Blaze like 'watching history go by'

Former Moller Organ Co. plant heavily damaged

January 06, 2011|By JULIE E. GREENE |

HAGERSTOWN — When Kevin “Chip” Moller heard the building that once housed his family’s organ business was on fire Thursday afternoon, he flew out the door, said his wife, Carol Moller.

“He’s probably just watching history go by,” Carol Moller said.

Kevin Moller said he and his son, Kip, drove down North Burhans Boulevard, pulling over by the concrete plant to watch the fire at the old Moller Organ Co. plant up on the hill on North Prospect Street.

“We just sat in the car,” said Kevin Moller, who was raised in the family business and served as president of Moller Organ from 1978 to 1984.

At one point, Moller Organ was the largest pipe organ manufacturer in the world. Moller organs have been at the Camp David Chapel and the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis.

Mathias Peter Moller moved his organ business from Greencastle, Pa., to Hagerstown in 1880. He opened his business on Potomac Avenue across the street from where Sheetz now sits.

That plant was destroyed by fire on Friday, Aug. 9, 1895, when Moller was out of town setting up an organ, according to newspaper accounts.

“He cried when he came back,” former Moller employee the Rev. Victor Zuck said in 2000.

Instead of pursuing one of the many offers to build in other cities, Moller chose to rebuild on North Prospect Street, where he would have room to expand.

Washington County historian John Frye said a University of Virginia student’s 2002 research paper reported that a ground-breaking for the North Prospect Street building was held Sept. 13, 1895, and that the plant was in operation by Jan. 1, 1896.

The business remained family-owned until 1989, when it was sold to a limited partnership. M.P. Moller Inc. filed for bankruptcy in August 1992.

Allen Organ Co. of Macungie, Pa., bought the M.P. Moller name, records and drawings in March 1995.

“The point is it’s very historical with all the things that have happened and (been) made there through the years,” Carol Moller said.

“That’s a shame. It was there a long time,” she said.

Kevin Moller said the site of the former Moller plant has probably been underutilized, for the amount of land it sits on.

“The property could be well served for other uses,” such as housing, he said. “That’s a great location with a great view over all parts of the city.”

Former Moller employee Leon Cross said some former Moller employees now work for Eastern Organ Pipes, which is in the north end of the building.

The building is old with a lot of dry wood, said Cross, 83, who lives in Hagerstown’s North End. He retired from Moller in 1989 after working for Moller for 43 years.

Cross, who works part time for Hagerstown Organ, said he was in the former Moller building about two weeks ago to pick up some repaired pipes. He saw some old friends during his stop, which lasted about 15 minutes, he said.

“It’s an old building. It was old when I went there in ’46,” said Moller retiree Red Benchoff, 84, who lives east of Hagerstown.

Benchoff worked for Moller from 1946 to 1989. He assembled and repaired organs.

The assembly room, which is three stories high, is the part of the building with all the glass that people see when they head up North Street, Benchoff said.

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