Derrick and Felgemaker Pipe Organ Company

The Felgemaker Organ Company was a manufacturer of pipe organs based out of Erie, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The company was first founded at Buffalo, New York, in 1865 by Silas L. Derrick and Augustus B. Felgemaker. Specialties of the company included church organs and portable pipe organs for small churches, schools and residential parlors.

Augustus Barnard Felgemaker was born on July 16, 1836, in Buffalo, New York. He first apprenticed with a piano builder and in 1858 began work with Garret House, a Buffalo organ builder. In 1865, Felgemaker and Silas Derrick became partners, forming the Derrick & Felgemaker Company.

The company relocated to Erie in 1871 and a large building was erected on Twenty-fifth Street near Ash. Their building was a four-story brick structure, 40 feet wide by 200 fee long, built in 1871; with a frame wing, 20 feet wide by 100 feet long, erected in 1872. For the machinery necessary in the business, the steam power was supplied by an engine of 30 horse-power. The factory provided employment for twenty-five practical organ builders.

The initial enterprise fell through and Mr. Felgemaker withdrew from the Twenty-fifth Street location and reorganized the business at 1313 State street. He was successful and soon both the State Street and Twenty-fifth Street venture were prosperous. By 1872 the company was known as the Derrick and Felgemaker Pipe Organ Company. Throughout the 1870s the company grew to employ over 55 workers and had $75,000 worth of capital. The firm produced between 15 to 20 organs per week — 1289 organs were built during the years, 1871-1917. Felgemaker became the sole proprietor of the business in 1876 and by 1878 the company was renamed as the A.B. Felgemaker Company. In 1888 the factory relocated to larger facilities; more room being required, a lot was bought at the corner of Nineteenth and Sassafras streets and a building was erected the same year.

The A. B. Felgemaker Company was incorporated in 1905, that same year Mr. Felgemaker passed away. The Company remained in business until 1917, when the business was purchased by the Tellers-Kent Organ Company. Tellers-Kent assumed all the open contracts and service-agreement work from Felgemaker.

With the declined in the manufacturing of pipe organs, the Teller family’s involvement with the company was continued from their home when they sold the former Felgemaker factory in 1973 to Lawrence Phelps who purchased the factory from what was then the Teller Organ Company. Changing the name to Phelps and Associates, routine maintenance, tuning and complete historic restorations of pipe organs were done at the factory until the demise of the company in 1978.

 Derrick and Felgemaker Pipe Organ at the Central Presbyterian Church in Erie (1908)
Derrick and Felgemaker Pipe Organ at the Central Presbyterian Church in Erie (1908)

Now called the First Presbyterian Church of the Covenant, the church is located at 250 West 7th Street.

Organs produced by the Felgemakers company are still in use at St. John the Baptist Catholic Church, Canton, Ohio; Lawrence University, Appleton Wisconsin; St. John's Lutheran Church, Erie, Pennsylvania; Crawford Memorial United Methodist Church, Bronx, New York; Trinity Episcopal Church, Iowa City, Iowa; St. John's Episcopal Church, Canandaigua, New York; First Congregational Church, St. Johns, Michigan, and First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Elizabeth City, North Carolina.

A. B. Felgemaker Company Pipe Organ, Opus 165, Manufactured in 1873
A. B. Felgemaker Company Pipe Organ, Opus 165, Manufactured in 1873.

This historic pipe organ [shown above] was built in 1873 for an Ohio church by the A. B. Felgemaker Organ Company in Erie. In 1910 it was purchased and shipped via Lake Erie to Port Clinton, Ohio, and then by wagon to Bellville, Ohio.

Having served the congregation for many years, the time had come for the instrument to have a complete renovation. After several years in setting aside monies from rummage sales, concerts, memorial gifts, and a pledge drive in November of 2001 the $30,000 was raised to complete the project. The James Leek Organ Company in Oberlin, Ohio, was contracted for the restoration.

Work on the organ began in January, 2001. The process involved replacing all worn leather components, thoroughly cleaning the organ, and restoring the hand pump mechanism, which had not worked since 1935 when the electric blower was added. Joyce Fenton, a church member, carefully repainted the highly decorated front pipes. By the first Sunday of June 2002, the organ was fully reassembled and again able to be played.