The Mansfield Organ Pipe Works

Lost Mansfield > The Mansfield Organ Pipe Works


Fenelon McCollum, the founder of the Mansfield Organ Pipe Works, grew up in a family of organ builders. His older half-brothers, Seldon, Julius, and Henry, established an organ building business in Rockville in 1841. They became experts in organ building and were well known as reed makers and exceptional voicers. Their services were in great demand and they worked at various times for such major organ manufacturers as Hook & Hastings of Boston and Johnson & Son of Westfield, Massachusetts.

Mansfield Organ Pipe Works
Mansfield Organ Pipe Works, c. 1896. In 1892-93, the McCollum brothers built a larger mill a short distance north of the former Brigham shoddy mill. That mill was destroyed by fire three years later. This photograph shows the mill constructed on the same site to replace the one that burned. The new mill was operated by a turbine and had the most up-to-date equipment. Some of the equipment was invented by Fenelon McCollum specifically for for the manufacture of his unique metal-tipped organ pipe feet.
Mansfield Organ Pipe Works advertisement
Advertising pamphlet for the Mansfield Organ Pipe Works. The front page features the metal-toed wooden pipe foot invented by Fenelon McCollum. The metal tip prevented splitting of the wood. The pipe feet were manufactured in multiple sizes to accommodate any size of organ pipe.

It was the youngest brother, Fenelon, who conceived the idea of manufacturing organ pipes as a separate industry. He and his half-brother, Henry, began producing organ pipes in 1871, working first in the Millard saw mill in Merrow. In 1876, they moved their business to Mansfield Depot where they leased the ell part of Lewis Brigham’s shoddy mill and adopted the name of Mansfield Organ Pipe Works. The mill’s proximity to the train depot became a key factor to their success. As the business grew, the whole mill was leased and then finally purchased in 1889. Shortly after the sale was finalized, they replaced the old water wheel with a more efficient turbine. When Henry McCollum retired and then died in 1890, Fenelon continued the business alone.

McCollum Pipe Organ
The two-story section of this mill was built around 1810 by Nathaniel Dunham and the ell on the right was a later addition. The building later housed Lewis Brigham’s shoddy mill. In 1876, Fenelon and Henry McCollum moved their organ pipe business into the ell and later purchased the entire building. This building is also now gone. (Photograph courtesy of Jan McCollum)

In 1892-93, he built a new four-story factory to accommodate the expanding business. After this mill burned down in 1896, he re-built it and equipped it with the latest improvements in machinery, some of his own invention. At its peak, the company employed over 20 workers and used about 400,000 feet of the best Michigan pine each year in its production of organ pipes.

Earlier, Fenelon had invented the metal-toed wooden pipe foot and patented it in 1890. This innovation prevented the common problem of splits at the base or “toe” of the organ pipe foot. After Fenelon McCollum died in 1925, his son, Fenelon, Jr., continued the business, concentrating on the production of organ pipe feet and other small organ parts. The company remained the sole manufacturer of metal-toed organ pipe feet until it closed.

During the 1920s and ‘30s, Fenelon, Jr. also established a side business in the mill called “Little American Works”. He produced trellises, arbors, birdhouses and other items for the home garden. Both businesses ceased operation around 1976.

The vacant mill building collapsed on September 16, 1985 during Hurricane Gloria.

Remnants of the Mansfield Organ Pipe Works
This photograph shows the remains of the organ pipe factory today. The building collapsed in 1985 during Hurricane Gloria. The foundation and some metal remnants of the factory’s equipment and power train can still be seen. The mill site is located on private property. (Photograph courtesy of Jan McCollum)

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