Rebuilt, Relocated, Replaced, Recycled --
The History of the Organs
In many ways the First United Methodist Church of Birmingham, Alabama is typical of churches throughout the nation. Established in the nineteenth century, the church occupied several smaller buildings before its current structure was completed in 1891. Reflections of its past can be seen at every turn -- in the name chiseled over its doors, in the coal dust that darkened its stone, in the layers of paint on its walls, in the modifications to its structure to accommodate a changing congregation -- even in the nature of its services.
The exterior of the building is as solid and unchanging as it was when this photograph was made. The horses and buggies are gone, and the chimneys are now a notable architectural feature -- not a necessity for heating the building in winter. But, the church still occupies the southwest corner of 19th Street and 6th Avenue, and you can still see people gathering on its steps during the week and on Sundays.
It's a different story when you step inside, though. In 1891 the interior of Birmingham's First Methodist Episcopal Church South -- its denomination at the time -- was filled with light and color. A report in the Birmingham Age-Herald stated that the "interior is superior, if possible, to the stately exterior."
This photograph dates from around the turn of the century, and even in its black and white state, it shows the degree to which the stained glass windows enlivened the building. To get an even better idea of how the room looked then, just pass your mouse pointer over the photograph. You'll see a "tinted" version, with coloring based on our knowledge of the color scheme then.
I really want you to look at the organ of course -- that's what this is all about. Move your mouse pointer over the photograph again.
When you think about it, those colorful stencilled pipes were what the people saw most of the time they were in the church back then. As they sat in the pews and faced the pulpit -- the central focus of a Methodist "meeting house" -- they saw those pipes in the background.
So -- what did the organ mean to them?
Go to the next page and you can begin to read all about the organ.
© Copyright 2001 AD, James H. Cook