1853 Johnson Organ Made in Westfield

Westfield, Massachusetts. Stoddard, New Hampshire.

When I was Westfield's State Representative, several people wanted to know about that city's 19th century Johnson organ company.

For several decades, our family has summered in Stoddard.

And, now, the two have something in common, other than the Hahns and a few other Westfield natives.

The oldest Westfield organ in existence is back in service and about to be rededicated in Stoddard.

William A. Johnson, a Westfield organ maker, built his Opus 27 organ in 1853. Today, it is the earliest Johnson organ intact and in use, and it's being rededicated at the Congregational Church in Stoddard, NH, on Sunday, August 10.

The Sesquicentennial Celebration and Rededication Service will be held at 4 p.m. at the church. The service will include an organ stop demonstration as well as a recital by Dr. Susan Armstrong, a member of the American Guild of Organists, teaches at New England College, and other musicians.

A researcher of Johnson organs, Dr. Armstrong will also give a slide lecture on the Johnson Opus 27 in the Stoddard Town Hall at 3 p.m.

Johnson, a well-known American craftsman, who built almost 900 organs during his career, built the two-manual, thirteen-stop organ in Westfield 150 years ago. The Organ Historical Society of America is recognizing the Stoddard organ as a national treasure.

Opus 27 was first sold to the Unitarian Church in Petersham, MA, where it was in service for almost 50 years. It was then purchased by the Union Baptist Church in Cambridge, MA, where it was used until 1932.

Opus 27 was then dismantled and moved to the Stoddard Congregational Church for the cost of $500.

A celebration was held to mark its arrival. The Keene Sentinel, in 1932, described the dedication of the new pipe organ in the "quaint old white Congregational Church, standing apart from other buildings on the brow of a hill and facing the main street of this small and quiet Cheshire county village."

The village is much the same more than 70 years later. But the church, thanks to installation of a furnace, has services year around instead of just in the summer months, and the Johnson organ, once again dismantled piece by piece, has been totally restored by Andrew Smith of Cornish, NH.

No longer does the organ have to be pumped by hand. Although the original pump handle remains, and is ready for manual operation if necessary, an electric blower was installed in 1970. One of the guests at next week's dedication will be New Hampshire Senate President Thomas Eaton, who pumped the organ as a youth.

The restorers, former ministers and organists, including Patricia McMahon Clark who was organist from 1972 to 1997, and contributors will be honored during the rededication. Documentation related to the Johnson organ will be on display and a reception will be held following the service.

Stoddard Congregational Church, founded in 1774, is on Route 123 North, off Route 9, about two hours, or 100 miles, from the Springfield/Westfield area. The church itself was completed in 1836.

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