John Speller's Web Pages Portable Organs

John Speller's Web Pages - US Pipe Organs

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During the second half of the nineteenth century a number of leading builders manufactured "Portable" organs -- small instruments for chapels and private residences that were relatively easily moveable.

One firm that manufactured portable organs was the Felgemaker company of Erie, Pennsylvania. An outstanding early example of one of these, built by Derrick, Felgemaker & Co in circa 1866, is to be found in Christ Episcopal Church, Lexington, Missouri, where it remains in regular use. Lexington was the scene of a battle in the Civil War, and a cannonball is still embedded in the wall behind the organ. The instrument has a beautiful walnut Gothic case with gilt facade pipes. The stop list is as follows:

Christ Episcopal Church, Lexington, Missouri

Pedal: C-e0, 17 notes:

4' Celestina Harmonic (flute)

Manual: C-c4, 61 notes (enclosed):

8' Flute
8' Gamba
4' Principal

Hitch-down swell pedal

Another builder of portable organs was Hilborne L. Roosevelt of New York City. Dozens of these instruments were built, of which five examples are known to survive. We visited one of these, Roosevelt No. 297 of 1885, the property of Dr. Stephen Schnurr, at the 2012 Convention of the Organ Historical Society in Chicago, where it was temporarily set up in First Unitarian Church. The instrument is blown with pedals like a harmonium. The stop list is:

Residence of Dr. Stephen Schnurr, Chicago, Illinois

Manual: C-g3, 56 notes (enclosed):

8' Open Diapason (1-12 grooved to Stopped Diapason)
8' Stopped Diapason
4' Octave (extension of Open Diapason)
4' Flute (extension of Stopped Diapason)
Octave Coupler

Knee swell

A third firm that built a number of portable organs, mostly tubular-pneumatic, was the W. W. Kimball Co. of Chicago. The instrument that now exists on the gallery of the chapel of Covenant Theological Seminary, in Ballwin, St. Louis, Missouri, is however tracker, and is believed to be Frederic W. Hedgeland's prototype portable instrument, Op. 354 of 1892. It is thought originally to have been built for a Mississippi river boat, and has special fasteners to keep the pipes in position during "choppy" conditions. The current stops are Gedeckt, Dulciana and Octave, but the original stop list was:

Covenant Theological Seminary, St. Louis, Missouri

Manual: C-c4, 61 notes (enclosed):

8' Open Diapason Bass (1-17 stopped wood, 18-22 open metal)
8' Open Diapason Treble (39 pipes, open metal)
8' Dulciana Bass (1-12 grooved to Op. Diap. Bass, 13-17 stopped wood, 18-22 open metal)
8' Dulciana Treble (39 pipes, open metal)
4' Flute d' Amour Bass (22 pipes, stopped wood, pierced stoppers)
4' Flute d' Amour Treble (23-36 capped metal, 37-61 open metal)
Tremolo
Octave Coupler

Pedal: C-b0, 24 notes (enclosed):

16' Pedal Bourdon (24 free reeds with wooden resonators)
Pedal to Manual

Balanced Swell Pedal

Hilborne L. Roosevelt Portable Organ No. 297, built 1885


Portable Organ by Derrick, Felgemaker & Co., circa 1869, originally in the Methodist Episcopal Church, Williston, Vermont, and now in the Charlotte Meeting House, The Shelburne Museum, Shelburne, Vermont. This example has an octave coupler and no pedal stop
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