Seymour Congregational Church

Seymour, Connecticut

Aeolian-Skinner Organ Company, Opus 1262, 1955

Perhaps the best account of Opus 1262 and its beginnings can be given by reading about a significant event of the Church History. The following pictures and excerpts are from the official Church web site:

During the last five years in honor of the centenary of the building of the sanctuary, extensive improvements have been carried out in all parts of the church property. A complete remodeling of the sanctuary was completed in 1954. A new Skinner organ was installed and finally completed in July, 1955. New stone steps were built at the front of the parish house to match those of the church. Paths, conforming to a new pattern, were laid. A change-over from coal to oil in the heating system was introduced. New audio-visual aid equipment was bought. New floors were laid in the kitchen, and many changes and additions made in various places. These changes, especially those in the sanctuary, were favorably commented on by visitors who came to see them. With the dedication of the new organ, planned for September, 1955 the renovation would have been finally completed...

...This was the condition of affairs until Friday, August 19th, 1955. The congregation was grateful for, and proud of, the transformations which had taken place, and thankful that by the generosity of its members and friends, all was paid for. This was an offering to God, for His Glory, to His Honor, and for the services of worship by His People. “Man proposes, but God disposes.” On this day the “rains descended and the floods came: and beat upon our town...

...The flood waters, diverted into two streams, gouged a channel fifteen feet deep on three sides of the church buildings, and carried away the ground beneath the foundations of the steps in front of both the church and parish house. Finally the unsupported weight of these steps caused them to pull away from the buildings, to which they have been connected, and in this process much damage was done to the walls. They fell into the deep channel, and to remove them later it was necessary to have broken by a heavy ball mechanically operated and the pieces excavated by a power shovel. A stair well at the left front of the church was carried away, the ground having been washed away below its level. Of course, all landscaping and paths were obliterated.

Inside the dining hall, gymnasium, kitchen, and furnace room the flood waters rose to the ceilings. The first floor of the parish house was flooded to a depth of six feet, and in the sanctuary the water rose until it covered the seats in the pews, floated the pew cushions from their places, and ruined many of the new hymn books. Everywhere when the water receded it left mud varying in depth from two inches or more in the sanctuary, to four feet in the dining-room, and up to six feet in the gymnasium. In this mud there was much of the equipment of the church and its many organizations, and a variety of debris, from wooden shoe lasts to barrels of chemicals, came in through the great hole created the breakaway of the wall to which the church steps were attached. Railroad ties were found lodged in awkward places. You could recognize such things as choir gowns, pieces of homes, and kitchen utensils. Scattered in the mud were more than 300 chairs, tables, and four pianos. There pianos were so heavy with silt inside that it was a problem to move them from the rooms in which they rested. All were lying flat in the mud like sleeping crocodiles. The beautiful kitchen was in such a mess that it had to be stripped right down to the bare walls and all the equipment thrown away. It was difficult to approach the buildings because of the high piles of debris which covered the doorways and entrances. Many tears were shed by people who looked upon the scene from afar, and many more were shed by people who later came to look inside the buildings.

Volunteers from among the membership of the church, and friends of it, began at once to dig the mud out. There was so much of it, and in such inconvenient places, that it took six weeks of work, most of it in the evenings when men were free, to finally get rid of it. It was thrown through windows; had water added to it after it was settled and then pumped out; it was shoveled into wheelbarrows and wheeled out it was moved with a mechanical scoop; and some was even carried out in buckets. At one place a rig had to be set up, and mud hauled up like water from a well. Until some of the channel around the church was filled in it was necessary to walk up planks, like going aboard a ship, to gain entrance or leave the dining room. But the work went on. Those who came had to have special permission from the town police and the military authorities in charge, and had to have anti-typhoid shots. A fine group of the women of the church moved into the church sanctuary, and suitably clothed, got down under the pews, into the corners, around the doors, behind the radiators, and wrestled with the mud and dirt and saved it from further damage by cleaning it as soon as possible. Mud was removed from the beautiful new carpet by the use of a snow shovel! When it was finally cut into two sections and removed, it took three men to move each part-it was still so heavy with mud and moisture.

Until one of the bridges across the river was restored, the town was practically cut in two, and from one side you could only reach the church by either climbing a three-section fire ladder from river bed to a surviving section of bridge or, at another place, climbing through the debris which cluttered up a much battered old iron bridge. But day by day the volunteers came.

Everywhere there was damage. Windows smashed in, doors wrenched off their hinges and carried away, mud under floors, back of walls and inside ceilings. The blowing-room, specially built for the new organ, and filled with various pieces of blowing equipment, was flooded to the ceiling, and practically everything inside, ruined. The new oil burner was dug out, given expert attention, but found to be ruined. Insulation on wiring, hot waterpipes, everywhere was ruined and had to be removed. Cupboard and closet doors were so swollen and distorted that they had to be broken down to get at the contents and mud. Chemicals from works in Naugatuck and Waterbury were carried by the flood, and these left a deposit on walls and fixtures which not only did damage, espcially to electrical fixtures, but was hard to remove. Such things as choir gowns, curtains, rugs, table cloths, were often damaged beyond repair more by the chemical character of the silt than the mud itself. Much of the new asphalt used on the outside paths weas found in great chunks all over the place. The church safe was carried from the place where it normally stood, turned over on to its back, and when finally opened by a safe expert, found to have mud inside and its contents ruined. The colonial sign outside the church was early in the flood, a casualty. It was broken to pieces and carried away. But, strange to relate, some days after the flood, a man working in a dockyard 22 miles away by river, found the center panel floating in a jam of debris, rescued it, and it was finally returned to the church.

The scene in the area, as in the buildings themselves, was a very, desolate one. No wonder the people have designated August 19, 1955 as “Black Friday.” Estimates of the church’s losses and damage, made by professionals, were in the region of $80,000. Of course, there was, and is, no insurance against such an eventuality as damage by flood, and the church was not considered for any grant from such public relief agencies as Red Cross. It did not expect such help, but it is necessary to state this because many people thought it would be so helped.

The weeks came and went after August 19th. Much was said about what ought to be done to protect the area against any possible reoccurrence. But the truth is that the community, the state, and the federal authorities did not, or could not, do anything to restore the river defenses washed away. So when the second flood came on October 15, there was nothing the church could do to prevent a second inundation. This reached a depth of five feet, but did very little additional damage, although it created a great deal more work. It did ruin some of the electrical equipment which had been restored, and left another job of cleanup. It was like “hitting a man when he is down” but the morale of the church came back quickly. This flood experience has been a very challenging one, and sometimes some of our people have been ready to despair. But if our faith and affection have been tried, they have proved equal to the challenge. Local churches revealed that underneath our denominational differences, there is a wonderful sense of unity. The waters had hardly begun to recede before three local churches had taken official action to make clear to us that their premises and facilities were at our disposal. Until the first Sunday in December, we used the sanctuary of the Episcopal Church for our Sunday morning worship, and until April, 1956, we used their parish house for our Church School. Our youth work was carried on at the Lutheran Church, and many of our organizations had meetings there too. Ladies’ Aid, and similar groups, met regularly at the Methodist Church, and a variety of other activities were continued as opportunity offered at these churches. These experiences of fraternal and Christian regard will ever sweeten the relationships between the local churches, and we have had reason to thank God upon every remembrance of them After having recently raised a large sum for the renovation of the church premises, and in a town so severely hit economically, the task of raising such large sums as will be required for reconstruction and renovation, seemed an almost impossible task. But our churches, on the state and national level, have shown such practical sympathy for us, and we are sure that others will reveal a like intention in the future, that we are sure that with our own efforts we shall accomplish this part of our task. The people face the future with high hopes and confidence. Part of this has been revealed by the enthusiasm with which volunteers have restored the facilities on the first and second floors of our parish house so that we have been able to bring the church school back to our own premises. By December the first, the church sanctuary was again ready for worship, and through an added generous gift from the churches of Connecticut, we were able to have the damage to the organ repaired, and it was played for the first time in a worship service on Sunday, January 2nd, 1956. Laus Deo.