Church organ virtually unchanged in last 147 years

WILTON – One hundred, forty-seven years and still going strong.

The only changes in that time to the pipe organ at the Second Congregational Church was converting its bellows to electricity in 1936.

The Steer and Turner pipe organ was installed in 1870. Except for conversion, plus the addition of chimes, it is the same as when it was installed.

On Sept. 16, a half dozen member of the Monadnock Chapter of the American Guild of Organists visited the church as part of a tour of historic church organs. They also visited Temple and Francestown.

Organist Richard Boutwell, a charter member of the group, played the organ while describing the various parts, uses of the many “stops,” and how to get various orchestral effects. He ended the demonstration by playing a hymn for the dozen people present.

The organ was built as Opus 30 by John Wesley Steer and George William Turner of Westfield, Mass., at a cost of $1,500, with an additional $300 spent to create an organ loft and chamber. It was first played at Sunday worship on Dec. 4, 1870.

The bellows were operated by hand until 1936 when it was electrified. The names of the many bellows operators are on the walls of the chamber.

The last member to man the bellows was Harold Jowders.

Boutwell is the church’s back-up organist. He plays on any fifth Sunday and as needed. The regular organist, Patricia Cauchon, was unable to be present.

According to a handout, the organ has 58 pipes and has a mechanical action known as “tracker.” It is maintained regularly by the Andover Organ Company who made the only changes from the original design.

The organ case is made of black walnut which was painted at some point.

Boutwell’s discussion of the organ included explanations of “great diapason,” plus “swell,” “pedale” and “Couplers,” all various combinations of the stops and key banks.

“It has a full rich sound and I really love it,” Boutwell said.

The American Guild of Organists was founded in 1896 and currently has about 20,000 members in nine geographic areas.

The Mondancok Chapter, formed in 1957, lists their goals as increasing contributions to aesthetic and religious experience; promoting understanding, appreciation and enjoyment of organ music; and improving the performance of the organists.

Information may be obtained from the dean, Mary Ann Fleming of Hancock, flemma@comcas.not, or the secretary, Carol Hamilton of Peterborough,