Museums’ Collections Spotlight: Gorgas House Grand Piano

The square grand piano only has 86 keys instead of the standard 88, and two pedals instead of three.

The square grand piano on display in the formal parlor of the Gorgas House Museum was a donation from Hiram Kennedy Douglass in 1954. The New York-based Haines Brothers Company, established in 1851 by Napoleon and Francis Haines, constructed the instrument in 1875. This type of square grand piano differs from the modern version in that it has only 86 keys instead of the standard 88, and two pedals instead of three.

Square grand pianos were extremely popular during the 18th and 19th centuries but began to fall out of style in the 1870s in favor of the newer upright piano.

The piano initially belonged to Douglass’s grandmother, Olive Elizabeth Kennedy Brooks, of Green Hill. According to the donor, “Many evenings they gathered around the piano, my grandmother playing and the family singing or dancing the square dance, hours at a time.”

In 2011, after the piano sustained water damage, a generous donation from Dr. Edward Uehling and the hard work of the Allegro Piano and Organ Shop in Reform, brought the instrument back to playable condition. Over 140 years after its manufacture, the piano fills the house with its rich, complex tone.

The Gorgas House Museum is the oldest structure on the UA campus. Built in 1829, the building served as a dining hall, hotel and residence for the University’s steward. Converted into a faculty residence in the 1840s, it was one of seven buildings to survive the Civil War burning of campus in 1865.

The piano was restored in 2011.

The building also housed the University’s hospital, first post office and first study hall for female students. It was named for the Gorgas family. Josiah Gorgas served as the University’s eighth president and his wife Amelia was the University’s librarian, nurse matron and postmistress.

The Gorgas family lived in the home from 1879-1953 and many original Gorgas family objects are on display in the museum. The building was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1971.

Matthew Ogonowski, acting director of the Gorgas House Museum, provided the above information.




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