Joseph H. Ridges Is Called Home
Designed and Built Great Tabernacle, Almost Wholly From Native Material

Age, Four Score and Eight
From Childhood Had Great Fondness and Aptitude for Such Work
Lived in Australia

Joseph H. Ridges, builder of the tabernacle organ, which has had no insignificant part in giving this city an international reputation, died at his home, 427 west Third North street Saturday night. In another month he would been 88 years old.

Although during the many years since the construction of the great organ it has become far more widely known than has its builder, he has by no means been forgotten in this city and state, and throughout Utah his death will be mourned, as he was well known in to every early inhabitant of this valley and in every section of the intermountain country.

Joseph H. Ridges was born April 17, 1826, at Ealing*, a suburb of Southampton, England. From his earliest boyhood he was interested in organ construction, and when only a few years old he spent many days watching the operations of workmen in an organ loft and factory across the street from his boyhood home. He formed an intimate friendship with a boy employee, from whom he learned much about the intricacies of organs and the two often visited the organ loft together, one would blow while the other played on the collection of old organs of varied size and power.

Mr. Ridges later spoke of himself as a “human sponge,” absorbing practically everything he could learn about organs and their making. As he grew older he took long walks to search out experts, from whom he could add to his information, or to see and play upon some instrument in the churches of nearby cities. He often attended church services to hear the instruments played and not infrequently allowed himself to be locked in the chapel until the evening service, inspecting, studying and dreaming about organ pipes, tones, bellows, valves, etc.

At the age of 23 he was led by an adventurous spirit into Australia with the gold seekers. Five long months were passed on the sea before he and the little party landed at Sidney. In the mining localities he worked at the trade of carpenter and cabinet maker, and shortly afterward returned to Sidney. It was at Sidney, after spending some time in the camps, that he first undertook to build an organ. Being unable to get experienced workmen to assist him, and having to earn his own living, he worked at the organ at night until it was completed. It was the first church organ in Australia, and attracted much attention. Among those to see the organ was a “Mormon” elder, then presiding in Australia, who asked the builder to donate it to the “Mormon” Church. Having previously been converted to this faith, Mr. Ridges consented, and they soldered the various sections of the instrument up in large tin cases and shipped them across the Pacific to San Pedro. When they arrived there, accompanied by the builder, they were met by teams sent by Charles C. Rich and Amass Lyman from San Bernardino, and the organ was brought to this city and set up in the old adobe tabernacle.

Building the Great Organ

When the new tabernacle was constructed, the question arose concerning a big organ for it. President Brigham Young asked Mr. Ridges if he believed it would be possible to make an organ in this valley similar to the one he had made in Australia and brought here. He said he thought it could be done and President Young asked him to draw preliminary plans. The plans were drawn, submitted and accepted, and the work was begun.

White vertical grain pine for the instrument had to be hauled from St. George, spring wire, thin sheet brass, soft fluff leather for the valves, Ivory for the keys and other things were secured in Boston, Mr. Ridges making a special trip back over the plains for them. Most of the material was produced here at home, however, and Mr. Ridges, speaking of it later in life said: “We built that organ from native lumber, with homemade nails and glue, and raw hide from the pelts of Utah cattle and calves.”

Mr. Ridges also designed in his day many of the noted structures in Salt Lake, he being the first architect of the Gardo House, now owned by Col. E.H. Holmes, the Gordon academy, and other buildings. To an extreme old age he retained great physical strength and activity, and up until a month ago he was as active as usual, and took interest in practically every movement in Salt Lake and Utah.

He is survived by Adelaide Ridges and Agatha Pratt Ridges, and by 11 children and 45 grandchildren. The children are: Ernest E. Ridges, Mrs. Annie Williams, Mrs. Annie Woods, Wilford O. Ridges of Ogden, Mrs. Florence Dean and Mrs. John E. Pike, Idaho Falls, and Milton R. Ridges, Mrs. Geo. E. Carpenter, Beatrice Ridges, Mrs. Lee J. Haddock, and J.P. Ridges of this city. Funeral services will be held at 2 p.m. tomorrow, March 10, in the Twenty-second ward chapel.

Grandsons of Mr. Ridges will act as pallbearers.

Choir Adopts Resolutions

The tabernacle choir, at the close of the afternoon services yesterday, upon the suggestion of Prof. Evan Stephens, appointed a committee to draw up the resolutions of respect to the memory of Mr. Ridges. The following was later submitted by the committee:

“Whereas, our Heavenly Father in his wisdom has called our venerable and esteemed brother, Joseph H. Ridges, from our midst to this reward, we the officers and members of the tabernacle choir, who have for so many years been closely associated with the result of his genius in the construction of the great organ whose rich tones have touched the hearts of thousands from far and near, and which will be a lasting monument to his memory, hereby express our sincere sympathy and pray that our Heavenly Father will comfort them in this hour of their bereavement and request the secretary to spread a copy of this resolution upon the records of the choir.

Daniel J. Lang, Joseph A. White, W.N.B. Shepherd, committee.”

[Deseret News, Mar. 9, 1914, 2]

[transcribed and proofread by David Grow, Jan. 2006]

*The birthplace of Joseph Ridges is actually spelled Eling, not Ealing


Earnest Tributes Paid To Joseph H. Ridges

Earnest tributes of respect and gratitude were paid to the memory of Joseph H. Ridges, builder of the tabernacle organ, at the funeral services held at 2 o’clock yesterday afternoon in the twenty-second ward chapel. Several hundred friends of the decedent were in attendance, and many of them accompanied the body to the city cemetery where burial took place.

Prest. Joseph F. Smith, Francis M. Lyman, J.J. McClellan, Milando Pratt, Henry Giles, Prof. Willard Weihe, Charles R. Pike, Mrs. Lizzie Thomas Edward, the Pyper-Ensign-Whitney-Spencer quartet and others assisted in the services. The musical numbers, arranged by Prof. Evan Stephens, leader of the tabernacle choir, and Prof. McClellan, impressively and beautifully marked the intervals in the spoken tributes.

Prof. J.J. McClellan spoke feelingly of the debt that this city and state owes to Joseph Ridges because of the uplifting influence that the big organ has exerted on so many thousands, especially on many of Utah’s most prominent musicians. This thought was likewise emphasized by President Joseph F. Smith, Prest. Francis M. Lyman, and the other speakers. Elder Milando Pratt told of the impression that the organ had always had on him, saying that he never tired of hearing it. Prest. Lyman spoke of his acquaintance with the decedent since 1856, and eulogized his life. Henry Giles, followed with a feeling tribute, and Prest. Smith pointed out the vastness and permanence of the influence for good that had come to Utah and the “Mormon” people through the work of Mr. Ridges, whom he regarded as an instrument of God in the building of the great organ. Bishop Alvin Beesley, who presided, made the concluding address, and like the other speakers expressed praise for Mr. Ridges and consoling remarks to the family.

The quartet sang, “When the Swallows Homeward Fly;” Horace S. Ensign sang, “Not Dead, But Sleepeth,” with the quartet accompaniment; Charles R. Pike sang, “The Clock;” Prof. Willard Weihe played “Traumeret;” Mrs. Lizzie Thomas Edward sang, “Angels Ever Bright and Fair;” and a mixed quartet, comprising Mrs. Edward, Mrs. Agnes Olsen Thomas, Samuel Winter and M.J. Thomas, sang a selection at the close of the services and another at the grave. The benediction was given by Samuel Holmes, and the grave was dedicated by Elder George Woods. The pallbearers, all grandsons of Mr. Ridges, were Elmo, Wilford, Clifford and Lawrence Ridges, George and Wilford Woods and David Williams.

[Deseret News, Mar. 11, 1914, 5]

[transcribed and proofread by David Grow, Jan. 2006]


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