St. Mary Catholic Church
Columbus, OH
2/38 Schuelke

St. Mary Catholic Church - Columbus, OH

The Columbus area is lucky to have several pipe organ gems in its community. Many would argue that the two manual, 38 rank Schuelke pipe organ, completed in 1902, is one of them. The instrument, though extensively rebuilt in 2001, retains almost all of its original pipework and has been restored tonally to that of what Schuelke intended when it was first installed. It is one of only a handful of organs built by Schuelke that are still in existence. The organ was also featured during the American Guild of Organists (AGO) regional convention in 2007.

Parish and Church History
St. Mary Catholic Church
Located in historic German Village just south of downtown Columbus, St. Mary parish was established in 1865 and was the third Catholic parish in Columbus. Construction began on the current church building in 1866 and was completed on November 29, 1868. The church is very similar in construction to Holy Cross church a mile or so north which was built in the 1840s. The church's 197 foot steeple towers above all other structures in the area and is a landmark of the community. 

The church went through a thorough renovation in 1987. Additional information about the parish and church can be found on the St. Mary web page.

The Schuelke Pipe Organ

According to church records, an organ by an unknown builder was installed in 1875. In 1902, the current Wm. Schuelke Company organ was completed at a cost of $5,000 plus trade of the old organ. Click on the image at the right to view the agreement. Note Wm. Schuelke's signature on the bottom right side.

The tubular pneumatic action organ boasted 38 ranks for a total of 2,132 pipes. The organ's sound would be romantic, typical of organs of this time period. This is illustrated in the descriptions of the pedal ranks in the original organ specs. For example, the Double Open Diapason shall be "powerful and grand", the sub bass "deep and pervading", the trombone "full scale, very powerful" and the violocello "orchestral". Also of interest is that the specs state the Vox Humana would have a swell box of its own, thus being under two levels of expression. It is not known whether the organ was originally built this way.

In 1941, Schantz Organ Company of Orrville, Ohio converted the tubular pneumatic action to electro-pneumatic action and installed a new console for a cost of $2,975.

Later in 1974, a rebuild of the organ was performed by local organ builder Bunn-Minnick of Columbus. The original Schuelke single reservoir air system was replaced with a multi-reservoir system and all pipes were cleaned. Despite its age, Bunn-Minnick found that the organ overall was in good condition. Tonally the Viola de Gamba rank in the Great was moved to the Swell and the Salicional revoiced as the Viola Celeste. The Swell Aeoline rank was moved to the Great and renamed the Unda Maris. This was done to provide a celeste in each organ division. The organ was rededicated on March 9, 1974 at a recital given by local organist Dorothy Riley. Click here for a scan of the program.

In 2001, the organ went through another major rebuild, this time by local organ builder J.W. Muller of Croton, OH who had been performing maintenence on the instrument for a number of years prior. Muller's assessment of the instrument was that age and past work done on the organ had compromised much of what Schuelke had built.
Pipes were restored as needed, the wind system was replaced as was the console and all associated operating mechanisms. With the exception of a few pipes, the organ retains its original pipe work. Muller also performed a full tonal restoration of the instrument, meaning that the organ's sound was restored to what Schuelke would have voiced to in the early 20th century. In addition, the Gemshorn was moved from the Great to the Swell and the Violina moved from the Swell to the Great, and the organ's pitch was changed from A=437 Hz to the more standard A=440 Hz.  Muller continues to maintain this historically significant instrument. 

William Schuelke (1850?-1902)

Relatively little is known about William Schuelke. Records show he was born in West Prussia in 1850(?) then lived in Germany where he learned the organ trade. He moved to the United States when he was 18 and settled in Dayton, Ohio. Eventually he moved to Milwaukee, Wisconsin where, in 1875 at the age of 25, he entered into a partnership with Theodore Steinert and started an organ company. Their partnership was dissolved later that year and Schuelke went on to build organs under his own name. It is believed that Schuelke's company built around 200 instruments, of which the St. Mary's instrument was among the last. Schuelke died in 1902 shortly after completing an organ installation, ironically in St. Marys, Indiana. His son Max continued to build organs under his own name for a number of years. 

Schuelke was an innovator and had many contributions to the organ industry. His electric motor powered bellows crank was a major improvement over hand-cranked bellows and was patented. In 1895 he patented his membrane air chest system, patent 549,690. The St. Mary instrument had this type of system which was in place up until the 1974 rebuild. Here are several documents documenting this device.

Patent specifications written by William Schuelke

Patent drawing of the membrane air chest system

Patent benefits (written in German) of the membrane air chest system

How St. Mary came to settle with Schuelke as the builder for the new organ is unknown, however Schuelke's German cultural connection and ties to the Ohio area may have played a part. Most of Schuelke's pipe organs were built for German congregations.


Sound Clips

Here are a few clips (MP3 files) of the organ for your listening pleasure. Samples of each were taken from the floor and the loft to illustrate subtle differences in the sound. In general, the loft clips are clearer while more of the church's resonance is heard in the floor clips.

"Variations on Praise to the Lord the Almighty" by Paul Manz - this is a nice piece highlighting the Trumpet rank on the Great.downloaddownload
Crescendo - In this clip, only the 8' First Open Diapason stop is selected and notes C, E and G (C chord) are played. The bottom C is played on the pedal but not heard as nothing is drawn from the Pedal Division. As the crescendo pedal is depressed, additional ranks are gradually added by the organ, culminating in full organ. This illustrates what the Crescendo can do, though it is rarely used in this capacity.downloaddownload
Crescendo with Sforzando - This clip is the same as the Crescendo clip except that the Sforzando is activated at the end. Note the addition of the healthy sounding 16' Trombone rank at the end.downloaddownload


Credits and Links

Many thanks to the staff at St. Mary's for their assistance and access to the church's archives. Additional thanks goes to John and Jane Muller of the Muller Pipe Organ Company for their historical and technical information about the instrument and Mark Stuart for his help with the recordings.

Historical information about William Schuelke was primarily pulled from an undated version of "The Anniversary Tracker" from the Journal of the Organ Historical Society.

Stop List Photos of the Great Division Photos of the Swell Division Photos of the Pedal Division Photos of the Console Other Photos of the Organ St. Mary Catholic Church - Columbus, OH Muller Pipe Organ Company

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