Episcopal Church organs tell story of a remarkable parish

On November 11, 1894, at the corner of Washington Avenue and Ninth Street, the forty members of Tyrone’s Trinity Episcopal Church completed their building at a cost of about $3,200. Across the next 112 years, this jewel of a miniature gothic, wooden church building housed four historic church organs, each which narrate a chapter in the story of this remarkable central Pennsylvania parish.
The first of these four historic Trinity Church organs probably was a Parlor Reed or Pump Organ. In his 1985 “Story of Trinity Church”, the late Ralph Wolfgang noted that Mrs. Richard Beaston played this Reed organ, while the strong men of the Episcopal Church pumped the bellows to supply the wind.
The second historic Trinity Church organ was a Mitmer Pipe Organ, built in Philadelphia and installed in 1905 at a cost of $1,800. Historian Wolfgang observed that in the early years of the last century, hard-working Episcopalians hollowed out the basement under their gothic wooden sanctuary to accommodate Sunday school classes. At the same time, these dedicated church members also constructed a small room addition on the Ninth Street side of the sanctuary to accommodate the wind chests and the pipes of their new Mitmer Pipe Organ.
The third historic Trinity Church organ was an Austin Pipe Organ built originally in Hartford, Connecticut and installed in the autumn of 1936. The 1905 Mitmer Pipe Organ served Trinity Church well until the Saint Patrick’s Day flood of 1936 engulfed it, along with the Parish Hall piano, found floating on its side. Under the courageous leadership of church rector, William T. Sherwood, the people of Trinity negotiated to purchase a used Austin Pipe Organ from the former Jaffa Shrine Temple, located along Chestnut Avenue in Altoona. About this organ purchase, historian Wolfgang said, “Although the Austin Pipe Organ cost only $50, Trinity Church spent considerably more than $50 to move the Austin Organ from the Jaffa Shrine Temple and to re-install it in Trinity Church.”
The fourth historic Trinity Church organ was the present Estey Pipe Organ, installed in August of 1956. Under the capable leadership of rector Donald Moore Whitesel, Trinity Church commissioned the Estey Pipe Organ Company of Brattleboro, Vermont to build this two-keyboard, instrument with about 776 pipes, divided into 13 ranks or rows. Most likely, long-time Tyrone organist Clarence Black (grandfather of Charles, Donald and Brian Bressler) and Pittsburgh organ architect Arthur Kennedy designed the organ stop list to conform to the gothic Trinity sanctuary, with its natural wood walls. Guided by their recommendations, the Estey Company then built the instrument to their stop specifications for a cost of about $12,000. Records from Trinity Episcopal treasurer James Warnock indicate that it cost $212 to haul the pipe organ from Vermont to Pennsylvania by tractor trailer in August 1956. Internet records substantiate that the Estey Pipe Organ Company existed along a quiet street in Brattleboro, Vermont from 1901 until 1961. During those 60 years, the Estey Company built 3,261 pipe organs. Tyrone’s Trinity Church housed Estey Pipe Organ No. 3,234. Altoona’s Broad Avenue Presbyterian Church had Estey Pipe Organ No. 3,245, dating from 1957.
Daily Herald microfilms reveal that Tyrone Episcopal organist James Young first inaugurated the completed Estey Pipe Organ for two services on August 12, 1956, providing a brief recital before each service. Finally, on Tuesday evening, October 30, 1956, Penn State Altoona Campus organist Alfred Mudrich presented an organ recital of serious, classical music to proud parishioners. Mudrich had to substitute as recital organist for an organist from Saint Stephen’s Episcopal Cathedral in Harrisburg, who had injured his back and could not perform. Apparently, historian Wolfgang was present for the organ recital and in his 1985 “Story of Trinity Church” offered this winsome insight, “Although the Estey Pipe Organ furnished fine music and led the Trinity Choir during one of its peak periods, the pipe organ proved a financial headache until it was paid for thirteen years later in 1969.”
By 1993, Trinity’s Estey Pipe Organ had become a maintenance headache. Recognizing the musical value of their aging Estey Pipe Organ, rector Ronald Lynch and the Tyrone Episcopal Vestry commissioned Pittsburgh pipe organ architect David M. Kerr to perform three months worth of work on their instrument. This 1993 organ refurbishing included relocating the console, releathering the windchests and pneumatics and removing the chamber grill cloth for a cost of about $11,000. Financing for this 1993 pipe organ renovation came primarily from the faithful work of the Trinity Church women’s apple dumpling festivals. In rural towns such as Tyrone, pipe organ renovations have become a lost art. In this age of digital computer organs, only three other Tyrone churches retain their pipe organs: St. Matthew’s Felgemaker – Cannarsa from 1908, Church of the Good Shepherd’s Moller from 1940 and First English Lutheran’s Moller from 1966.
For fifty years, Trinity’s Estey Pipe Organ has sounded praise to God under the capable leadership of church organists such as Carrie Prosser, Clarence Black, James Young, Franklin Williams, Kathy Gunsallus, Richard Merryman, David Hopkins and now, Sally Cupp. Recognizing that its melodies can provide strength for today and bright hopes for tomorrow, the faithful members of Trinity Episcopal Church look forward to another half century of musical inspiration from their 1956 Estey Pipe Organ.