Barton Theatre Pipe Organ
This 12 rank, 1200 pipe Barton Theatre Pipe Organ was fully-restored back to its original condition by Carlton Smith Restorations over the course of a few years. It made its way through the doors of its new home at the Historic Dixon Theatre in November of 2009 after almost a year of preparation in the building specifically for its arrival, including the climate controlled pipe rooms, loft areas for extra pipes, installation of a scissor lift in the orchestra pit, addition of extra electrical service to the building, and adding technical components in the basement. After having to keep it to ourselves a bit, we were finally excited the time had come to show it off to the public. We truly have a unique gem right here in Dixon! There are only about 40 Barton Theatre Pipe Organs left in existence and most of them are in Illinois, Wisconsin and Michigan. This is because the founder of the company, Dan Barton was from Amherst, Wisconsin and usually didn’t ship the mighty instruments further than a sleeper car would take them in one night, therefore keeping them in the midwest area. The largest pipe organ was at Chicago Stadium, which was sadly destroyed by fire in October 1996.
This particular Barton Theatre Pipe Organ was donated by the a private donor associated with the Canterbury Foundation. The debut concert commenced on October 15 with the world renowned Theatre Pipe Organist, originally from this area now living in Phoenix, Ron Rhode dazzling area 4th and 5th grade students with the sounds of many familiar Disney tunes, as well as a few 40’s & 50’s tunes. The day ended with Historic Dixon Theatre’s first Silent Movie being shown in over 40 years while Ron amazed the audience with his non-stop improvisational skills. The silent movie, “Safety First”, had the audience laughing & Ron had you believing you were listening to a soundtrack. “If you get lost in the movie and forget that I’m down there playing, then I’ve done my job!” Ron said. When asked by someone if he had any sheet music during the almost 80 minute movie, he replied that “sheet music was never used and that is was always improvised according to what was going on in the movie and that’s what made it interesting.” That takes real talent to be able to just play and we were thrilled to have Ron here for the debut of such a grand instrument.
October 16th, the celebration started with an informational session about the organ, a sort of “here are the facts” hour. Then they allowed questions from the public. I believe it was quite overwhelming to the general public to learn some of the details of this Theatre Pipe Organ because it’s not something you see around every corner, in every other building, so people are not so familiar with them. It’s wonderful for us to have the opportunity educate others on something new and exciting!
The weekend of events closed with a spectacular concert full of variety from all of the decades since our beautiful Theatre opened in 1922, which drew patrons from all over Northern Illinois, Eastern Iowa and Southern Wisconsin. Ron has hinted that he will return in the future to play for us and we look forward to that.
Future Plans for the Barton
Historic Dixon Theatre has great things planned in the near future its newest “addition”. Tom Elmendorf, Board of Trustees President, confirmed that they are in the process of planning a series of old fashioned sing-a-longs, concerts and silent movies as fundraisers for the Theatre to raise some much-needed funds. “We have looked into several options for us to use the organ to our advantage over the last year and there are many things people are doing in other areas that are becoming quite popular again, such as the sing-a-longs and silent movies. This is like a new revival for today’s generations to enjoy something only our grandparents’ generation were able to experience, and it’s something new and different.”