A Historical Instrument
The centerpiece of the Wilder Center Auditorium is the restored 1840s George Stevens pipe organ, a magnificent instrument with its own storied history. The organ is available for private events provided an experienced organist is available to play it.
The instrument was a 1901 addition to the building, arriving by train from its previous location in Wellesley Hills, Massachusetts. Read more about the organ's previous home and connection to Charles T. Wilder here. This instrument is one of only four known remaining one-manual George Stevens pipe organs of the 1840s, and would likely have been lost to water damage had the building not been renovated in 2010. The organ was encased behind a partition wall built in the mid-20th century, and because the cost of maintaining the intricate instrument resulted in years of neglect and its abandonment.
When Lyme Properties took ownership of the building in the summer of 2009, the wall was removed, uncovering the gorgeous– albeit damaged and poorly maintained– pipe organ. A. David Moore Inc. of Pomfret, Vermont was contracted to perform a full restoration of the instrument, and the organ was taken off-site to Mr. Moore’s shop during the Wilder Center’s renovation.
The skilled craftsmen of A. David Moore Inc. removed layers of paint and varnish, cleaned and tuned the nine sets of pipes, and made significant repairs to the 160-year-old instrument. During the restoration the signature of Samuel Bates was found on the organ’s pedal division with the year 1876, revealing that Mr. Bates worked on the instrument. Samuel and his brother worked to put their younger sister Katharine Lee Bates through Wellesley College, where she would eventually become a professor and composer of America The Beautiful.
The final step was restoring the original wood-graining to the pine casing of the organ, an intricate hand-painting process that mimics the graining of more glamorous hardwoods that were too expensive for 19th century country church organs. As Ed Boadway, Director of Vermont Organ research, says, “in its day it was a rather common instrument, but now it is nothing short of spectacular.”
The restored organ was reinstalled in the Charles T. Wilder Center in the fall of 2010, a month-long process that involved regulating and retuning the pipes. At the Opening Ceremony on October 16, 2010, the organ was played publicly for the first time since the restoration, and the neighbors joined in singing America The Beautiful.
Special Thanks: A. David Moore organ restoration shop in Pomfret, Vt., and Ed Boadway, Director of Vermont Organ Research Project.