A Tale of Two Organs: Henry Erben

And Apalachicola, Florida

A speech by Robert Delvin

Part I

Good evening, and thank you for inviting me to join you today. It is indeed a pleasure to be here. My name is Robert Delvin. I am Associate Professor and Fine Arts Librarian at Illinois Wesleyan University in Bloomington, Illinois. I am also an organist and a member of the Organ Historical Society, an organization that promotes a widespread musical and historical interest in American pipe organ building, through preservation, research and publication of historical information, and through recordings and public concerts.

I am here to speak to you this evening about the Henry Erben organ here at Trinity Episcopal Church. I suspect that a number of you may already be familiar with this historic and lovely instrument, having heard it perhaps during worship services or in concert. The paper that I am about to read to you,, is the product of research conducted during a recent sabbatical leave from Illinois Wesleyan. Another version of this presentation is to be published by the Organ Historical Society, in its journal The Tracker, later this calendar year, commemorating the bicentennial of Henry Erben's birth on March 10, 1800.

My connection with Apalachicola, comes through a longstanding friendship with Dr. R. Bedford Watkins, organist of Trinity Church. From 1956-1988,, Dr. Watkins was Professor of Piano at Illinois Wesleyan University, and served on the faculty committee that hired me in 1980. As long as I have known Bedford, he has demonstrated a lively interest in historic keyboard music and instruments, through his teaching, and through many public performances, particularly on the harpsichord and the fortepiano. Since his retirement, Bedford and his wife Eugenia have been in the thick of musical life here in Apalachicola, directing both the music at Trinity Church and the Ilse Newell Concert Series.

I paid my first visit to Apalachicola during the spring of 1995. Already familiar with my interest in historic pipe organs, the Watkins' were quick to introduce me to the little organ in their newly adopted church. Well, I guess you might call it "love at first sight and sound"

I was somewhat familiar with Henry Erben's reputation as an organ builder, from my knowledge of the history of the American pipe organ, but I had never actually heard or played one of his instruments in person. I was intrigued how an instrument by this prominent New York builder ended up down here in a small Gulf Coast town. At the time, I knew nothing of Apalachicola's history or it's importance as a coastal shipping port in the early nineteenth century. George Chapel however, was very happy to provide me with ample historical material to fill this lamentable gap in my education. In addition to George's own, fine essay on the history of Trinity Church, I am greatly indebted to William W. Rogers two volumes on Apalachicola, Outposts on the Gulf, and At the water's edge, as well as Harry P. Owens, 1966 doctoral dissertation, Appalachicola before 1861. Wiley L. Housewright's, A History of Music and Dance in Florida: 1565-1865, contains numerous references to early musical life in Apalachicola. There is no shortage of scholarly publication on the life and career of Henry Erben, including many articles, and a substantial monograph by John Ogasapian of the University of Massachusetts at Lowell. I also made extensive use of Diocesan journals of the Episcopal Church in Florida at the State Archives in Tallahassee.

- Please see right sidebar for links to A Speech by Robert Delven, Part I, II, III, IV, and references. -