SCHNEIDER PIPE ORGANS, Inc., Kenney, IL, has completed the ongoing renovation and enlargement of the Kilgen Pipe organ in the builder's own church; Zion Ev. Lutheran Church, Mt. Pulaski, IL, as its OPUS XIX.
Early historic details concerning musical instruments used by this, the oldest Missouri-Synod congregation in Logan County, Illinois (founded in 1851) have not yet surfaced in any detail, despite repeated exhaustive searches for information. One older member mentioned having encountered an entry in the church records of an "organ" for $700.00 someplace between the years of 1870 and 1899. The latter range in the date spectrum seems questionable, since less than 10 years later, shortly after the construction of a new building in 1902, a new pipe organ was ordered from the Kilgen Organ Company of St. Louis, MO in 1906. In any event, it would probably be safe to assume that the first instruments prior to 1906 were either a piano or a reed organ.
One major hindrance in further research of the records is that all of the earliest records for this congregation were kept in German script, which yet await the completion of an ongoing congregational project of translation and typing. Once completed, a complete perusal of these records in search of further information detailing the musical life of this fledgling congregation will be an illuminating expedition. It would be quite remarkable to discover the existence of a pipe organ in the southeast corner Logan County prior to 1906!
Details concerning this first known pipe organ are unfortunately sketchy. The present edifice was constructed in 1902, but because the congregation carried a $3,000.00 debt af
er completion of the building, they deferred the acquisition of a new organ until a later date. The 100th anniversary book for Zion Lutheran Church, which was published in 1951, mentions almost in passing, that: "in October, 1906, the congregation resolved to buy a new organ in St. Louis. An unusually good Kilgen organ was purchased for a contract price of $1,200.00."
Apparently, this instrument was placed in the front alcove on the Epistle side of the Chancel where the present instrument is situated, according to recollections from older members. Unfortunately, an exhaustive search of church records indicates no information regarding the disposition of the original instrument. Moreover, no information is available from the local newspaper. Any information dating back that far, which might have existed in older copies of the newspapers in the archive unfortunately were destroyed by flood.
Given the construction date and remote location of Mount Pulaski, it is surmised that this instrument was most likely a hand-pumped tracker, since electricity was several years yet in being distributed to the area.
On November 26, 1950, the dedication of a new Kilgen instrument, which supplanted the original Kilgen (presumed) Tracker, was performed by Mr. Martin Stellhorn, instructor of Organ, Music Literature & Church Music at the St. Louis Institute of Music, Clayton, MO was heard. This booklet further states that he was "the organist of the St. Louis A Capella Society and the Bach Society for eleven years."
The 1950 Kilgen instrument contained 579 pipes playable as 23 speaking stops distributed over two manuals and Pedal on Electro-Pneumatic unit actions. In this incarnation, the instrument was entirely enclosed in a swell box, except fo
the pedal Bourdon, which was left outside the swell box on either side and in front of it. The 10 facade pipes were dumb.
The instrument was given as a memorial by the George Rupp Family, Herbert Finke Family, Karl W. Dittus Family, Herbert Schaffenacker Family, Mr. & Mrs. Edward Steging, Mr & Mrs. Elmer Laughery, the John Stoll Family, the George Schahl Family and the Carl H. Schmidt Family. The Chimes were given by The Wilbert C. Hoffmeister family.
In 1958, during a major expansion of the church in the form of an educational wing, an explosion of a tank car in the nearby rail switching yard seriously damaged the church structure, blowing out all of the windows and causing all of the Maas Cathedral chimes hanging within the Swell Box to fall down on top of the pipes, seriously damaging them. These were straightened out as best as possible by the service personnel from Kilgen.