Saturday, January 18, 2014

Pipe dreams

Samuel M. Greene's reference yesterday to the pipe organ at First United Methodist Church, financed in part by Andrew Carnegie, got me to thinking about other instruments in Chariton.

So far as I know, there have only been four pipe organs --- and two survive. Three were located in churches; the fourth, in a private home. The Methodist organ is the earliest.

That's the facing (above) of the pipe chamber at First Presbyterian Church, however, where the organ was installed in 1929-30. It just happened to be the only pipe organ photo I had on hand.

First Methodist Episcopal Church was built at the intersection of North Main and Roland in 1899-1900 and an alcove for a pipe organ was included, but none installed. The Methodist pulpit --- Methodists generally considered altars too Catholic at that time --- was centered originally under a rose window dedicated to the memory of the Rev. G.W. Roderick high in the east wall of the auditorium, so the alclove most likely was on one side or the other.

As mentioned yesterday, Greene, editor and publisher of The Chariton Herald and also a Methodist trustee, laid the groundwork for acquisition of an organ by writing to philanthropist Andrew Carnegie, who agreed to pay half the cost of a $3,000 instrument once $1,500 had been raised locally. 

Will Eikenberry offered $500 --- no doubt about that. Greene recalled that businessman and fellow trustee W.G. Brown offered $500, too. Contemporary newspaper reports, however, state that Will Eikenberry's sister, Mrs. Carl Sigler of Indianola, was the donor of the second $500. The balance was raised in smaller amounts.

The new organ, built by Henry Pilcher's Sons, Louisville (Opus 543, 2 manuals, 17 ranks), was in place and ready to premiere during an August, 1906, recital featuring Prof. F.E. Barrows of the Simpson College Conservatory of Music.

This organ continues to serve the Methodist church, although rebuilt several times. In fact, it dominates the auditorium --- along the with choir loft in which its console is located.

Shortly after the Methodist Episcopal pipe organ was installed, installation of a Hillgreen-Lane instrument commenced at the new St. Andrew's Episcopal Church, which under the leadership of Jessie (Mallory) Thayer had the most ambitious music program of the time among Chariton churches.

This organ premiered during a public recital on Nov. 22, 1906, by Prof. William E. Zeuch of Chicago. This instrument, perhaps the largest of the Chariton instruments, served St. Andrew's until 1955, when it perished along with the church building. No details about it have survived and, by some accounts, larger pipes were recycled for use as farm fence posts after the church was demolished.

Chariton's Presbyterians had aspired toward a pipe organ upon completion of their distinctive new domed building during 1908 --- a pipe chamber was built into the northeast corner of the auditorium --- but 20 years were required to acquire it. 

The two-manual instrument that continues to serve the congregation was built during 1929 by the Estey Organ Co.(Opus 2860) of Brattleboro, Vermont, at a cost of $6,800. It was used for the first time during January of 1930.


Perhaps the most interesting of Chariton's pipe organs, although by no means the best, once was located just two doors east of First Prebyterian where it had been hand-built in his living room by Dr. Lucius H. Oatman, an optometrist who while not an accomplished player was fascinated by pipe organs.

Born in Wisconsin during 1863 and trained in Dubuque as a watchmaker and jeweler, Oatman married Anna Sexsmith during 1888 and the family  moved to Guthrie Center, where he managed a jewelry store and studied optometry.

Anna Oatman died at Guthrie Center during 1923, leaving two adult daughters, and in 1929, now a licensed optometrist, Lucius relocated to Chariton --- just in time to see his new offices go up in smoke during the great southside fire of 1930.

He married Luella F. Bell, of Des Moines, who also had adult children, during 1932 and they purchased the big old square house on Braden Avenue two doors east of First Presbyterian Church that would remain their home until Dr. Oatman's death during 1952 at age 89. That house was demolished in 1965 and a fourplex constructed on its site.

Oatman began work on his pipe organ in Guthrie Center just after the death of his wife during 1923 and worked on it for five years there where, it was reported later, some contended that "Oatman has a screw loose." He learned how to build from textbooks, manuals and detailed questioning of organ builders and assemblers.

The organ and its components were relocated to Chariton during the 1930s and, by 1939, it was basically complete, although Oatman continued to fiddle with it during the remainder of his life. The organ console and cased pipes were located in the living room of the Oatman home, but the instrument extended into an adjacent chamber. The motor and blower were located in the basement. 

The organ and its builder were featured in a front-page article in The Herald-Patriot of April 20, 1939, and at that time Oatman's plans included an echo organ for the second floor. Whether that was completed or not just isn't known.

It was, however, a substantial and attractive instrument, albeit an unlikely piece of living room furniture.

Because the organ was built into the house, it was advertised as an asset when the Oatman daughters put the building on the market during the late 1950s after the death of Luella Oatman. Most likely, it was demolished with the old house during 1965.


Anonymous said...

What would we do without people willing to keep us connected to the past with reports like these? Thank you so much. I attended the Methodist church as a child and young adult. The pipe organ there is beautiful.

Delores Ranshaw said...

Frank, there was another pipe organ for about 15 years in the First Lutheran Church in Chariton. Harlan remembers it as being before 1990 that Paul Christoffers located one in a church in Council Bluffs and he and Harlan moved it to our Church. It was replaced about 15 years later with the present digital organ.
Delores Ranshaw

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this interesting account. I have played the organs at both St. Andrew's Episcopal (substitute organist) and the Methodist (cousin's wedding) churches in Chariton and enjoyed both musical experiences. The thing I remembered most is the appreciation that everyone who heard me play offered. Chariton's parishioners really love their organ music, no matter how novice the player.