A History of the Organs at Grace Church

The first record of a parish organ is in the plans drawn by Richard Upjohn in 1845 for the current church building. That organ was installed in the rear of the church, in what at that time was a smaller gallery than exists today. The Henry Erben Company of New York, the same firm that built an organ for Trinity Church, Wall Street (which was being constructed to an Upjohn design at about the same time as Grace Church), provided the instrument. There are no records of the specifications.

At the 1885 parish annual meeting, the parish authorized a subscription of $10,000 to replace the old organ, which had been pronounced “almost beyond repair.” In 1886 when $9,000 was in hand and the rest guaranteed, the contract was placed with the Hutchings Organ Company of Boston for the installation of the present gallery organ. It was soon discovered that the gallery loft was neither strong enough nor large enough for the organ desired. Based on that development, the church engaged R.M. Upjohn of the firm that designed the original church, to extend the gallery to its present size, enabling the Hutchings firm to build an instrument most of the pipe work of which is still in use and whose walnut case with stenciled pipe facade we enjoy to this day.

In June 1902, the vestry authorized changing the position of the choir from the gallery loft to the front of the church. It didn’t take long to realize that having the organ console and the choir separated by such a great distance presented significant challenges. Early in 1904 the console was moved into the chancel at a cost of $3,800 (provided by private subscription). This change made it possible for the organist, Arthur Ryder, to work more effectively with the choir.

In 1912, when the current chancel was constructed to the design of Ralph Adams Cram, Mrs. Jane Frances Brown gave a new organ to the church. This instrument, built by the Hutchings Company (who had provided the gallery organ in 1885) was placed in the twin chambers on either side of the new chancel. It was first played in February 1913.

In 1923 the Casavant Fréres firm of St. Hyacinthe, Quebec, Canada, refurbished the gallery organ and installed a new chancel organ, given in loving memory of Arthur Livingston Kelley by his family. Both of these instruments were played from a new console in the chancel.

In 1959 the church and Casavant Fréres entered into a second contract to refurbish and expand both the gallery and chancel organs to a scheme drawn up by Fred Cronheimer, the parish organist; Edward Gammons, an organ consultant from Groton, Mass.; and Lawrence Phelps, the tonal director at Casavant. This is essentially the instrument Grace Church enjoys today.

By the turn of the century it was determined that the console was nearing the end of its service life. In October 2007 a contract was signed with RA Colby Organ Company of Johnson City, Tenn., to provide a new console.

Prior to signing the contract for the new console, several surveys were made of the mechanical condition of the entire instrument as well as a rough plan and schedule for its continued refurbishment. This plan included a provision in the new console not only for state-of-the-art combination action, but also for the addition of digital voices. The Walker Technical Company of Zionsville, Pa., installed these additions, which have greatly augmented the color palette of our pipe organ and will enable us to take an incremental and economically-efficient approach to refurbishing the rest of the pipe work, wind chests, etc., while having a completely serviceable instrument available during that process. They also make it possible to have use of a full “organ” during the summer (and on cold winter days) when keeping the reeds in tune is difficult and costly.

The new console was first played on Pentecost in 2010. It has been warmly received and reviewed by the congregation not only for the music making it facilitates but also for the seamless way the red oak and quilted maple carved cabinet fits into the beautiful Cram chancel, which will have its 100th birthday in 2012.

Additional information, including specifications, about the 1923, 1960 and 2010 Grace Church instruments is available here.