How the Organ Business Changed the City

Download 18.06 Mb.
Size18.06 Mb.
  1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9   10   11
M.P. Moller and the Urban Fabric of Hagerstown;

How the Organ Business Changed the City

Rebeccah Ballo

University of Virginia


ARH 592-Prof. Daniel Bluestone/

LAR 526- Prof. Julie Bargman

December 15, 2002


The life of Mathias Peter Moller, the founder of the largest pipe organ company in the world, has been described as a Horatio Alger story, or as the ultimate fulfillment of the American dream.1 Moller located his business in Hagerstown, Maryland in the late 19th century, and over the course of his lifetime he contributed significantly to the growth and economic development of the city. The impact of Moller’s life and his organ business affected many different parts of the urban fabric of Hagerstown; in addition to his two factories, Moller constructed housing for himself and his workers, improved roads and water lines in the northern parts of the city, invested heavily in the rehabilitation of his local church, took control of a local automobile manufacturing company, and adaptively reused one of his old factories as an upscale apartment complex. The leaders of Hagerstown believed in his ability to build the city, and they offered him a number of incentives to relocate his organ business and continue with all his entrepreneurial activities in Hagerstown instead of Pennsylvania. Moller obliged, and his organ factory, wealth, and family remained in Hagerstown for the duration of their lives. In the process, Moller’s businesses and his commitment to the civic life of the city indelibly imprinted the memory of his legacy on a number of different spaces in Hagerstown. This process of building a business and building a life in one place has certain cumulative impacts and shows how one man, through industrial means, had a lasting effect over time on the commercial, residential, and civic fabric of the city of Hagerstown.

Creating The Industrial Space: Moller’s Organ Factory

M.P. Moller’s organ building industry had an effect on both the cultural identity and the urban fabric of Hagerstown. Interestingly, it was through the high style, religious and cultural institution of the organ industry that Moller made significant impacts on the commercial development patterns in the town. While cultural and economic interests might seem to be in opposition to one another, the Moller Organ Company embodied both and was able to have a positive impact on both realms in the city. So while the Moller’s economic dynasty may now be gone, the cultural memory of his business and civic endeavors still exist in the urban fabric of Hagerstown.

The remaining cultural memory of the different Moller industries can be understood by examining the overlapping uses of space that occurred over time. Though the spaces physically occupied by Moller interests were previously used for residences, religious activities, and other industrial operations, it is the Moller imprint, the memory of those particular associations and uses associated with his life, that have remained in those spaces even though the Moller industries and family no longer physically use them anymore.

The most obvious example of this can be seen in the Moller Organ factory on North Prospect Street. The site was opened for operation in January 1896 and continued to be used by the Moller Company until the business went bankrupt in the early 1990s. The site of the present factory is located on Prospect Hill. The property was deeded to Moller to convince him to stay in Hagerstown and not relocate after a devastating fire consumed his original factory on Potomac Street. The men involved in this transaction, Dr. Wareham and Mr. Long, who was an agent of the Cumberland Valley Railroad, jointly owned this tract, and offered it to Moller in 1895 for his new factory. The only caveat of the agreement held that Moller could have the land if he opened up avenues of access to the site and built housing beside his plant.2 These buildings were later used to house Moller employees. The Cumberland Valley Railroad also ran a spur to the factory from the western side of the hill; this rail line would greatly improve Moller’s ability to import the raw materials needed to build his organs, and in the days before trucking, it helped him ship organs around the country more efficiently than before. Figure 1: 1981 Aerial of Prospect Hill Factory. From 1981 Moller Promotional Brochure.

Moller’s factory on Prospect Hill promoted the economic and demographic growth of Hagerstown. Before Moller built his new factory, the hill was on the western outskirts of the town. There were few houses nearby, and the nearby streets were still ungraded and rarely used. While an old Roman Catholic cemetery was located on the southern portion of the hill, the rest of the property was essentially vacant. At that time, the factory was outside of the city boundaries, and so there was no running water, no sewer lines, and no good access by roads. North Avenue came to a dead end at the factory doors on Prospect Hill, a situation which Moller used to his advantage in 1925 with the completion of his new erecting room over the Avenue’s former right-of-way. Without city water, Moller used two large water cisterns on the property. Eventually, in order to get water to the factory, Moller had the water main run up Jonathan Street to the east of the factory, and then around Prospect Street to the North. The factory was then connected to the town’s infrastructure through the new water main, the new houses on Prospect Street, and from the improvements on North Avenue between Moller’s Potomac Avenue house and the factory.

This factory represented the epicenter of Moller’s world; he worked in the factory, lived near it, saw generations of his family work there, and used it to establish the base for his wealth and civic prominence in Hagerstown.
The Civic Face and the Industrial Face of the Factory

The Prospect Street factory projected both images of M.P. Moller the Industrialist, and M.P. Moller the Civic City Builder to the city of Hagerstown. These two different aspects of Moller’s life can be read plainly in the two facades of his second factory. The east façade, the one that faced onto North Avenue and the city projects an image of civic engagement mixed with ecclesiastical reserve, while the west façade, the one that faced the railroad tracks, is the working side of the building. While both facades were part of the same building complex, each one was used in very different ways though they both worked together to present the completed image of M.P. Moller and his organ company.

The Western Façade: The Working Moller

The western side of the factory complex was where the work took place. Raw materials arrived here by rail beginning in the 1890s, and the rail lines continued to be used until the factory closed in the 1980s. While the western and eastern sides of the building have the same utilitarian brickwork, the western façade proudly displays the Moller name in paint from the top floor of the factory. This side of the building dealt with work, labor, and production; it was not often seen by the townspeople, but was used by Moller employees and seen by railroad workers from the nearby tracks.

Figure 2: Western Facade of the Moller Factory. From the papers of Peter Moller Daniels.

At its peak, the organ factory imported an astounding variety of materials from around the globe. They can be broadly categorized as wood materials, metals, and to a small extent, animal products. The vast majority of the materials that were assembled in the organ factory were imported from the beginning of the company from elsewhere.

The lumber is the most important raw material for making an organ. As Peter Daniels commented, “organ building is glorified cabinet making”, and as such, Moller imported an incredibly wide variety and volume of wood materials for their musical ‘cabinets’.3 The capacity of the factory site was enormous; at its peak of production in the 1930s and continuing through the 1980s, two million board feet of lumber were always located on site, to guard against supply flow problems. Most of this wood was imported along the Cumberland Valley Railroad line (later the Pennsylvania Railroad) that ran a spur from the tracks west of the factory right into the lumberyards on the south side of the plant.


Download 18.06 Mb.

Share with your friends:
  1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9   10   11

The database is protected by copyright © 2023
send message

    Main page