Music has been a big part of the worship services at Morgan Hill United Methodist Church since its early days. Our historical pipe organ, although not currently operational, adds beauty and character to the sanctuary.
Pipe organ installed in 1919
As told by Willard Tallmon (1908-1986):
In 1918 Rev. L.P. Walker, our pastor, saw an ad in the Conference paper offering a used pipe organ for $250.00.
The organ was from the Methodist Church in Santa Rosa, CA. Based on a chalk date on the back of the organ façade (what is visible now), the organ was built before June 1, 1900. Based on photos of somewhat similar organs, it appears it may have been built around 1869, possibly by E. & G. G. Hook of Boston, MA.
Mr. Tallmon continues: Morgan Hill Church officials decided to buy the old organ. It arrived at the Morgan Hill Railroad Depot as freight, then was moved by borrowed truck to storage in the hose shed behind the Church.
An elderly, experienced organ installer from Los Gatos agreed to supervise the installation. Paul Walker, Rev. Walker’s oldest son, just discharged from the World War I Army, became the chief assistant installer and laborer.
Over the period of about two months, early in 1919, the wall behind the pulpit was cut and the organ installed, extending back into the Sunday School room, taking a fair amount of space therefrom.
The Church was fortunate to have as a member an experienced organist and music teacher, Mr. H.V. Pillow. He became our first organist.
Pipe organ operation
As installed, the air for the organ came from a large bellows, the handle of which extended into a narrow passage to one side of the organ. There was room for one man or two small boys to get in to pump the bellows. A weight at the end of a string was thumped by Mr. Pillow to signal it was time to start pumping.
The older teenagers did the pumping at first, but after a few weeks tired of the job and passed it on to the younger ones. There was a compensation for working back there – you were free to leave during the sermon but had to be back by the time the sermon ended and the signal weight was dropped. I don’t recall that the organ was ever without air when needed, but there were close calls.
Based on what is currently left from the original organ system, we know there were more pipes directly behind the ones that are left, as there are more holes in the wind chest. The 13 metal pipes that are visible now were functional, as were the 6 square wood flues that flank the pipes.
The organ was designed to be a decorative centerpiece for the altar. The pictured example pump organ from 1830 is a bit larger than ours, but illustrates how large the entire structure may have been, including the portion that in our case was tucked behind the wall. Notice the pump handle on the right. (This organ is currently on view at The Met Fifth Avenue (New York); more info is available on The Met website.)
In late 1920 or early 1921 an electric motor-driven blower was put in to replace the bellows. Again, Paul Walker was the installer. The teenage pumpers had to rejoin the congregation and listen to the sermon.
During the pastorage of The Reverend Russell Oaks, 1950-1954, the pipe organ was rebuilt, and dedicated to the memory of Lillian Lenfest (1861-1944).
Pipe organ replaced with electronic organ, ca. 1980
Around 1980, the pipe organ was replaced with a new Rogers Cambridge 220-II electronic organ. This state-of-the-art instrument had two 61-key keyboards and a full 32-key pedalboard. It included 25 reprogrammable stop presets. The notes were created with transistor-based analog oscillators, giving it a warm sound.
In 1987, the Rogers organ was dedicated in memory of Donald J. Ward (1907-?), John E. Acton (1867-1955), and Jerome H. Parrish (1907-1985). Mr. Acton’s home, built in 1911, has been repurposed as the Morgan Hill Historical Museum.
The Rogers organ is still operational and receives periodic maintenance from a factory-certified technician.