Pipe Organs of La Grange, Illinois, and the Architectural Edifices That House Them

July 3, 2017

Stephen Schnurr is editor and publisher of The Diapason, director of music for St. Paul Catholic Church, Valparaiso, Indiana, and adjunct instructor in organ for Valparaiso University. His most recent book, Organs of Oberlin, was published in 2013 by Chauncey Park Press (www.organsofoberlin.com). He has authored several other books and journal articles, principally on pipe organ history in the Great Lakes region.

This article is a continuation of a feature in the August 2015 and June 2016 issues of The Diapason. This essay was delivered as a lecture for the Midwinter Pipe Organ Conclave on January 19, 2015, in La Grange, Illinois. The research for this project provides a history of a number of pipe organs in the village, but not all. For instance, organs in residences and theaters are not surveyed.


Cossitt Avenue Elementary School

Named for Franklin Cossitt, a founder of La Grange, the first school building was constructed in 1883 of native stone on the present property. The present edifice of brick with stone trim with Gothic influence dates from 1921. This building featured a tiled swimming pool and a kindergarten with a fountain, fireplace, and birds in cages. An auditorium was equipped with opera seating chairs, stage lighting, a projector and screen, elaborate decorative ceiling tiles, and, of course, a pipe organ.

The Skinner Organ Company of Boston, Massachusetts, was commissioned to install its Opus 405, a three-manual, 24-rank organ in chambers in the auditorium in 1923. This was an era when there was a nationwide effort to install pipe organs in public school auditoriums.

The organ was sold and removed in the 1980s and was eventually installed in Sacred Heart Catholic Church of Whiting, Indiana. There, the organ was doubled in size with pipework of various sources.

The contract for Opus 405 was signed on March 7, 1923, by the donor, Mrs. Ross H. (May B.) Kidston of La Grange, at a cost of $15,765. An addendum to the contract provided for installation of the Chimes and Harp at a cost of $1,760 ($800 for the Harp, $960 for the Chimes). Construction of the organ commenced on May 7, and pipework was completed on May 11. Of eight Skinner organs installed in public schools, this was the only one in an elementary school.


1923 Skinner Organ Company Opus 405

Great (Manual II)

8 Diapason (scale 42, leathered, metal—73 pipes)

8 Clarabella (73 pipes)

8 Erzähler (“usual,” metal—73 pipes)

4 Octave (“medium,” scale 58, metal—73 pipes)

8 French Horn (“#2,” in Swell, metal—61 pipes)

Chimes (in Swell, 20 tubes)

Swell (Manual III, Enclosed)

16 Bourdon (“common,” wood—73 pipes)

8 Diapason (“big,” scale 43, metal—73 pipes)

8 Gedeckt (“common,” wood—73 pipes)

8 Salicional (“common,” scale 64, metal—73 pipes)

8 Voix Celeste (“common,” scale 64, metal—73 pipes)

8 Aeoline (scale 60, metal—73 pipes)

4 Flute (“common,” harmonic from tenor C, metal—73 pipes)

III Mixture (mounted, metal, 15-19-22—183 pipes) 

8 Cornopean (5 scale, metal—73 pipes)

8 Flügel Horn (“common,” metal—73 pipes)

8 Vox Humana (“common,” mounted, metal—61 pipes)


Choir (Manual I, Enclosed)

8 Concert Flute (“#1,” wood and metal—61 pipes)

8 Dulciana (“little more stringy in treble,” scale 56, metal—61 pipes)

4 Flute Harmonique (“common,” metal—61 pipes)

8 Clarinet (“common,” metal—61 pipes)


Harp (TC—61 tubes)

Celesta (Harp)


16 Diapason (wood—44 pipes)

16 Bourdon (“common,” wood—44 pipes)

16 Echo Bourdon (Swell, 16 Bourdon)

8 Octave (extension, 16 Diapason)

8 Bourdon (extension, 16 Bourdon)

8 Still Gedeckt (Swell, 16 Bourdon)

Chimes (Great, Chimes)



Great to Pedal 8

Great to Pedal 4

Swell to Pedal 8

Swell to Pedal 4

Choir to Pedal 8

Great to Great 4

Swell to Great 16

Swell to Great 8

Swell to Great 4

Choir to Great 16

Choir to Great 8

Choir to Great 4

Choir to Choir 16

Choir to Choir 4

Swell to Choir 8

Swell to Swell 16

Swell to Swell 4



4 Great pistons (thumb)

6 Swell pistons (thumb)

3 Choir pistons (thumb)

4 Pedal pistons (toe)

General Cancel (thumb)

Pedal to Great Manual Combination on/off (thumb)

Pedal to Swell Manual Combination on/off (thumb)

Pedal to Choir Manual Combination on/off (thumb)

Great to Pedal reversible (toe)

Balanced Swell expression shoe

Balanced Choir expression shoe

Balanced Crescendo shoe (with indicator light)

Sforzando reversible (toe, with indicator light)


First Baptist Church

The First Baptist Church of La Grange was founded in 1884 during a meeting in the residence of Myron T. Baldwin. The first pastor was the Reverend Joshua E. Ambrose. The cornerstone of the first frame church was laid in 1886. Additions were made to the building in 1893 and 1906.

The congregation laid the cornerstone for its present edifice in 1924. The building is of Greendale brick with Bedford stone trim of English Gothic influence. Construction cost was about $60,000. In 1947, a stained glass window was installed above the chancel, called the “Laborers with Christ” window. It is now framed by sections of the present pipe organ.

The original church was outfitted for other uses and retained until it was demolished in 1948 to make way for a 1950 addition that featured a chapel, fellowship hall, classrooms, and kitchen, at a cost of $125,000. The present education and administration building was dedicated in 1964.

The origins of the first pipe organ for this congregation are not known. It may have been a second-hand instrument by M. P. Möller of Hagerstown, Maryland. At some point, likely in the 1960s, some alterations were made to the instrument, including addition of a Positiv division. By 1973, the instrument, cobbled together of many disparate parts, was practically unplayable.

The present instrument was built by the Berghaus Organ Company of Bellwood, Illinois, between 1976 and 1978, retaining the Möller console, the Positiv division, two ranks in the Pedal division, the blower, and a few other parts. New slider chests were provided for the Swell, Great, and Pedal divisions. The Great, Positiv, and Pedal divisions are visible above the chancel floor, with the Great to the left, the Positiv in the center, and the Pedal to the right. The Swell division is in a chamber to the right. Wind pressure is 214 inches. The completed organ was dedicated in service on Sunday, November 19, 1978. In 2006, the combination action was replaced by a Peterson ICS-4000 system.


Berghaus Organ Company

Great (Manual II)

8 Principal (5 zinc basses, remainder 50% tin—61 pipes)

8 Gedackt (wood—61 pipes)

4 Octave (5 zinc basses, remainder spotted metal—61 pipes)

4 Waldflöte (5 zinc basses, remainder spotted metal—61 pipes)

2 Spitzflöte (spotted metal—61 pipes)

IV Mixture (spotted metal—244 pipes)

8 Trumpet (spotted metal—61 pipes)

Great 16

Great Unison Off

Great 4

8 Solo Trumpet (prepared)

Chimes (from tenor A—21 tubes)

Positiv (Manual I)

8 Holz Gedackt (wood—61 pipes)

4 Koppelflöte (spotted metal—61 pipes)

2 Klein Principal (spotted metal—61 pipes)

113 Quinte (from 2 Klein Principal)

1 Octave (from 2 Klein Principal)

8 Holzregal (mahogany—61 pipes)


Positiv 16

Positiv Unison Off

Positiv 4

8 Solo Trumpet (prepared)


Swell (Manual III, enclosed)

8 Rohrflöte (12 zinc basses, remainder spotted metal—61 pipes)

8 Gemshorn (12 zinc basses, remainder spotted metal—61 pipes)

8 Celeste (from tenor C, spotted metal—49 pipes)

4 Principal (5 zinc basses, remainder spotted metal—61 pipes)

4 Spillflöte (5 zinc basses, remainder spotted metal—61 pipes)

223 Nasat (spotted metal—61 pipes)

2 Blockflöte (spotted metal—61 pipes)

135 Terz (breaks at C#5, spotted metal—61 pipes)

IV Scharf (spotted metal—244 pipes)

16 Holzdulzian (mahogany—61 pipes)

8 Schalmei (spotted metal—61 pipes)


Swell 16

Swell Unison Off

Swell 4

8 Solo Trumpet (prepared)

Choir (Manual I, prepared)

8 Holzflöte

8 Viole

8 Viole Celeste

4 Fugara

4 Traversflöte

2 Zauberflöte

II Sesquialtera

8 Trumpet

8 Vox Humana


Echo (prepared)

8 Metalgedackt

4 Flachflöte

2 Klein Principal

II Rauschquinte


32 Resultant (from 16 Subbass)

16 Principal (prepared)

16 Subbass (wood—32 pipes)

8 Octave (12 zinc basses, remainder spotted metal—32 pipes)

8 Gedackt (wood—32 pipes)

4 Choralbass (5 zinc basses, remainder spotted metal—32 pipes)

III Mixture (spotted metal—96 pipes)

16 Fagott (7 zinc basses, remainder spotted metal—32 pipes)

4 Rohrschalmei (brass and spotted metal—32 pipes)


Inter-divisional Couplers

Great to Pedal 8

Great to Pedal 4

Swell to Pedal 8

Swell to Pedal 4

Positiv to Pedal 8

Choir to Pedal 8

Choir to Pedal 4

Swell to Great 16

Swell to Great 8

Swell to Great 4

Positiv to Great 16

Positiv to Great 8

Positiv to Great 4

Choir to Great 16

Choir to Great 8

Choir to Great 4

Echo to Great 8

Swell to Positiv 16

Swell to Positiv 8

Swell to Positiv 4

Echo to Positiv 8

Echo to Swell 8



12 General pistons (thumb and toe)

6 Great pistons (thumb)

6 Swell pistons (thumb)

6 Positiv and Choir pistons (thumb)

3 Echo pistons (thumb)

4 Pedal pistons (thumb)

Great to Pedal reversible (thumb and toe)

Swell to Pedal reversible (thumb)

Choir to Pedal reversible (thumb)

Cancel (thumb)

Set (thumb)

Chimes dial (5 volumes and off)

Zimbelstern dials: Delay, Speed, Volume

Auto Pedal (thumb)

Auto Solo (thumb)

Balanced Swell expression shoe

Balanced Choir expression shoe

Balanced Echo expression shoe

Balanced Crescendo shoe (green indicator light)

Sfz. Reversible (thumb and toe, with red indicator light)

Wind indicator (yellow light)

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