The organ was built in 1857 or 1859 by Henry Erben of New York City. Mr. Erben’s existing records show that it was built in 1859, but the date 1857 is marked on one of the inside pieces along with the Erben name.
The organ was originally built for Christ Episcopal Church in Rouses Point, New York. Rouses Point is in the far northeast corner of New York, very near to Vermont and to Canada. The small Episcopal church was so remote that for many years it was considered part of the Diocese of Montreal. The church was closed and reopened several times. Eventually, the small building was torn down.
The little pipe organ was put into storage. At one time, it resided in a barn. There is a story that it was carried across Lake Champlain in a canoe, for storage with A.D. Moore, an organ builder in North Pomfret, Vermont. More recently, the organ was purchased by Stuart Goodwin of California, who intended to restore it to original condition and sell it.
Saint James Church purchased the organ from Goodwin in November 1987 through the good offices of the Organ Clearing House in New Hampshire and Dana Hull of Ann Arbor. Beginning in January 1988, Hull, assisted by Saint James members, painstakingly restored the organ to its original condition. The wind chest was rebuilt and metal repairs made to many of the pipes by Charles Ruggles of Ohio.
With one rank of pipes in tune, Saint James began using the organ in August 1988. As other ranks were made ready, they also began to be played. Hull told members of Saint James that it would take a couple of months for the pipes to settle in and be ready to stay in tune.
The organ has a single manual. A 4 foot Principal rank has a pipe for every key. The three 8 foot stops—Dulciana, Gamba, and Stopped Diapason—are partial ranks, and each uses the Stopped Diapason Bass for the lowest notes. The Stopped Diapason Bass and lowest notes of the Principal are wood pipes, the rest are a metal with a lot of lead in it. To these four ranks, Hull added a 16 foot Bourdon. She was able to find a set of these wooden bass pipes made by Henry Erben in the late 1870s, and they are a fine complement to the small instrument.
The organ case was originally grained, a process similar to painting that looks like fine wood that has been stained and varnished. Graining has become almost a lost art, but Greg Detmer and Jeff Wozniak of Ann Arbor were found, and they both grained the pine case to match the oak furnishings in the sanctuary and applied gold paint to the facade pipes.
Hull presented the Erben Organ to the Ann Arbor Chapter of the American Guild of Organists on November 8, 1988. Joanne Vollendorf, president of the chapter, presented a brief recital to demonstrate the sound of each of the stops.
The organ was dedicated in a concert and service of Evensong on April 16, 1989.