On Sunday, February 4, 2018, I joined the Zion Lutheran Church of Spring City to celebrate their 275th year as a congregation. Before the celebration, I was pleased to learn that the church is home to Chester County’s oldest organ, built by David Tannenberg. Reverend Paul Townsend graciously invited me to try my hand at playing the organ.
It was an honor to commemorate the church’s 275th anniversary and to be given the pleasure of playing this unique piece of Chester County’s history. I wish the Zion Lutheran Church of Spring City much continued success as a congregation over the next 275 years.
The history of the Tannenberg organ
The Zion Lutheran Church of Spring City dedicated and used for the first time an organ, built by David Tannenberg, on October 9, 1791. Tannenberg was the foremost American organ builder of the eighteenth century and he built nearly fifty organs throughout his lifetime, only nine Tannenberg organs remain.
Costing £150, the organ was installed in the 1775 stone church during the pastorate of the Reverend John Voigt. When that structure was torn down in 1861, only the altar, a few benches, and the Tannenberg organ were saved and moved to the new building. Since the organ had to be dismantled anyway, “improvements” were made to “modernize” the organ. Tannenberg’s keyboard, which used ebony on the natural keys and bone on the sharps and flats, was replaced with a new keyboard. At that time the keys were also lengthened to conform to newer standards. The work was done and the organ was installed in the church by Bohler of Reading, Pennsylvania, as was noted in pencil under the keyboard.
In 1998, the Tannenberg organ was totally restored by Patrick Murphy & Assocs., Inc., with Ray Brunner, the world’s leading authority on early American Germanorgans, consulting. The 3′ Quint was restored, a new keyboard was built, which is a duplicate of Tannenberg’s, and the winding was restored so it could be hand pumped.