Written by Emily Mullins
Since early spring, pieces and parts of the 125-year-old organ at First Congregational Church UCC in Colorado Springs, Colo., have been removed, repaired and replaced. But in just a few short months, the centerpiece of the historical church will be making music once again.
“Our instrument will soon return to first-class status as it was when the original organ arrived 125 years ago,” said Scott Christiansen, First Congregational Church UCC organist.
The year was 1889. Colorado Springs was a city in its infancy, just 15 years old. After laying the cornerstone in 1888, the construction of First Congregational was finally complete. All that was missing was the church organ.
Made by Hook & Hastings, then the premier organ-building company in the United States, the instrument traveled all the way to Colorado Springs from Boston. Its arrival was a spectacle, and the organ itself was a work of art. Operated by a water-powered motor housed in the church’s basement, everything about the organ was new and exciting.
“At that time, it had to have been one of the most interesting things to happen in the town,” said Christiansen.
Today the organ is in the midst of an extensive restoration project. The pipes are being removed and cleaned or replaced. The console is being replaced with a removable version to offer more flexibility when transporting the organ from one place to another. The actions, or the organ’s sets of moving parts, will be converted from the current mechanical system to a new electric, digitally controlled system. Despite the renovations, the church is striving to keep as much of the organ’s historical structure and character in place as possible.
“People have been married, buried and sung to with this organ for years and years,” Christiansen said. “It’s considered part of our family here, so it was important that we do everything we can to keep it in use.”
The $300,000 organ restoration project is part of a $1 million restoration project of the church. Most of the funds came from church member donations, with some coming from a state historical grant. The pipework has been restored in sections, so the organ has remained playable throughout the project. But after a wedding on Sept. 15, the organ will be out of commission until the project is finished this Thanksgiving.
Christiansen is looking forward to the reliability and flexibility the new organ will offer, and says the congregation is lucky to have such supportive members who appreciate the historical significance of both the organ and the building.
“The organ sits directly behind the preacher, so it’s what people stare at for an hour or so every Sunday,” he said. “Like the building itself, it’s been well-loved and well-used.”