1762 SNETZLER ORGAN
The Congregational Church of South Dennis has what is said to be the oldest pipe organ still in use in the United States. The tracker organ was built in 1762 in London by the noted Swiss organ builder John Snetzler (1710-1782) but very little is known of how and when it came to America. The organ was acquired by the Congregational Church on September 22, 1854 for $600. It was brought to the “Sea Captains Church” by packet c. 1858 and is still being played every Sunday.
To organ connoisseurs the instrument is extremely interesting. The builder John Snetzler first came to England from Germany in 1740 to help rebuild and restore the organs that had been destroyed during Cromwell’s regime. In 1741, he built an organ for Handel on which the first performance of the Messiah was given in Dublin. He is also noted for introducing the Dulciana stop.
There are approximately twenty five organs built by John Snetzler still in existence today. Many of these have been substantially altered or transformed over the years. Restoration of organs often entailed extensive revisions, often enlargements, and alterations to satisfy changing aesthetic tastes. Maybe twelve are in reasonably original state today.
In the 18th century, there were five Snetzler organs imported to America:
1761 – Dr. Samuel Bard (surgeon to George Washington), NYC – 6 stop chamber organ - for safety sake not assembled here until after the Revolution, now housed in the Smithsonian Institution. The keyboard on our South Dennis Snetzler was used to replicate the missing keyboard on this Bard instrument during its restoration in 1970.
1762 – Trinity Church, NYC – 3 manual organ
1762 – Concert Hall on Hanover St., Boston,MA, owned by Gilbert and Lewis Deblois (our organ)
1764 – Christ Church, Cambridge, MA – 2 manual organ
1767 – St. Michael’s Church, Charlestown, South Carolina – 3 manual organ
Of these five, only the Snetzlers at the Smithsonian and here at South Dennis, survive.
In the 1920’s, a small “bureau” organ was brought to the U.S., now part of the Yale University Musical Instrument Collection. This organ, built in London by John Snetzler in 1742, is the earliest known of Snetzler’s instruments.
The organ has one keyboard, one octave of pedals, and eleven stops:
Clarion, Sesquialtera, 12th Principal Bass, Dulciana, Stopt Diapason,
Trumpet, Cornet, 15th, Flute, Principal Treble, Open Diapason
It was refinished and electrified in 1935 and a major restoration was completed in 1959 by Charles Fisk and the Andover Organ Company. Historically specific pipe work was completed by Noel Mander of England.
Parishioner Bill Kelley reminised in 1959 of his boyhood when he used to pump the bellows by hand. Every now and then, when he felt like he had gotten up enough pressure to keep things going, he would slip out from behind the organ to view proceedings in the church. If he stayed too long, naturally the organ music began to tire, to the dismay of the organist.