As part of a year-long celebration of key anniversaries at the Church, the Peacham Congregational Church is celebrating the 150th anniversary of its magnificent organ, dedicated in September of 1871.
A special organ concert will take place on Friday, Sept. 17 at 7 p.m. directed by organist Hal Parker, the music director for the Greensboro United Church of Christ. The concert will start with introductions by Rev. Sonia Dunbar who will discuss the history of the organ in the church and Johanna Branson, President of the Peacham Historical Association who will highlight the history of the organ’s donor, Oliver Johnson. Oliver and his brother Leonard Johnson were avid abolitionists in Peacham.
The organ, a substantial gift from Peacham resident Oliver Johnson, is an Odell organ, an extravagant gift at the time. In 1871, the Church spent $7,300 renovating the building to accommodate the gift.
Oliver Johnson was editor of the National Anti-Slavery Standard from 1863-1865. The Standard was the official weekly newspaper of the American Anti-Slavery Society, an abolitionist society founded in 1833 by William Lloyd Garrison and Arthur Tappan to spread their movement across the nation. Frederick Douglass was a key leader of this society, with members that also included Susan B. Anthony, and often addressed meetings at its New York City headquarters. William Lloyd Garrison visited Peacham on several occasions and, in partnership with Oliver Johnson, delivered inspiring speeches from the pulpit of the Peacham Congregational Church.
By 1871, the abolitionist movement caused a great divide in the Peacham Congregation and Oliver Johnson wrote a letter to ask the members of the Congregation to mend their ways or he would refuse to donate the organ.
“And now, dear friends, let me be perfectly frank with you. I could not have the heart to bestow such a gift upon a divided and distracted church and society,” said Johnson in 1871. “I offer my gift not to a party but to the whole congregation, old and young; and I must make it an inexorable condition that you shall bury all your differences, letting by-gones by by-gones, acting together in a spirit of mutual good will.”
This offer, with all its conditions, was accepted by the church and adopted September 18. 1871.
In 1957, a generous donation of $13,000 by Charles F. Brown provided the resources for a “rebuilding and enlarging” of the organ by The Estey Organ Company of Brattleboro. The organ was moved from the back of the church to its current position, behind the pulpit.
Reflecting on the re-dedication of the organ, during his opening address, Brown expressed, “It is my great privilege and pleasure to be able to present to you today the electronic chimes which are sounding forth from the tower of this beautiful church, and this rebuilt and enlarged organ. The privilege lies in the fact that I have been permitted to wave a magic wand, so to say, over this organ to which you have been listening for nearly 90 years, transforming it from an instrument of limited possibilities, into one of many resources. It is my hope that in its present state it will give added satisfaction to organists and congregation alike, that it will encourage the love of fine music, and that all who hear it may be benefitted by its uplifting influence in the interpreting of the word of God.”
Admission to the concert is by donation and masks are respectfully required. Additional information on the concert can be found at www.peachamchurch.org.