said.
In the 1960s, the church held a fundraising drive to restore the Simmons and McIntrye, and Hamar, who had learned his craft apprenticing in Europe, took on the task — one of his first jobs, he said. In fact, he still has his handwritten $2,500 invoice (just under $20,000 in today’s money) for some of the work. He estimates the total cost was slightly more than $3,000.
There was no immediate amount available for the cost of the recent repairs.
Of course, there would be no point in repairing the organ if it were going to be replaced under a damaged ceiling, Rossel said. Even as he and Hamar were crawling over and through the organ last week, workmen were busily doing the final replastering work; plastering and organ repair crews frequently had to move tarps and stand aside to let each other pass in the church’s tight confines.
Still, Rossel said the work is going about as well and could be expected. Even his dealings with the insurance company have gone without a hitch.
“When the collapse initially happened, the insurance company told us we needed to get bids for the repair work,” Rossel said. “I told them, we’ll get bids for the ceiling, but when it comes to the organ, there’s only one guy that can do this.”