Since its 1891 beginning, First Church has been on the cutting edge of organs in the city of Birmingham. Our beautiful Casavant Pipe Organ has a rich history of previous organs being reworked and rebuilt to create the instrument in use today.
In 1891 Hook & Hastings of Boston built the first organ to be housed at First Church, then First Methodist Episcopal Church South. The original organ was equipped with a Ross Water Engine to supply wind to the pipes, a technology patented only a few years earlier, in 1886, that ran water through the engine to power a rod connected to the organ bellows. Based on church financial records, the water bill to run the organ was often higher than the water bill for the rest of the building! It is clear that this organ was a source of pride for the congregation as it was one of the first of its kind in the city. The Hook & Hastings organ was diligently cared for and preserved by the congregation. In 1923, Orla D. Allen and Morton B. Welch, two local men who both sold and serviced pipe organs, completed a mechanical rebuild of the Hook & Hastings organ. As a part of the rebuild, a new console by the Austin Organ Company was also installed. Then, in 1931, the M.P. Möller Company of Hagerstown, Maryland was hired to help relocate the organ as a part of renovations to the interior of the Sanctuary. Tonal changes were made to the organ in addition to the pipes being painted a solid metallic color. Möller also created a set of screens that were based on the stained glass windows to be used on the sides of the pipes. These screens can still be seen behind the pipes today!
In 1957, it was decided that the organ needed to be replaced and so the Schantz Organ Company of Orville, Ohio was hired to build a new organ. The Raleigh W. Greene Memorial Organ was dedicated on August 28, 1960. First Church was once again at the forefront of organs in the city of Birmingham as no other church replaced its organ until First Baptist Church did so in 1983 (with none other than the Austin console that inspired our 1923 changes!). Over the course of the next 40 years the organ was used both as an instrument of worship and also for the education and instruction of nearby Birmingham-Southern students. Over time the Schantz organ began to show signs of wear and in the 1990’s the church embarked on a rebuild and revision of the Raleigh Greene Memorial organ. It was last played in worship in January of 2000. The Canadian firm Casavant Frères was selected to help rebuild the organ and former First Church Organist Mark Hayes worked with Casavant to develop the new instrument. On December 24, 2000, the new organ was played in worship for the first time and on February 11, 2001 was consecrated anew. The church proudly proclaims the organ to have been rebuilt by Casavant and acknowledges its indebtedness to the Raleigh W. Greene Memorial Organ. Just as it did when its original 1891 Hook & Hastings organ was rebuilt, First Church continues to follow the motto: Let everything that is old, be made new!
If you would like to read more detailed information about the history of the Casavant Pipe Organ at First Church, click HERE.
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First Church Birmingham
518 19th St North
Birmingham, AL 35203
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