Pipe Organs of La Grange, Illinois, and the Architectural Edifices That House Them, Part 1: Emmanuel Episcopal Church

August 14, 2015

This article 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. This article will be continued in future issues of The Diapason.

According to the 2010 census, the village of La Grange numbered 15,550 people. The area was first settled in the 1830s. Located thirteen miles from the Chicago Loop, it was a quiet area to come and escape the growing city on Lake Michigan.

Founded by Franklin Dwight Cossitt, who was a successful wholesale grocer in Chicago, La Grange was incorporated on June 11, 1879. Cossitt had purchased farmland along the Chicago-Dixon Road, now Ogden Avenue (US 34). The Chicago-Burlington-Quincy Railroad had a milk stop here, which was then called Hazel Glen.

Cossitt laid out his ideal suburban village, platting streets, planting trees, and donating land for churches, schools, and parks. He became a homebuilder, selling the finished product to new residents, along with liquor restrictions to make sure the town retained an idyllic atmosphere. After the Great Chicago Fire of October 8–10, 1871, residents began to move to La Grange rather quickly. As the village grew, new congregations were formed, representing a number of denominations.


Emmanuel Episcopal Church

Initial services for Episcopalians in the village were conducted in the residence of David Lyman. A parish brochure relates, “later he and village co-founder Franklin Cossitt had a surveyor plot the exact center of the fledgling community for this church, and donated the land.” The Cossitt family, for whom a prominent avenue and a school in La Grange are named, would provide other memorials to the church over the years. The parish was formally organized on December 15, 1874, and is the oldest congregation in the community. The cornerstone of the first church was laid on June 17, 1875, and the finished building, seating 400, was consecrated on October 5, 1878. The Gothic edifice, 90 feet long and 32 feet wide, was built from stone quarried a few blocks distant.

A larger Victorian gothic structure, seating 650, replaced the first church in 1894. The cornerstone was laid July 16, 1893. The building, of Naperville stone, featured a Tiffany altar and reredos, which were exhibited by the maker at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago between 1893 and 1894. This artwork was purchased thereafter by David Lyman and his wife. The original church became the parish house. The consecration occurred on December 17, 1894. On December 1, 1924, the parish plant was completely destroyed by fire.

By autumn 1925, a temporary building was erected for services. Plans for a new church began immediately and resulted in the present building, in eleventh-century French Gothic style. John Tilton, architect and son of the architect of the 1894 church, drew the plans for the $375,000 building. 

The first services were conducted in the present church on Easter Day, April 4, 1926. Dedication occurred on May 11. Near the principal entrance of the nave, one can see the cornerstones of each of the three church buildings this congregation has constructed. The baptismal font includes four stones brought from the Sea of Galilee and the Dead Sea. 

Emmanuel Church has had a rich musical history, which has included four notable organs. In 1884, the congregation purchased Johnson & Son Opus 627, a two-manual, 13-rank, mechanical-action organ. (See stoplist 1.)

The Johnson & Son organ served the parish in the first and second churches until it was replaced by a new organ from the M.P. Möller firm of Hagerstown, Maryland, in 1908. The 1884 organ was taken in trade and resold by Möller as their Opus 950, without alteration, to the Second Presbyterian Church, Oak Park, Illinois. (The specification of the Johnson & Son organ comes to us from the contract for Möller Opus 950.) The contract for Opus 950 was dated January 15, 1909, in the amount of $400, delivered “in good playing condition.” Möller was to provide “one man to erect and tune said organ at $7.00 per day and expenses (board), also experienced helper at $4.00 per day, if desired by” the church. The organ was already crated when the contract was signed and was shipped by train from La Grange to Oak Park three days later on January 18.

Meanwhile, back in La Grange, the contract for M.P. Möller Opus 891 was signed on May 2, 1908, for completion on or before October 19 of that year. The organ was to cost $8,250, from which $750 was credited for the Johnson organ (which was sold to the Oak Park church for $350 less). Upon completion of the organ, $1,500 was due, with $3,000 due one year after completion and the balance of $3,000 due two years after completion, both notes at six percent interest per annum. The three-manual, 31-rank organ was housed in a quartered oak case. The instrument was shipped from Hagerstown on November 7, 1908.

The Choir division was located over the choir room and was placed on a duplex chest, eighty feet from the console. Thus, the entire Choir division was duplexed to the Great manual as the Echo division. At its dedication on December 20, the organ was noted to be “one of the largest church pipe organs in Cook County outside of Chicago.” (See stoplist 2.)

There were some problems with the instrument, for the church signed an agreement with Möller (undated, though approximately 1914) to “correct the Adjustable Combinations, change location of wind motors operating same, go over the entire organ and put it in good condition, including tuning throughout,” and to maintain the organ for three years (with tuning four times each year), for $350.00. The church had the option to have Möller continue maintenance on the organ in 1917 and 1918 at a cost of $75.00 per year. The organ burned with the church in 1924. Mason Slade was organist-choirmaster at the time. The Diapason of January 1, 1925, noted that Slade lost his organ library in the fire.

The present church was first served by a three-manual, 22-rank, electro-pneumatic action organ built by W. W. Kimball of Chicago. William H. Barnes of Evanston served as architect/consultant, drawing the specification for the three-manual organ. (See stoplist 3.) Barnes played the dedication recital on September 26, 1926, to a capacity audience. The program: Caprice Heroique, Bonnet; Reverie, Bonnet; Allegretto, Volkmann; The Legend of the Mountain, Karg-Elert; Scherzo, Rogers; Andante (Sixth Symphony), Tschaikowsky; Nocturne, Ferrata; Ronde Francaise, Boëllmann; Allegro con brio (D Minor Sonata), Mailly; Beside the Sea, Schubert; Scherzo (from Fifth Sonata), Guilmant.

The builder trumpeted the organ in a full-page photographic advertisement in the May 1, 1926, issue of The Diapason. The specification and dedication program were printed in the November issue. 

Mr. Barnes featured the organ in his regular column in The American Organist magazine for December 1926. He noted the specification 


to be nearly ideal for a moderate sized three-manual designed to meet both the limitations of money and space. I would be glad to have any of the dyed-in-the-wool-at-all-costs Straight Organ enthusiasts make us a scheme with ten additional registers that would have the usefulness of this organ, or an even better ensemble. It must be understood I am speaking of intelligent unifying and borrowing, used with discretion and done by artist voicers.


At some point, the Kimball organ was significantly altered. Eventually, a three-year fund-raising drive for a new organ began. The present organ in the church was built by Casavant Frères, Limitée, of Saint-Hyacinthe, Québec, Canada, in 1970, as their Opus 3062, a 3-manual, 46-stop, 63-rank, electro-pneumatic action organ. The specification is dated October 14, 1968. Agreements dated January 6 and March 13, 1970, provided for preparation for Chimes on the Great and an Antiphonal division with appropriate couplers to various other divisions. The specification was drawn by Lawrence Phelps, tonal director for Casavant, John F. Shawhan, Casavant representative, and William H. Murray, organist-choirmaster for Emmanuel Church. (See stoplist 4.)

The present organ is installed in what had been chambers for the previous Kimball instrument, opened for better tonal egress, to the right of the chancel. The drawknob console is located opposite. This instrument is one of Chicago’s best examples of a large pipe organ from the late oeuvre of Lawrence Phelps’s tenure as tonal director for Casavant.