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Rare pipe organ may be dismantled for parts

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Pipe Organ
The Verney Organ Co. produced pipe organs like this one from its founding in 1900 to about 1910 on First Street Southwest in Mason City. (Photo courtesy Mason City Public Library)

A rare pipe organ, manufactured in Mason City over 100 years ago, may soon have its “glorious sound” forever silenced.

An effort conducted over the past two years to sell the instrument — the price today is $1 — has failed, said the Rev. Martha Rogers of Christ Episcopal Church in Cedar Rapids, where the organ is housed.

“We certainly want to see it preserved,” Rogers said. “It’s playable; it’s been maintained.

“But unless someone comes forward in the next couple of weeks or so, the organ will be dismantled and sold for parts.”

The instrument is only one of three Verney organs known to exist, and the largest, according to Dobson Pipe Organ Builders, Inc., records.

It was built for the Parkersburg United Methodist Church in 1904 and then sold to the Cedar Rapids church in 1993.

In 2010, the church began to actively raise awareness of its need to move the organ. The church is conducting a remodeling of its worship area, which includes making the space accessible to the disabled, Rogers said.

“It is like the domino effect; one thing has to happen before the next can occur,” she said. The church has purchased a digital organ that better fits the size and needs of the congregation.

Rogers said the organ’s size may very well be its enemy.

The pipes vault 26 feet into the air — and that limits its relocation, Rogers said.

Cyndy Johnson of Thompson, dean of the American Guild of Organists, North Iowa Chapter, agreed its size does not make it attractive to some.

Still, she said, it should be preserved.

The guild tried to canvass the North Iowa area for an organization to take the organ, but “no one seemed interested,” she said.

It would be tragic to see the instrument destroyed, she said.

“It has historical value; and it has value for its technology,” she said.

She said W. C. Verney was known for his experimentation with pneumatics. Some of his pneumatic creations were shown at the 1900 Paris Exposition.

Verney — whose company only stayed in Mason City for about 10 years — received a patent on his pneumatic system for organs, called the Verney Individual Valve System. He created the organ as a bridge between the mechanical instruments of the past and the pneumatic-play organs, which were just starting to be created.

The other two Verney organs are located in Terre Haute, Ind., built in 1905 for the Allen Chapel AME Church, where it still resides; and at Highland, Wis.

One Cedar Rapids church member, Rachel Mills, said in 2010 that the organ “is perfectly playable and has a glorious sound.”

Rogers said church members would be more than happy to store the instrument for a time if it was guaranteed that someone would purchase and move it within the upcoming months.

For more information, contact the church by calling 319-363-2029, or by email: office@christepiscopal.org

 

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