Wednesday, August 05, 2009

A Pipe Dream comes true -- Organ Celebration Concert in Calumet Aug. 5

By Anita Campbell*

CALUMET -- At 7 p.m. tonight, Aug. 5, the Keweenaw Heritage Center at St. Anne's will present a Pipe Organ Celebration Concert. This is the debut of the Center's 1899 newly-restored pipe organ with guest artists. The event is a benefit for Keweenaw Heritage Center's universal accessibility project. Tickets are $5.

A Celebration Concert on this historic, restored organ will take place tonight, Aug. 5, at the Keweenaw Heritage Center at St. Anne's, Calumet. (Photo by Keweenaw Now)

This Friday, Aug. 7,as part of "First Fridays in Calumet," the Keweenaw Heritage Center will present Pipe Organ music with Mike Maksimchuk from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. on this historic organ.

History of the organ

It's interesting to think back about the Barckhoff Church Organ Company located in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, in 1899 and picture the many German immigrants employed there, bringing with them from the old country their expertise in organ building.

A group of organ enthusiasts in Calumet cleaned the 957 pipes in preparation for the recent restoration of this historical Barckhoff tracker pipe organ built in Latrobe, Penn., in 1899.

Carl Barckhoff and his employees built over 3000 organs in his lifetime. Most of his organs were of course built for churches, but he also built residence organs and organs for recital halls, Masonic temples and at least one college.

Carl Barckhoff was born in Wiedenbruck, Westphalia, Germany, in 1849. His father, organ builder Felix Barckhoff, brought the family to the United States in 1865; and in that same year the first Barckhoff organ was built in this country. The firm, established in Philadelphia, was for a time during the 1870s known as Felix Barckhoff and Sons -- the sons being Carl and Lorenz.

Carl continued managing the organ building company after his father's death and relocated to several different towns due to various misfortunes, such as the financial panic of 1893, a fire in 1897 and a disastrous flood in 1913.

The business grew and in 1889 the Barckhoff Church Organ Company had 54 employees in 17 classifications: carpenter, wood worker, cabinet maker, works engineer, teamster, bookkeeper and stenographer. By 1904 the company was shipping "an average of three organs per week, and nothing smaller than two-manual instruments." Barckhoff organs are unfortunately not identified by opus numbers. Due to the various disasters, all company records have been lost. Nameplates have merely his name and location.

The Barckhoff Organ in Calumet

The Barckhoff Church Organ Company remained in Latrobe, Penn., for only three years. It was during this short period that the two manual, 16-rank tracker pipe organ was built and installed in the Carmel Lutheran Church of Calumet in 1899. This tracker organ served the Calumet Swedish Evangelical Lutheran Church, Carmel Lutheran, until 1965, when the congregation merged with the Finnish Evangelical Lutheran Church in Laurium.

When Carmel Lutheran closed, the congregation donated the pipe organ to their retired pastor and organ enthusiast, the Rev. John Simonson, and his wife, Hortense, also an organist. The Simonsons had a building constructed to house the organ on their wooded property near their home in Dollar Bay. Besides the steeply pitched roof, the organ house featured haymow doors like those on a barn, which were there "to let the music out." The Simonsons and friends and family enjoyed several years of pipe organ music before the death of Hortense in 1990 and John in 1991. The Simonson children chose to donate the organ to the Keweenaw Heritage Center in Calumet.

The Keweenaw Heritage Center

Formerly the St. Anne's Catholic Church, the Kewenaw Heritage Center, at the corner of 5th and Scott streets, was built in 1900 for the large French-Canadian community that had immigrated to Calumet to work in the booming copper mines. The structure was built of red standstone with French Gothic ornamentation generously applied.

After decades of service, St. Anne's was deconsecrated in 1966 and sadly fell into years of decay and desecration. Eventually, the abandoned building was home only to pigeons. Lack of heating and the rugged Keweenaw winters, took their toll.

In 1994 the Keweenaw Heritage Center began a broad-based community effort to purchase and restore St. Anne's. Their intent was to use this historically and architecturally significant building as a home for a community center, highlighting the social history of Michigan's Copper Country. Local contributions and several grants from foundations, the National Park Service and the hard work of numerous volunteers have brought St. Anne's back to life.

The Keweenaw Heritage Center is now one of 18 Heritage Sites of the Keweenaw National Historical Park. The pipe organ was moved to the Keweenaw Heritage Center in May of 2000 thanks to the efforts of Mike Dudenas, then President of Keweenaw Heritage Center. It was temporarily placed in the chancel area until funds could be raised to repair the plaster and leaks in the choir loft of the building. The organ sat untouched for six years until 2006 when the choir loft was repaired and plans were made to move and restore the pipe organ. Fundraising efforts began with an ambitious "Adopt-A-Pipe" program initiated by volunteer, Mike Maksimchuk. Generous grants and major donations were received from the Strosacker Foundation, the Taubman Foundation, Mrs. Valeda Tomasi of Calumet and Mr. David Simonson of North Carolina.

Restoring the Organ

Anita and Paul Campbell pose with the Barckhoff Organin July 2007 shortly after it was moved to the Keweenaw Heritage Center. The Campbells were very active in the organ restoration efforts. (File photo by Keweenaw Now)

Organ builder Jim Lauck, owner of the Lauck Pipe Organ Company, of Otsego, Mich., was contracted by the Keweenaw Heritage Center to restore the Barckhoff pipe organ. Lauck has been building organs since 1975 and works on many of the Copper Country's historic pipe organs. In June 2007, on a hot muggy day, twenty-five volunteers worked with Lauck to dismantle and move the pipe organ from the first floor chancel area to the balcony of the Keweenaw Heritage Center. The move was completed in 10 hours. Volunteers continued to fundraise and work on the organ during the summer and fall of 2007 under the direction of Jim Lauck, all dreaming of this day when the grand old Barckhoff tracker pipe organ would fill this majestic building with amazing music. Lauck praised the ambitious volunteers for their 700-plus hours of restoration work.

We look forward to filling the Keweenaw Heritage Center with glorious pipe organ music once again. Guest artists Wayne Seppala, of San Diego, Calif., and Mike Maksimchuk of Calumet, Mich., will perform at the Celebration Concert tonight. Don't miss it!

*Editor's Note: Anita Campbell, the author of this article, is a Board member and secretary for the Keweenaw Heritage Center and chair of the Center's Organ Restoration Committee.

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