Starting next week, the James J. Hill House’s historic pipe organ will undergo much-needed rehabilitation work, thanks to the generosity of private donors, Martin V. Chorzempa and Dr. George and Joan Fischer.
Built in 1891 specifically for the Summit Avenue home’s art gallery, many of the instrument’s original wood and leather components have deteriorated over its nearly 130-year existence, causing air leakage and sound quality issues. In order to combat further deterioration, the organ has been largely unplayed in recent years. This comprehensive project, costing an estimated $141,000, focuses on preserving this historic instrument for the future and returning it to reliable playability.
Dobson Pipe Organ Builders of Lake City, Iowa, will lead the work, including completely disassembling the organ, shipping parts—including 12-foot pipes—from St. Paul to Lake City, and reassembling it on site at the Hill House. Dobson’s work will involve tasks like repairing the pipework and releathering the organ reservoir and windchests. The company will also design and construct new, historically accurate parts to replace organ components that have deteriorated.
The two-story, 1,006 pipe organ was built by renowned Boston organ maker George Hutchings and used for Hill family gatherings, concerts and parties. The James J. Hill House is a National Historic Landmark, and the instrument is a significant example of a residential pipe organ from the Gilded Age. The organ last underwent large-scale preservation work in 1988, funded by an Institute of Museum and Library Services grant.
The project is currently estimated to be completed in July, but timelines may shift once work is underway and Dobson staff is able to fully assess the instrument. The art gallery will be closed to the public during the organ’s removal and reinstallation. Hill House staff will share ongoing updates on the organ on social media and with in-person visitors.
“Because this repair project involves completely taking apart the organ, it will help us learn new details about this incredible instrument and the craftspeople who made it. We’re excited to share that new knowledge with visitors,” said Christine Herbaly, site manager of the James J. Hill House and Alexander Ramsey House. "We’re grateful that the organ will no longer be silent and will be able to once again enhance the visitor experience at the Hill House for generations to come.”
About James J. Hill House
The James J. Hill House was completed in 1891 as the home of James J. Hill, builder of the Great Northern Railway, and his family. A National Historic Landmark, the 36,000-square-foot mansion is open for guided tours, art exhibits and special events. It is located one-half block west of the Cathedral of St. Paul at 240 Summit Ave. For more information visit www.mnhs.org/hillhouse.
The Minnesota Historical Society is a nonprofit educational and cultural institution established in 1849. MNHS collects, preserves and tells the story of Minnesota’s past through museum exhibits, libraries and collections, historic sites, educational programs and book publishing. Using the power of history to transform lives, MNHS preserves our past, shares our state’s stories and connects people with history.
The Minnesota Historical Society is supported in part by its Premier Partners: Xcel Energy and Explore Minnesota Tourism.