St. Andrew's Church appears to have had four different organs over the years. In the late 19th century, when the church first gathered in the Ayer Town Hall, the church used a small reed organ, the kind you used to see in your great aunt's parlor. Perhaps it came from a great aunt's parlor! It was donated by Ayer resident, John Henry Turner, publisher of the local newspaper, "Turner's Public Spirit".
A report of the first service in the new church building on 25 December 1892 states, "The mission needs therefore only an organ..." Since elsewhere it was reported that they brought the reed organ over from the Town Hall, we can assume that they wanted something better, an instrument worthy of their new place of worship.
The congregation had to wait nearly 10 years for that new organ. While details are sketchy, we know from The 50 Year History of St. Andrew's 1892-1942 that in 1901, the year the vicarage was built, a second-hand pipe organ was donated to the church. We can imagine the rejoicing at the dedication of the new instrument. If only we knew more about it! This writer has been told that the case pipes that we see at the front of the church were once part of this old organ, and were mounted at the rear of the sanctuary!
The third organ at St. Andrew's was a Hammond acquired in the 1930's. Vestry minutes refer to it as one of the first Hammond electric organs. In 1959, Edward B. "Ned" Gammons, Organist and Choirmaster at Groton School, began to encourage St. Andrew's to replace the old Hammond with a pipe organ. Mr. Gammons was a noted organ consultant and advisor on church music to the Diocese of Massachusetts. He had ideas on how this might reasonably be accomplished.
There are always small used pipe organs available for purchase. Mr. Gammons had the knowledge and the contacts for finding the right one for St. Andrew's. After investigating several prospects, he and the organ committee found a small Estey pipe organ at Emmanuel College in Boston for the price of $800. It was determined that $7,500 was needed to renovate and install the instrument and, until such time as this could begin, the organ parts were stored in the East Main Street Elementary School (located where the Courthouse now stands).
The Estey organ that St. Andrew's purchased was originally built in 1916 as Opus 1423 of the Estey Organ Company of Brattleboro, Vermont. Its first home, before Emmanuel College, was at the Boston Academy of Notre Dame. As we see it migrating to its third location, it becomes obvious how recyclable pipe organs are! Mr. Gammons recommended that Ray Douglas, a resident of West Groton and a former employee of the Estey Organ Company, do the renovation and installation.
Pipe organs over the centuries have been built with various methods by which the action of depressing a key results in wind entering a pipe and making a sound. The Estey organ at Emmanuel College retained its original tubular-pneumatic action, a system developed in the mid-19th century that moves compressed air supplied by bellows from the keys to the pipes through small tubes. With the increased availability of electricity, by the end of the 19th century electro-pneumatic action was perfected, a system that uses an electric blower and electric current controlled by the keys to open air valves under the pipes. Electro-pneumatic action is considerably more reliable. The most important element in the installation of St. Andrew's new organ was the conversion of the action from tubular-pneumatic to electro-pneumatic. To coordinate with the new action, the organ was fitted with a new two-manual console from the Klann Organ Supply Company of Waynesboro, Virginia.
In addition to these changes, Ray Douglas also added some new pipes. As was common at the time, our Estey organ was built with a set of oboe pipes that began in the tenor register, extending upward in pitch. To make a complete rank, Mr. Douglas added an octave or so of bass oboe pipes. In addition, he added a set of wooden pipes to the pedal, a Lieblich Gedeckt at three pitches. It appears that he also used some pipework from an earlier pipe organ; this is a very common practice among organ builders.
The Church raised the necessary funds in an extraordinarily short period of time. The goal was $8,000. St. Andrew's Guild mounted a "low pressure drive" and their fund raising was augmented by "a number of specially generous friends of St. Andrew's." These carefully coined phrases come from the minutes of the Annual Meeting on January 8, 1962. The Consumer Price Index equivalent of $8,000 in 1960 is $48,000 in 2002!
The $40,000 that St. Andrew's raised in 2002 provided for a complete renovation of our Estey Organ. All of the original leather in the windchests and the reservoir (bellows) were replaced. It is quite amazing that the leather installed in 1916 survived as long as it did throughout the organ, especially given the fact that a nearby tannery fire in Ayer poured smoke into the church soon after Ray Douglas had finished his work. Of course, all parts were cleaned; worn parts were repaired or replaced. The most exciting part was that new pipework was installed to add brightness to the sound, an addition that both makes the organ more versatile and supports a wider range of singers. A 2' principal was added on the swell, a II rank mixture was added on the great, and the swell oboe was made playable independently on the pedal. All the pipes were re-voiced as necessary to provide a harmonious whole, and they were regulated for proper volume control and balance in the sanctuary.
The Andover Organ Company of Methuen, Massachusetts was contracted to renovate St. Andrew's Estey Organ. They have been in business since 1948. They attracted the attention of the organ world in 1963, when in response to the revival of interest in tracker (mechanical) action organs begun by noted organist, E. Power Biggs, they restored an electrified organ to its original tracker action. Andover Organ Company has had extensive experience in building tracker action organs and in rebuilding pipe organs of all types. Ned Gammons, who originally guided St. Andrew's through its acquisition of our Estey Organ, had many friends at Andover Organ. Employees there still recall that he had many funny and interesting tales to tell of the organists and organbuilders he had known. We think that he would be pleased with our renovation of Estey Organ, Opus 1423.
Judith Adams and Susan Leeming, History of the Organ at St. Andrew's (Ayer, Massachusetts: St. Andrew's Church, 2002).