Antique Organ Returns to Andover

See it at the AHS Museum

By Rita Norander, Andover Historical Society

A twelve stop organ, built about 1895 by the Chicago Cottage Organ Company, recently returned to its roots in Andover after a 50 year stay in Franklin.


Anna Maria Bean Severance, who was born in Wilmot in 1860, was believed to have been the original owner of the organ.

Twelve stop organ built by the Chicago Cottage Organ Company in about 1895

Maude Severance Mills Keniston became the second owner of the organ following the death of her mother, Anna, in 1932. Maude was married to Leon Mills in 1910, and they had three children. Tragedy struck the family in 1919 when Leon and their son died in the flu epidemic. In 1920, Maude married James Keniston, Sr. whose first wife, Minnie Swallow, had also died during the flu epidemic, leaving James with 3 children. James and Maude Keniston lived on Emery Road (Fulton today), and together they had 3 children: James, Jr., who lived on Chase Hill Road with his family, and died in 2012 at age 90; Helen Carlisle who later moved to Oregon; and Lois who married Everett Tilton and lived on the Hill Road in Franklin. (Henry Keniston, James, Sr.’s brother, lived for a time in what is now the Condon’s house.)

Lois Keniston Tilton was the next family member to own the organ, following the death of her mother (Maude) in 1963. At this time the organ would leave Andover, and take up residence at Lois’s home in Franklin.

Evelyn Tilton Durgin and Debbie Tilton Kulacz, daughters of Lois, became the owners of the organ after their mother’s death in 2005. Since neither of them was able to find a spot for the organ in their home, they approached Leigh Webb, president of the Franklin Historical Society, in hopes he could save the family organ for them.

Thus, The Franklin Historical Society became the next caretaker of this now one hundred and ten year old organ. When visiting the museum in Franklin several years ago, I immediately recognized the organ’s connection to the Keniston family and to the town of Andover, and I hoped it could someday be returned to Andover. Recently, I revisited the Franklin museum with a fellow trustee of the Andover Historical Society, and she, too, was excited to see the organ, and discussions were begun in an effort to return it to Andover. As it turned out, Leigh had been approached by another Franklin resident, who had a similar organ which he wanted to donate to the Franklin Society. Unfortunately, Leigh could not keep and display two organs in the museum’s vintage Webster Place parlor. Wanting to save both organs, and find suitable homes for each of them, Leigh agreed to a “permanent loan” of the Keniston organ to the Andover Historical Society.

The Andover Historical Society became the new home of the Keniston organ on May 20, 2017. It is displayed in the J.C. Emons Store, in the room to the rear of the post office. Next to the organ is a mannequin wearing a dress which belonged to James Keniston Jr.’s mother Maude (or possibly his grandmother Anna) which was donated by his widow Dot Keniston. Interestingly enough, this dress has taken an even more far-reaching journey than the organ! Following the death of Maude, her daughter Helen Carlisle took the dress back to Oregon with her. When Helen recently died, her granddaughter sent the dress to Dot Keniston here in Andover. Also, displayed near the organ and the mannequin are two ‘Keniston’ quilts. One was made by Abbie Keniston Robie (my great grandmother) and her daughters, one of whom was my grandmother Nannie Robie (later Hersey). The second quilt was made by Nellie Keniston Emery. Both Abbie and Nellie were sisters of James Keniston, Sr.

Be sure and visit the Andover Historical Society’s Museum in Potter Place this summer. When you do, check out and welcome the newly-obtained, but very old Keniston organ! Even though it no longer plays, it is still a beautiful piece of furniture! The museum is open Saturdays 10 to 3 and Sundays 12:30 to 3.

A special thank you to Leigh Webb and the Franklin Historical Society for making this permanent loan possible. Thank you, also, to Evelyn Tilton Durgin, Debbie Tilton Kulacz and all previous owners of the organ for taking such good care of it. If you haven’t visited the Franklin Historical Society before, it is worth the trip. It is located on Holy Cross Road in West Franklin (former Sisters of the Holy Cross) and is open Sundays 10 to 2.