Henry Erben, New York - 1855
8' Stopped Diapason (Bass) 8' Open Diapason * 8' Stopped Diapason (Treble) 8' Dulciana * 4' Principal 2' Fifteenth 8' Trumpet * Bellows Signal
Pull Down from the Manual * Common Bass with Stopped Diapason
(The following is taken from a newspaper or magazine article dated May, 1968 - source unknown.)
Last Spring, while attending an organ builder's workshop, a Mobile musician banged his toe on a hard object.
Robert Sawyer, organist and Mobile College faculty member, wiggled the toe and asked what in the world that was.
And R. Ronald Norwood, the organ man, told him it was a piece of an old Erben cabinet organ.
So began the story of the resurrection of a rare and still sound musical instrument which culminated recently in a first formal recital on it at St. Luke's Church, Mobile
Patricia Fitzsimmons, formerly of Mobile and now on the music faculty of Jefferson State Junior College in Birminghan, played works by Bach, Buxtehude and Louis Vierne, plus chorale preludes taken from hymns in the 1940 Episcopal hymnal.
History of the cabinet organ -- so called because it is housed entirely in one cabinet but on the big side for most parlors at six by four feet on the floor and nearly 12 feet (tall) with display pipes and a Gothic spire -- goes back beyond the Civil War.
A silver plate on its desk front reads "Henry Erben, New York, 1855."
As far as anyone knows, it was completed in that year for St. Andrew's Church, Haynesville, which has been inactive for several years. It accompanied hymns and canticles for nearly a century until the church was closed.
Fortunately the Diocesan headquarters at Carpenter House, through the special interest of Bishop Murray and through his appointment of the Rev. R. Emmet Gribbin to be in charge of the project, makes every effort to salvage worthy organ pipes.
(The pipes are generally the most expensive and irreplaceable parts of an organ as well as the soul of its sound. Those in the little Erben organ, experts estimate, could not be duplicated for $5,000, if at all.)
After the Haynesville mission became inactive, the property was sold and the organ removed. Dr. Fredrick Hyde, one of the advisers in organ salvage, determined it should be saved. Norwood, an Episcopalian, dismantled it and agreed to store it at his Fairhope shop. it was there that Sawyer stumbled over it.
His wife, Nyra Sawyer, is organist at St. Luke's and she began to take an interest in restoration of the instrument. Norwood was engaged to re-erect and re-work the organ. Sawyer volunteered for the large job of refinishing it and contributions from various sources funded the work.
Many were involved, including the rector of St. Luke's, the Rev. Coleman Inge, the vestry and James Mayton of Mobile.
Finally, the redult was a sound unheard for many years.
Someone remarked that having an Erben organ today might be loosely compared to having a painting by Winslow Homer.
Henry Erben built organs from 1821 to 1881 and is described by the best sources as one of the two greatest of the period (the other was Thomas Appleton) and among the first to build organs of any size or distinction this side of the Atlantic.
He built to last, for a number of his instruments, large and small, remain in use all along the eastern seaboard with a concentration in New York. They are prized for craftsmanship and voicing.
There once were two large Erben organs in Mobile -- one installed in 1859 (?) at Christ Church and destroyed in the 1906 hurricane; and the other installed at Government Street Presbyterian and moved to Dauphin Way Baptist where is was ruined by fire.
Electricity now supplies the wind power instr\ead of a husky human pumper for the organ now at St. Luke's, but its tracker action (mechanical link between keys and valves permitting the pipes to speak) remains.
It has one 56 note manual, divided at G below middle C, the original 13 note pedal board and six ranks of pipes
Principal woods of the cabinet, now glowing after refinishing with tung oil and handrubbed with beeswax, are thought to be walnut, pine and heartpine, although there is some question as to whether or not the latter is cypress.
The gold leaf is original. Dark burned places above the keyboard go back to the days of kerosene lamps and holes where screws attached such a light remian.
Thanks to a lot of friends, a venerable little organ has found its voice and good looks again.