Note: St. Peter’s treasured Johnson Tracker Organ was installed in 1860. It was built by William Johnson in Westfield, Massachusetts, and shipped by rail to Andover. From there it was hauled by ox cart to its destination. Its placement required that the large east window be blocked up and the balcony pews removed. This was Johnson’s 100th organ (called Opus 100) and has a more ornate exterior than his other works. We don’t know who wrote this article or when it was written but we’re very fortunate to have the details therein.
For the last century the organ in St. Peter’s Church has given continuous and faithful service to the glory of God and the credit of a fine craftsman, William Allen Johnson, of Westfield, Massachusetts, installed his Opus 100 in the church in May, 1860, and received $1,000 for his work.
Fortunately the church still has the original contract along with a sketch of the case and. some assorted correspondence from Mr. Johnson. These old documents tell an interesting story of the history of the organ. The contract reads as follows:
0rgan Specifications Price – $900.00
Two Sets of Manuals from C.C. to G. 56
Twelve Pedal’ Keys with Sub Bass from
C.C.C. 16 feet tone
Swell to Tenor F – – – – – – – 39
Case plain Gothic grained oak color and in imitation of Oak with gilded speaking pipes in front.
1 Open Diapason Metal 39
2 Viol De’Gamba “ 39
3 Stop’d Diapason wood 39
4 Principal metal 39
6 Swell to Great Organ
7 Great organ to Pedals
8 Bellows Signal
9 Swell bass to Pedals ________
Pipes in Swell Organ 195
10 Stop Diapason 17 notes of wood
1 Open Diapason Metal 56
2 Clarabella Trebel wood 56
3 Stop’d Diapason Bass
4 Principal 56
5 Wald Flute to F 39
6 Twelfth 56
8 German Bourdon 16 feet tone
CCC to BB 12
Pipes in Great Organ 331
Do. in Swell do 195
Beneath are some suggested alterations which have been crossed out:
“Will add to Great Organ Dulciana 39 pipes for $ 30
Will Add to Swell Organ and couplings Swell Bass to Pedals $70
Can dispense with Swell Bass by coupling the lower 17 keys to their duplicates on the Great Organ”
It is unfortunate that the first item was not carried out, but it seems that there was already provision made for coupling Swell Bass to Pedals. Another unexplained fact is that the price is listed as $900.00 in the specification whereas it was actually $1,000. The agreement between the builder and the church is clear on this point. It is written on the other side of the specification and is here copied without alteration.
“I, William A. Johnson hereby agree to build an Organ according to the within specification in the best manner as regards materials and workmanship the case to be made up after the accompanying plan, and set up the same in St. Peter’s Parish Church in Hebron on or before the 1st day of May 1860 for the sum of one thousand dollars the payment of eighty dollars I hereby acknowledge and James H. Townsend, Frederic P. Bissell and Lucius J. Hendee
of said Parish hereby agree for said Parish to pay said Johnson for said Organ when completed according to this contract six hundred dollars in cash and a note for three hundred and twenty dollars, payable at six months without interest in all nine hundred and twenty dollars.
Witness our hands this 30th day of January 1860,
Wm. A. Johnson
James T. Townsend
Lucius J. Hendee”
It is worthy of note that the punctuation of the above is the result of Mr. Johnson’s literary style, or perhaps there was less emphasis on such matters in those days.
The next mention of the organ is in a letter dated May 8th, 1860. Apparently the organ had been completed in the factory and was ready for shipment.
The pressure of my engagements is such as to make it impossible for me to leave home this week and I have sent the man who has set up and tuned my best organs for five years past and who is fully competent to all parts of the work. Besides want of time I wish if possible to save the Expense of a journey to Hebron as the margin of profits on the organ is sufficiently small – therefore when the organ is completed to your satisfaction you may if you please make settlement with Mr. Steer according to the terms of the contract and he is hereby authorized to sign receipt in my name if on using the organ any defective workmanship be found I hold myself responsible at any time to make any such matters good at my own proper cost and you may file this document as a warranty against any defect or imperfections not found in any of all organ by whatever builder.
I hope to have the pleasure of a more thorough acquaintance with yourself & associates and will only say further that I leave my organ in the hands of the church without fear for I am certain that you & all others will like it – if you should be in this vicinity a month hence I wish you would look in and see the organ we are building for St. Peter’s in Albany.
Yours very truly, Wm. A Johnson”
The organ was shipped by rail to the depot in Andover, thence hauled by ox cart to Hebron by S.T. Porter. On May 11, 1860 there are two pertinent expenditures in the church records:
“Paid to Mr. Whiting for examining and playing organ $11.00
Paid to Johnson in part for organ $600.00”
The next letter from Mr. Johnson reflects the emotions of many harried business men. It is dated May 15th, 1860.
“L.J. Hendee, Esq.
You will excuse me for intruding on your time but men of limited means are obliged to do that which those of larger purses never feel the necessity of – I have payments due the first of the coming week that I will find difficulty in meeting without the voucher for the balance due me from your committee – I will give you more time that you propose and yet make you the discount for cash, if the six months note had been sent I could have used it as collateral but as it is I am minus – so I propose to take your note at sixty days for ($320) here hundred & twenty dollars less the interest leaving the balance $310.40 or thereabouts or you will oblige my circumstances by sending the six months note just as well.
I regret that my circumstances make this necessary and hope that you bear with me as “needs must be met when D—-1 arrives”.
I am with much respect
Wm A Johnson”
The last letter is an amusing sideline and is certainly appropriate, since 1860 is also an election year.
May 23 1860 Westfield
“Hon Lucius J. Hendee
Your notes are both received and in good time. I thank you for your kind attention to my needs – I was on board the steamer Commodore Friday last when I heard of the nomination of Honest Old Abe. I have never felt more like throwing up my hat for a shout than I did at that moment for I felt that the nomination was one “fit to be made” I trust we will elect him.
Yours very truly
Wm A Johnson
Over the years the organ has had regular maintenance and has suffered only one change besides the installation of an electric blower, The Hautboy was removed for repair about thirty years ago and by error was melted down for scrap. It has since been replaced by a Flautino which was also made by Johnson, originally for a church in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. Under the direction of Donald L. Casey the organ has been completely overhauled. Time-worn leather and felt has been replaced by new moth-proofed material, damaged pipes repaired, and the whole organ tuned and regulated.
St. Peter’s has had a number of fine organists of whom mention should be made. The following list is arranged approximately in chronological order, beginning with the more recent names.
Mr. Gardner Q. Shorey
Mr. Lewis W. Phelps
Mrs. Claude Jones
Miss Marjorie H. Martin
Miss Caroline £.Kellogg
Mrs. Maria Jones
Mrs. Charles W. Phelps
Mrs. Ella Warner
Mrs. Edwin C. Johnson
Miss Constance Farrar
Mr. F. Clarence Bissell
Mrs. Margaret M. Mann
Mary F. Warland
Miss Elizabeth J. Post
The church is now very fortunate in having Mrs. Herbert W. Porter as assistant organist.
The present organ replaced an earlier instrument about which little is known. It was taken down in 1860 and stored in the church sheds, but has since disappeared. It is logical to suppose that it was a small one-manual affair. The accounts for December 10. 1835 have a terse reference to it:
“Joseph Mann Paid toward organ $100.00
The Society Paid toward organ $100.00”
No person or object can attain antiquity without acquiring a number of pleasant anecdotes. It is told of an important occasion at the church where all was in order except for someone to pump the organ. A local gentleman of agrarian pursuits supplied his services for twenty-five cents and all preparations were complete. There was a wonderful fanfare of music to start things off, but the effect of it was considerably diminished when the organ suddenly faded away into silence. It was disclosed upon subsequent investigation that there had possibly been insufficient instructions given to the organ blower, for he had merely pumped the organ full of wind and made a quiet departure – quite presumably never to return.
William Allen Johnson’s Opus 100 is but one of the many fine instruments his firm built from 1844 to 1898, several of which were outstanding organs of the time. However, St. Peter’s is a good example of how an old organ can be carefully maintained and preserved over the years. While many old organs are allowed to fall into ruin through ignorance and neglect, it is possible to preserve others by keeping them in good repair. While these instruments are obsolete according to modern standards they can often be put into excellent order with but a fraction of the expense required for a comparable modern organ. The same organ today would not cost less than $12,000 and would not have the same beauty of tone which has for the past century resounded in praises to God.