The completion of the restoration of the largest surviving pipe organ built by David Tannenberg was a fifteen-year project for Old Salem Museums & Gardens and a nearly one-hundred-year odyssey if one considers the first step of the restoration was the careful storage of the organ when it was removed from Home Moravian Church in 1910. Even though Old Salem Museums restored the organ and provided a new home for it in the Old Salem Visitor Center, the organ is still owned by Home Moravian Church.
As William Armstrong wrote in his fine essay Splendid Service: The Restoration of David Tannenberg’s Home Moravian Church Organ (Old Salem Museums & Gardens, 2004):
David Tannenberg, the organ builder was a German-speaking immigrant who lived most of his life in the small Moravian town of Lititz, Pennsylvania. He had no formal training in organ building; instead he learned his profession by working with an experienced organ builder, Johann Gottlob Klemm, also a German-speaking immigrant. Tannenberg learned his profession well, building or helping to build nearly fifty organs in six states and with such excellence that his surviving organs are highly prized today—as the careful renovation of the organ built in 1799/1800 for the Moravian Church in Salem attests.
The first organ that Tannenberg built for Salem was in 1798 for the Gemein Haus (congregation house), a building that served many functions, including the worship space for the town. This one manual organ was installed by Philip Bachmann, Tannenberg’s son-in-law.
While Bachmann was in Salem in 1798, there were discussions with him and with Tannenberg via letter about ordering a new, large organ from Tannenberg for Salem’s new church, then in the planning stages. It was decided to have an organ with two manuals and pedals. Ground was broken for the church by the end of May 1798 and the next month, on June 12th, the cornerstone was set. The following year, in November 1799, Philip Bachmann returned to Salem with one of the windchests and other parts of the organ. Bachmann worked with cabinetmakers, blacksmiths and other Salem craftsmen to complete and install the organ.
The wind source for the organ was three large organ bellows, which were to be located in the church attic above the organ. The choice was for either treading or for pulling the bellows, and treading was chosen. Originally, the treading was done in the attic, but this was changed in October 1802 so that the treading was done in the organ gallery. This location, which allowed better communication between the organist and the person treading the bellows, was used until the organ was dismantled in 1910. The bellows have also been restored and are installed with the organ.