Pipe organs do not fade away but with proper care they last for hundreds of years bringing pleasure and enjoyment to many people for a very long time. The first organ in the First Foreign Church of Hilo was a small foot pumped reed organ which was mechanized in later years. Mrs. Luther Severance was the first organist, holding the position from 1870-1897.
In 1895, Mr. Alexander Young, a stalwart (and charter) member of the church offered $1000 to buy a pipe organ to replace the old reed organ. A pipe organ, as proposed, was too large to be housed in the small church edifice and with prospects of a larger church being needed, the Trustees decided upon rebuilding the church with a new, much larger sanctuary. This made it possible for an even larger and better organ to be secured. Mr. Young was agreeable and increased his donation. This, along with sizable gifts from Mr. C.C. Kennedy, Mrs. Severance, and others raised a total of $2887. Which was enough to buy the new organ.
On July 4, 1897, dedication services of the new church and organ were held and the splendid two manual organ was put into service. This organ ranked as one of the finest in the Islands at that time. The bellows of the organ were manually pumped with air for some years, but after electricity was adequately available, this gave way to an electric motor to the great relief of the church sexton whose job it was to be on hand whenever the organ was to be played.
This organ was used for many years but in early 1929, it became evident that a replacement organ or extensive repairs on the present organ were needed. Under the leadership of Mr. Levi Lyman, church treasurer, it was agreed to raise the money to purchase a new organ. A Robert Morton organ was selected containing 1000 pipes and was dedicated on November 17, 1929.
This organ is still used each Sunday at First United Protestant Church and still has many of its original parts from the 1920s. The organ was moved and rebuilt in the present sanctuary in 1969 when the church relocated from the corner of Kinoole and Haili streets. The late Orlando Lyman, life-long member of First United Protestant Church, personally donated $30,000 for the new pipe work in 1984, thereby transitioning the organ from its "theater organ" voices to the classical liturgical pipework resulting in a sound that boldly leads congregational singing, recitals and concerts.
(This piece was written by Rev. Ron Kent for the church's 150th anniversary. The information was excerpted from "History of the First United Protestant Church Pipe Organ," complied by Orlando Lyman, member and benefactor of the church.)