Wilmington, North Carolina is one of the Souths most attractive and historic cities. Gracious antebellum homes line streets overhung with Spanish moss, and cast-iron signs along the city streets mark places and events of interest, bespeaking an admirable pride among the people who live and work here. First Presbyterian Church graces its corner in one of the most genteel neighborhoods of this beautiful city.
Opus 713 was the first significant instrument restored by the A. Thompson-Allen Company beyond its home state of Connecticut. The good people of the church had had several proposals from other organ-builders, most of which suggested discarding or altering the Skinner organ beloved by the congregation, clearly something they did not want to do. When we were asked to examine it, we found that it was a case of love at first sight. The beautiful church, the enormously successful instrument, and the kind and gracious people all conspired to convince us that the restoration of this organ was something that we wanted to do very much.
Restoration began in 1975 and was completed three years later. All of the mechanism and pipework, excepting the half-dozen largest pipes of the Pedal 16 Diapason, was removed and returned to our shops in New Haven. Although the organ had been well cared for over the years, the passage of almost fifty years had taken its toll. Many of the pipes were showing signs of fatigue and needed thorough cleaning and repair. A thick coat of soot covered everything in the organ chamber, and much of the shellac finish on the woodwork was mildewed. We knew that an elegant instrument resided behind the two organ cases, and we were determined to restore it to its pristine beauty once more.
In 2003 the church desired to make an addition to the instrument, and we suggested a Pedal 16 Trombone to round out the organs resources and provide a firm undergirding to the ensemble. At first an extensive search was carried out to locate period pipework that might be available for the purpose, but none was found. After consulting with Douglas Leightenheimer, Organist/Choirmaster of the church, it was decided that an exact copy would be made of an existing Skinner Pedal Trombone, in this case the one for Opus 793 in Hartfords Second Church of Christ, Scientist. Working with Chris Broome of Windsor Locks (CT), whose father David Broome had restored the organs reed stops in 1978, an identical set of pipes was made by A. R. Schopps Sons of Alliance (OH). The new pipes and their windchest were supplied by a period Skinner wind-pressure regulator and the switching for them is accomplished by period Skinner electro-pneumatic switches, making for a harmonious and reliable installation.
Opus 713 continues faithfully to serve the good people of First Presbyterian Church as it has for more than three-quarters of a century. Long may its inspiring voice lead their worship, and provide an excellent musical resource in the community. The Organist-Choirmaster of First Presbyterian Church is Mr. Douglas Leightenheimer, a man who knows how to get the best out of this very effective instrument.