THE HOOKS, HASTINGS, AND A TALE OF TWO ORGANS
I. HOOK & HASTINGS: A THUMBNAIL HISTORY
During the first decade of the 19th century, William Goodrich, regarded as the founder of the Boston organ-building industry, began building organs as a fulltime career. A musical but largely self-taught craftsman whose major textbook was the several 18th century English church and chamber organs in the city, he soon established a workshop to meet the growing demand for domestically-built organs and began hiring apprentices and journeyman cabinetmakers to assist him. One of the earliest was Thomas Appleton, who would soon begin business on his own, and in the early 1820s two musically-inclined young men, sons of William Hook, a noted Salem, Massachusetts cabinetmaker, traveled to Boston to apprentice with Goodrich. On their return in 1827, George Hook built a good-sized chamber organ (still extant in the Peabody-Essex Museum) for a Boston merchant, and Elias Hook briefly opened a music store. The following year Elias also built a small organ for a local church, and the two brothers soon formed a partnership as E. & G. G. Hook, and began building organs in earnest.
By 1832 their business had prospered, and they moved to a new workshop in Boston; the following year they built their first 3-manual organ. In 1849 the Hooks built their 100th organ, and were soon averaging about 15 organs per year. In 1853 they built their first 4-manual organ, and the following year moved into a much larger, steam-powered factory. This undoubtedly allowed for the expansion of the workforce, and among the newer apprentices was young Francis Hastings. He soon proved his worth as a woodworker and draftsman, and worked his way up the company. Following the Civil War, business increased noticeably, with 30 or more organs being produced annually. This increase was partly due to sizable organs being ordered by some of the large churches being built in this period, especially in the east and Midwest, and partly to one of Hastings’s innovations: stock designs for smaller organs that could be ordered from a catalog, and were popular in smaller rural churches and chapels across the country.
This increased production to the point that by 1871, the year that Hastings became a full partner under the name of E. &. G. G. Hook & Hastings, the factory was turning out 50 or more organs annually. One might think that this could have affected quality, but existing organs of all sizes still testify to the high standards of mechanical design, voicing, and careful craftsmanship that characterized the work of this firm. By the 1870s too, major changes in organ building were occurring, both mechanically and tonally. The largest organs usually employed a form of “Barker machine” to assist the action, although smaller ones always had the company’s light and well-designed tracker action. Tonally, European influences, both British and German, and in some instances French, began to appear, especially in larger organs, which, in addition to a well-balanced chorus and the firm’s excellent reed stops, also boasted a fine variety of 8’ and 4’ flutes and strings. Hastings now seemed to be in charge of the firm’s more ambitious projects, notably the 1875 70-stop organ for Boston’s Holy Cross Cathedral, their largest organ up to that date, and one that is still in regular use.
George Hook died in 1880, and his brother Elias in the following year, and while both appear to have been active almost to the end, Hastings then became the sole proprietor of the firm, which soon changed its name to simply Hook & Hastings Co. In 1889 Hastings built a large modern factory on farmland owned by his family in the suburb of Weston, an ideal location in view of the fact that a railroad ran through it that would be useful for shipping, for by this time Hook & Hastings organs could be found everywhere in the continental United States as well as in Canada. Production remained high throughout the 1880s and 1890s, and into the first decade of the 20th century. By the turn of the century a number of immigrants had joined the workforce, primarily from Scandinavia, England and Quebec, and some of the voicers were Germans. By this time also, larger organs were beginning to be built with pneumatic or electric actions, although smaller ones were still routinely built with mechanical action.
When Hastings died in 1916, the direction of the firm fell into the hands of relatives who did not have the practical hands-on background that Hastings had. By this time too, American organ building firms, some much newer than Hook & Hastings, were all beginning to follow the fashionable trend to an orchestral tonal scheme, and were developing improved versions of electric action and chest design. Competition for prestigious commissions was strong from newer and more innovative firms such as Möller, Austin and Skinner, and even by the time of Hastings’ death the number of organs issuing from his factory had begun to decrease. Although a few major contracts still came through in the 1920s, production, largely of smaller organs, continued to diminish, and the Great Depression of the early 1930s dealt the final blow. The 2,614th (and last) Hook & Hastings organ left the factory in 1935, and its doors finally closed in the following year.