More than a century and a half later, it's still a "pipe" dream

Published: Mar. 1, 2019 at 10:25 AM CST
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Florida’s oldest pipe organ still in use at its original site sits in what’s considered the state’s second oldest church.

Trinity Episcopal Church in Apalachicola first opened its doors in 1837.

The wooden church was pre-constructed in White Plains, New York, taken back apart, shipped down by boat, and put back together again. Its charm on the outside may only be outdone by its grandeur on the inside.

But the church’s pride and joy makes its home off to the right, an 1859 Erben “Tracker” model pipe organ.

"It’s [the pipe organ] easy for me to play,” said Ina Meyer, the church's organist. “They don't make organs like this anymore. I mean unless you spend a lot of money.”

Meyer began playing a different organ at the church in the 1960s, a Pilcher model, which replaced the Erben.

“They put it [the Erben] up in the balcony and it just stayed up there for years,” said Meyer.

The Erben sat idly by in the church’s balcony looking down with envy as the Pilcher stole the limelight for more than 50 years beginning in 1921. But in the mid-1970s, church leaders decided for historical reasons the Erben had to return to its rightful place at the front of the church’s sanctuary.

“They brought it [the Erben] down because Mr. Pendarvis said, 'You need to bring that organ down and let’s get it working,'” said Meyer.

The organ has about 300 pipes, all of them original, as well as the original cabinet and keyboard.

“I love playing this little organ, it has a sweet sound and it's just perfect for this historic church,” said Meyer.

Only the electric blower is a new addition.

“[It's] very nicely voiced," said organ conservator Darwin Klug. "And what I mean by voicing is how the pipes were actually, how they're built, and how they’re actually designed that makes all the difference in the world as far as the sound.”

Klug works on pipe organs all over the world. He's based in Orlando.

“He [Klug] loves this organ, and he took it on as a project,” said Meyer.

Klug services the Erben at Trinity Episcopal twice a year.

“He's got it in such great shape,” said Meyer.

“It’s a mechanical organ, which is very special," said Klug. "It’s the same type of organ that Bach would have played on.”

Klug can tell when he tunes it, it sounds exactly the same way today as it did more than a century and a half ago.

“We know that the wind pressure is the same because the pipes still tune in at the point where they are," said Klug. "If there was anything, any difference to it, they wouldn't tune in the proper place.”

Klug says, barring termites, the organ can keep belting out its melodic magic for a few hundred more years.

“I just love it and I hope they keep it for another 200 years,” said Meyer.