Historic Kimball Organ makes triumphant return to Clermont

Rededication concert set for April 18 at Union Sunday School

Posted by mw on April 2nd, 2010 2:38 pm

The newly restored and world’s largest existing Kimball pipe organ, now 114 years old, will make its triumphant return to Union Sunday School in Clermont next month.

Two Luther College organists – William Kuhlman, retired professor and organist, and Dr. Gregory Peterson, current Luther College organist – will play the 1,554-pipe organ during a rededication concert at 2:30 p.m., Sunday, April 18, 2010, at Union Sunday School in Clermont. The event is free and open to the public.

“We are delighted the organ is returning to Clermont after undergoing its first restoration work in 30 years,” Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs Director Cyndi Pederson said. “We are grateful to the Save America’s Treasures program and Senator Charles Grassley and State Representative Andrew Wenthe for their assistance in funding the restoration of this historic organ. We also owe a debt of gratitude to our site volunteers – Steve and Donna Story and Bonnie Smola – for all their hard work with this project.”

The organ, the largest remaining unaltered tubular-pneumatic organ built by W.W. Kimball, was disassembled last October and sent to Dobson Organ Company in Lake City for restoration. The $100,000 expense was paid for by a Save America’s Treasures grant matched by an appropriation from the State of Iowa from the Rebuild Iowa Infrastructure Fund.

The National Historic Organ Society, an international organization that recognizes historic and significant organs, awarded a citation to the organ in 1996 for its original classic voicing and tubular pneumatic action. The recognition helped secure the Save America’s Treasures grant.

The organ’s history dates to Aug. 4, 1896, when former Iowa Governor William Larrabee of Clermont signed a contract for W.W. Kimball Company of Chicago to build a “two-manual, 27-rank pipe organ ‘first class in every respect’ deliverable in ninety days.” It is the world’s oldest and largest of its kind at 22-feet wide, 19-feet high and 9-feet, 6-inches deep, and it is a rare prototype for organ construction and design technology.

Larrabee donated the organ to the Union Sunday School congregation, established in 1857, which held regular classes and services in the 1863 Presbyterian Church in Clermont.

Anna Larrabee, daughter of Gov. and Mrs. Larrabee, played the organ for more than 60 years at regular and special services. She died in 1965 at the age of 96. Nationally known and area organists have played the organ regularly following her death.

Today, Union Sunday School is the property of the State Historical Society of Iowa and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It is currently used for organ recitals and Christmas vesper services.

Kuhlman, professor emeritus of Organ & Church Music at Luther College, is a world-class performer who’s playing “communicates musical purpose and excitement.” His passion for his art is reflected in a 38-year teaching and performing career that has spanned a broad range of activities, from concerts in Dallas, Philadelphia and Chicago to solo recitals in the cathedrals of Trondheim, Rotterdam and Vienna.

He has published articles in the national organ journals, “The Diapason” and “The American Organist.” His compilation of organ literature and sacred tunes entitled “The Organist’s Music Library Plus” has received nationwide praise as an invaluable tool for organists, performers and scholars. More than 40 of his students have gone on to pursue graduate degrees at prestigious institutions throughout the world.

Peterson is an assistant professor of Music and College Organist at Luther College in Decorah where he teaches applied organ and church music and plays for daily and Sunday chapel in the college’s Center for Faith and Life. He has given recitals all over the United States and Europe, and served the historic Old South Church in Boston.

At Old South, he directed the Old South Choir, Old South Ringers and performed regularly with the Old South Brass, Organ and Timpani ensemble including the ever-popular First Night concerts on New Year’s Eve. He is featured on the compact disc “Heroic Sounds” released by Denouement Records in 2001. Known as a leader in the field of church music, he was elected to two terms as president of the Association of Lutheran Church Musicians.


Press release by:
The State Historical Society of Iowa is a division of the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs, and is a trustee of Iowa’s historical legacy and an advocate for understanding Iowa’s past. It identifies, records, collects, preserves, manages and provides access to Iowa’s historical resources. Its dual mission of preservation and education serves Iowans of all ages, conducts and stimulates research, disseminates information, and encourages and supports historical preservation and education efforts of others throughout the state. Visit www.iowahistory.org or call 515-281-5111 for more information.

To find out more, go to: www.iowahistory.org