It was no wonder that few organ builders had the time or inclination to leave the old country. Yet David Tannenberg, who left his family behind in Germany, became the best-known organ builder in colonial America.
Tannenberg built 50 pipe organs during his lifetime, then a record number, according to Patrick Murphy, who restores pipe organs.
Today, only eight Tannenberg organs still exist in the world, Murphy said. And one of them - the first pipe organ in Chester County, he said - still sits in a tidy, unassuming stone church in a corner of the county.
Generations of residents have known the Zion Lutheran Church on Route 724 as the Old Organ Church.
Until recently, when Murphy was called in to restore the delicate, 207-year-old organ, few church members really considered its history.
Doris Bauman, whose mother, Grace, was the church organist for 17 years in the 1950s and 1960s, said the instrument had never been treated as a hands-off historic object, although in recent years accommodations had been made.
Now only one hymn each Sunday is played on the organ, said Bauman, who remembers the days before an electric bellows was installed and it took two men to work the hand pumps. ``They pumped while mother played,'' Bauman recalled.
The organ is mainly remembered once a year on Old Organ Sunday in October, when visitors tend to outnumber church members in celebrating the anniversary of the dedication ceremony on Oct. 9, 1791, Bauman said.
On that day two centuries ago, so many people came to see the Tannenberg organ that services had to be repeated twice that Sunday and again the following day.
That was typical of most dedications, according to the book That Ingenious Business, which details Tannenberg's life. At one ceremony in 1815, the floor of a Lancaster County church collapsed after too many people tried to cram into the church for a peek at the instrument.
In Tannenberg's day, the craft of building a pipe organ - even a small one such as Zion Lutheran's - typically inspired a beehive of activity among many area craftsman. Local tanners provided leather for the bellows, for instance; a tinsmith would make the pipes; and a clockmaker and blacksmith, the brass and metal parts.
Church records show that the Zion Lutherans paid 150 pounds for their organ, but it is not known whether the price included Tannenberg's room and board, as was customary.
Murphy describes Tannenberg as the first pipe-organ builder in America. ``You're looking at one of the few indigenous organs in America,'' Murphy said a few days after the Zion Lutheran organ was dismantled piece by piece and moved to Murphy's shop in Stowe, Pa. The restoration is expected to be completed in October.
Tannenberg's masterpiece - a 34-stop organ built a few years before he came to Chester County - was installed in a Lutheran church in Philadelphia.
It is still cited by historians as the largest pipe organ built in America in the 18th century, even though the church burned down soon after the organ was completed. It was destroyed in the fire.
In 1804, Tannenberg suffered a stroke while building an organ for a Lutheran church in York, Pa. He managed to complete it, though, and the organ was played for the first time at his funeral service.
No one today knows exactly why Zion Lutheran was blessed with a Tannenberg, though some members such as Kathy Knaub guess acquiring the organ was the work of an early minister, John Ludwig Voight.
Voight was not only well-known as a musician but had clout as a personal friend of Henry Muhlenberg, who founded the Lutheran Church in America, Knaub said.
When Tannenberg made his way to the area of East Pikeland in the late 1700s, the Zion Lutheran Church was a log structure that stood at the center of a German community called Pikestown. Its residents spoke in dialect and followed German customs.
It seemed natural that they would seek out a fellow German to build an organ to play German hymns, as some area historians such as Raymond Brunner see it. The Lutherans, unlike other religious communities such as the English Quakers, considered music to be an integral part of their church services.
``They were used to having organs in their churches in Germany, so naturally they wanted to have them here. It was an important part of their cultural heritage,'' said Brunner, who is working with Murphy on the project.