Cerro Gordo County Iowa
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The Globe Gazette
Mason City, Cerro Gordo County, Iowa
May 10, 2010
by Molly Rossiter

Verney Organ Has Mason City Ties

CEDAR RAPIDS The large Verney organ with pipes that climb 26 feet, once an instrument saved by a Cedar Rapids congregation, is again for sale and may find its way back to its original hometown.

Members of Christ Episcopal Church in Cedar Rapids saved the organ from being discarded in 1993. Now in need of the space and no longer wanting to pay continuous repair fees, the congregation is ready to pass it on.

"The money we spent to buy it was nothing compared to what we were starting to pour into it," said Rachel MILLS, one of the Christ Episcopal congregation members involved in the original purchase decision.

Several musicians in northern Iowa have started discussions about returning the organ to Mason City, where it was built by the Verney Organ Co. in 1904.

"I think it would give us something to be extremely proud of as a guild to have it come back to Mason City," said Cyndy JOHNSON, dean of the American Guild of Organists, North Iowa Chapter. "It is historically significant."

When members of Christ Episcopal Church in Cedar Rapids first saw the Verney organ in Parkersburg in 1992 they saw it as something they needed to restore.

"It was so beautiful and it was so sad that it was going to be discarded," MILLS said, one of the congregation members who made the trip to see the 1904 organ. "The people in Parkersburg had a very large, Romanesque church, brick, from around the 1900s and they were ready to move on to a modern church." Before making the trip, MILLS contacted the Organ Historical Society to learn more about the instrument. She learned that it was built by the Verney Organ Co. in Mason City and that the organ builder did not create many instruments. The organ in Parkersburg was quite likely one of the last pieces of his work still in use, she said.

"We got all excited about that, the organ is listed on the Organ Historical Society's list," MILLS said.

The Cedar Rapids congregation paid $25,000 to purchase the organ and Mills said it cost about that much to bring it to Cedar Rapids and get it installed.

"When we got it to Cedar Rapids we put it in our church and it just fit like a glove," she said. "It was really miraculous. We lived with it all those years rather joyously."

Before it got to Cedar Rapids, however, the organ was kept in a building with no consistent heat source and had started to dry out. The congregation at Christ Episcopal paid to have it reconditioned, but in the last three years it's been drying out more, MILLS said.

"It started requiring some more attention and that attention was very expensive," she said. "It became too much for our vestry."

There's no price on the organ, but MILLS said the congregation is hoping someone who knows its worth will step forward. "We're hoping for someone who has a love for a tracker organ and an organ that was meant for a 19th century church setting," she said. "That's really where it belongs, in the hands of someone who loves it."

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The Globe Gazette
Mason City, Cerro Gordo County, Iowa
April 25, 2010
by Deb Nicklay

Organ Maker Left Indelible Mark in Short Time

MASON CITY Although not here long, W[illiam]. C. VERNEY made an indelible mark on organ-making at his Verney Organ Co. plant.

His establishment on First Street Southwest was founded in 1900. No mention of his name is found in a City Directory past 1909, according to Mason City Public Library historical archivist Terry HARRISON.

Both a trade publication and a local magazine said VERNEY had years of experience in organ building at the time he came to Mason City.

The Trade Music Review said in 1901 that VERNEY was from New York and "is said to have introduced several valuable improvements to pipe organ construction."

Nichols' Headlight, a magazine featuring Mason City in a special edition in 1900, said VERNEY had "gained considerable celebrity throughout this country and Europe by building the wonderful automation orchestra which is now on exhibition at the Paris Exhibition ... " The creation was made of papier mache figures playing instruments, run by pneumatics.

It is a mystery as to why VERNEY came to Mason City or why he left. It is known that his brother, Walter A. VERNEY, was a cabinetmaker and vice president of the company prior to the company's incorporation in 1904.

By 1905, according to the Mason City Times Herald, VERNEY had purchased the Mason City Manufacturing Co. "and at present they have four pipe organs on the floor which will be completed in the next thirty days and have several contracts that will require the whole capacity of the plant."

The Globe Gazette in December 1907 said VERNEY received a patent on his pneumatic system for organs, called the Verney Individual Valve System.

Other articles refer to sales, or expectations for sales, of organs on contracts in St. Paul, Chicago and Mason City.

The Globe Gazette in 1909 said VERNEY'S company was producing a line of washing machines under an agreement with the owners, P. P. KEIL of Oakland Calif., a company known as the Home Friend Washing Co.

Other research said VERNEY worked for organ businesses in Burlington, in Chicago and the Casavant Freres Co. of Canada.

The Diapason, a journal devoted to pipe organ and church music, reported in a history piece that a W. C. VERNEY served as a sales manager for Reuter Organ Co. of Lawrence, Kan., in the 1930s.

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NOTE: This is the largest of the three still-existing Verney organs, 16 feet wide, almost 11 feet deep and the pipes reach a height of 26 feet. When it was created the organ industry was moving from mechanical systems to penumatic-play systems. Both types were incorporated into this Verney organ. The other two Verney organs are located in Terre Haute, Indiana (built in 1905 for the Allen Chapel AME Church), and at Highland, Wisconsin.

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The Postville Herald
Postville, Allamakee County, Iowa
June 14, 1928


Katie J. THOMPSON, daughter of the late Mr. and Mrs. G. W. STODDARD, was born near Waukon, March 21, 1860. Her childhood and girlhood were spent in Waukon and vicinity where her ability on the organ and piano made her a valuable addition to any gathering. On April 7, 1878, she was united in marriage to Andrew M. THOMPSON and went with him to Postville, where they made their home until 1892 when they moved to Mason City. From there they went to Des Moines, this continuing to be their home until her death, which occurred Wednesday, June 6.

Funeral services were held at the White Funeral Home Thursday and the body was taken to Postville for burial on the family lot.

She is survived by her husband, one daughter, Mrs. W. C. VERNEY of Lawence, Kansas, and four sons, George and Will of Slate, Missouri; Roy of St. Louis, Mo., and Bruce of Des Moines. A sister, Mrs. R. B. MAY of Des Moines, also remains.

Two daughters had preceded her in death.

Mr. and Mrs. Bruce THOMPSON and George THOMPSON of Slater, Mo., and Mr. and Mrs. Bruce MAY and son of Des Moines accompanied the remains to this city, where they were laid to rest in Postville cemetery after a brief service at the grave conducted by Rev. R. F. GALLOWAY of the Community Presbyterian church. Mr. THOMPSON was unable to accompany the body here for burial owing to his weakened physical condition. During a long residence in this city Mrs. THOMPSON made many friends, who will learn of her passing with sorrow and will sympathize sincerely with those bereft.

Transcriptions and note by Sharon R. Becker April of 2011



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