As Mert and Fred Wilcox grew up in their home in the 1890s, which we know today as Oneonta’s Swart-Wilcox House, they always loved, they said, to hear their mother, Phoebe, play the organ in the parlor. While the family is no longer with us, organ music has returned to the landmark in the Sixth Ward.
Thanks to a donation from Doris and Bill Martin of Otego, the Swart-Wilcox House now has an 1870s-era Packard Parlor Pump Organ, installed in recent days and ready for view — and perhaps for play — on Sunday, when the Swart-Wilcox House opens its annual Summer Sundays series at 1 p.m.
Helen Rees, historian for the Swart-Wilcox House, said the Martins had attended a program at the house in recent years and felt it would be a perfect place for the organ, which they have owned since 1984. Before that, the original owner was a church organist named Mrs. Mowers in Stamford.
Rees said that Phoebe Wilcox, the daughter of a Baptist minister, loved to play the organ, and often played it for her family and guests, especially for what were then popular Sunday afternoon picnics by the river on the Wilcox flats.
The late Jim Dibble once told Rees that he used to come to the house and play the organ for Mert and Fred, as they greatly missed hearing Phoebe’s playing. Mert and Fred were bachelors and known to be poor housekeepers. Dibble said that the windows of the house were so darkened by creosote from the wood stove that he could only play on days that were sunny and warm enough to leave the front door open, to have enough light to read the music.
An organ had always been in the front room of the Wilcox home as far back as anyone could remember. The original organ was disposed of during ownership transition years of the early 1970s.