Old South Church

Skinner Organ Company, Op. 308 — 1921

Casavant Frères, Ltée and Hokans-Knapp, Associates — 1982-’84

Nelson Barden Associates, Inc. — 1987-’90



Originally known as New Old South Church (“new” being 1875) to distinguish it from still-standing Old South Meeting House (1729), this is the third home of a congregation gathered in 1669 that has counted Benjamin Franklin, William Dawes, and Samuel Adams among its members.  Cummings & Sears adapted John Ruskin’s Venetian Gothic style to a corner lot in a masterful way, evoking hints of Basilica San Marco.  In 1905 Louis Comfort Tiffany replaced the original interior stenciling with his own in purple and metallic silver, covering Clayton and Bell’s stained glass with purple glass as well.  That decorative scheme perished under a coat of battleship grey paint in the 1950s, followed by a skillful recreation of the original interior in 1984.  As if in sympathy with the collapse of San Marco’s campanile in 1902, Old South’s bell tower began listing by the 1920s and had to be pulled down and rebuilt slightly lower.  - Ross Wood

Photo by Len Levasseur

Photo by Len Levasseur

In 1875, the “New” Old South Church was equipped with a three-manual (three keyboards) Hutchings organ, sited in the gallery. This was replaced in 1915 with Ernest M. Skinner Organ Company’s Op. 231, a four-manual with a 32-foot metal Gamba and wooden Bombarde, a Physharmonica, and the full complement of Skinner specialty voices. Like the Hutchings, the Skinner was also installed in the gallery. For many years the eminent Dr. Carl McKinley presided over this instrument.

In the late 1960s, Dr. McKinley’s successor, Alfred Nash Patterson, sought a new instrument, which was eventually commissioned in 1968 from the Reuter Organ Company of Lawrence, Kansas and installed in 1969. This, too, was a four-manual organ, with Great, Swell, Choir, Positiv, Bombarde and Pedal divisions. The two Skinner 32-foot stops were retained, but all else was sold to Virgil Fox for use at his home in Englewood, New Jersey. (Eventually the pipes and parts were broken up for sale; the Kleine Erzähler and Flute Celeste found their way first to restorers in Detroit, and then eventually back to Old South via Nelson Barden.)

In the early 1980s, under the leadership of then-organist David Garth Worth, an effort was begun to return the Skinner sound to Old South Church. Skinner Op. 308, built in 1921 for the Municipal Auditorium of Saint Paul, Minnesota, had suffered the fate of most municipal organs of its day. Although these organs opened to great fanfare, the advent of radio and sound pictures caused such instruments to be used less and less.

Old South learned of the instrument’s availability mere weeks before the auditorium was to be razed and decided to act. A consortium was quickly formed to remove and store the instrument. The crew consisted of the A. Thompson-Allen Co., Curators of Organs at Yale University; Foley-Baker Inc. from Tolland, Connecticut; and Nelson Barden Associates of Boston.

Once the heroic removal effort was completed, attention turned to how the organ could be installed in Boston. Some consideration was given to retaining the gallery arrangement, but Old South was ready to have music join with clergy in the chancel area. Such a job being beyond the capabilities of the New England restorers, other vendors were explored, and ultimately Casavant Frères, Ltée. of St. Hyacinth, Québec was chosen, in a two-contract arrangement with that firm’s regional representatives, Henry Hokans and Richard Knapp. The Reuter organ was sold back to Reuter in the early 1980s; Reuter took it back to Kansas and repackaged it for St. John's Lutheran Church, Winter Park, Florida.

Nelson Barden Associates began a rebuilding program in 1986, made formal in 1987 under consultants Jack Bethards, Joseph Dzeda and Jason McKown, and church guidance from organist Frederick A. MacArthur, treasurer Tom Wardell, and member Wayne Davis. This particular campaign of work saw completion in June 1990, in time for the American Guild of Organists National Convention in Boston. In 1993, the Antiphonal organ received all new pipework from Austin. Nelson Barden Associates renovated the console in 1999, installing a new solid-state combination action. - from the Old South Church website