Metro-East News

Historic church organ cabinet finally reassembled after being taken apart decades ago

Historic church organ cabinet reassembled at Belleville church

This historic church organ cabinet was reassembled Wednesday at Union United Methodist Church in Belleville.
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This historic church organ cabinet was reassembled Wednesday at Union United Methodist Church in Belleville.

With the help of a power lift at Union United Methodist Church in downtown Belleville, three church members were able to finish reassembling an historic organ cabinet that had been taken apart decades ago.

The 21-foot-tall wooden cabinet was originally part of an organ installed in 1937 in the former First Methodist Church on Washington Street.

But since then, it has taken many twists and turns before Mike Engel, Dick Frette and Don Stein attached the cabinet to a wall Wednesday in the atrium of Union United Methodist Church at 721 E. Main St.

Grace Moon, 93, remembers taking lessons on the organ at First Methodist when she was a teenager. And on Wednesday morning, she watched the crew attach the organ’s cabinet to the atrium wall at Union.

“It’s kind of amazing,” Moon said. “It kind of blows your mind to think that all of these things have been preserved, which is, well, a little less than miraculous because old things don’t keep.”

Union United Methodist Church was established in 1950 when the congregations of First Methodist Church and Jackson Street Methodist Church decided to merge. The new Union church building opened in 1955.

First Methodist was demolished in the 1950s to make way for a former savings and loan business in a building that remains today at 10 E. Washington St. The Jackson Street church building remains.

To ease the path for the two congregations to merge, items from the First Methodist and Jackson Street churches were incorporated into the new Union building.

One of those items including the organ from First Methodist. This organ, which was manufactured by the Wick’s Organ Co. in Highland, was used in the Union building until the 1990s.

Since the oak cabinet was not installed with the organ in the sanctuary of the Union building, it was disassembled, and eventually the pieces were put on display in different parts of the church beginning in 1960.

The cabinet has three main sections. The bottom section has a series of scripture verses from the Book of Psalms, the middle section has a series of intricate railings and fabric behind clear glass panels to give the appearance of being stained-glass panels and the top section is arch-shaped with wooden railings aligned as if they were rays of sunshine.

The top piece was flipped upside down, attached to a wall and served as a mantel for a Bible and candles.

The middle section had once been displayed on hinges and was illuminated from behind. The original decorative pipes in the middle section had not been saved, but they can be seen in a photo of the First Methodist choir.

As part of the effort to reassemble the cabinet, members of Union contacted Wick’s Organ Co., which still has the original 1937 designs on file. Wick’s was able to supply organ pipes similar to the ones used when the organ was built.

In 2010, all of the organ cabinet sections were put into storage during a church renovation project.

Bob Brunkow, who is the archivist for the Union United Methodist Church and historian for the Belleville Historical Society, developed the idea to have the cabinet pieces reassembled.

“This is a memorial piece that honors the fathers and mothers of this church, and serves as a reminder to us that we didn’t get here by ourselves,” Brunkow said. “We’re on the foundation that was built by previous generations.”

Ed Weston, who served as senior pastor from 1996 to 2016 at Union, stopped by to see the organ cabinet reassembled.

“I think it’s part of the history of this church that needs to be displayed,” he said.

And Harvey Gaither, the current senior pastor, added, “It’s important to remind people of the past.”

Mike Koziatek: 618-239-2502, @MikeKoziatekBND
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