Jesse French Piano & Organ Co.

On the snowy afternoon of February 9, I snapped a photograph of an old building with an interesting façade.  In color a sort of brownish-red, the building wore “proud” architectural embellishments like a crown above the top floor.  I took the picture and forgot about it after optimizing and naming it for inclusion in a Facebook photo album or for use here. 

After I returned home from Nashville, I spent several hours looking through digitized historical photographs available on the Nashville Public Library and Tennessee State Library & Archives websites.  While there I saw (and from which I cannot recall, but cadged – the same photo appears on the French Family website linked in the next paragraph) an older photograph of a familiar building.  Comparing them, I could see they were obviously of the same building, although somewhat changed in features over time.  In the older photograph, one sees that the building originally had turrets at the front corners and points at the medallion’s apex and at the shoulders or buttresses that support it on either side. 

In former times, the company name was visible in standout lettering across three panels left featureless (if you look at the recent photo) apparently for that purpose.  I used Bing to search for information on the Jesse French Piano & Organ Co. – I was interested to find that the Krell-French factory was located at New Castle, Indiana.  Since I’ll be in the area sometime this summer, I plan to photograph whatever’s now at the old factory’s location.

The other difference that attracted my attention was the fact that during the years between the time the first picture was taken and I snapped the one below at left, the original plate-glass windows with wide transoms had been replaced on all three storeys above the ground floor by banks of three sash windows with transoms.  Transoms are important in buildings constructed before the advent of HVAC systems, especially someplace that gets unbearably hot like Nashville, and probably especially so when a building’s contents are sensitive to heat, cold, and humidity, like musical instruments.

When I look at very old photographs, I “feel” them as contemporary or as part of the or a real world when I see the shine of reflective windows, or at portraits when I see the direct stare of the subject’s clear eyes.  The building’s contents may alter and its owners and users die and turn to dust, it’s furnishing ending up splintered at the curb a hundred years later forgotten as junk, but the light that reflects on those old windows does so in much the same way on sometimes (although not in this instance) those very same windows as it does today.  The light and its reflection (as well as glass if it remains unbroken) seems timeless, or travel differently through time than do people and other things.

Proud-FacadeProud Facade

5 thoughts on “Jesse French Piano & Organ Co.

  1. This building is lovely. Interesting that the camera angle of the shot you took is so similar to the old pic you found. I love old buildings and thinking about their place in times past…what the people thought of them then, how they were used, etc. Looks like Nashville has some lovely historic architecture. I wish Sydney had more interest in preserving the cultural heritage of its buildings. So many wonderful old buildings have been destroyed by developers. I recently went to Melbourne with my husband and son and we were in awe of an amazing building in one of it’s city parks – The Royal Exhibition Building. It’s one of the world’s oldest exhibition buildings and it sheer size really blows you away when you walk around it. We didn’t get the opportunity to go inside it but it must have been quite majestic in it’s day.

    • One of those huge buildings that appear to be made entirely of wrought-iron and panes of glass?

      Old buildings do seem to be as close as we’re able to get to time travel. More so when you’re doing structural or refinishing work on them and, like an archeologist, you remove and can examine, reflect upon the many layers deliberately and inadvertently added to the original structure.

  2. I am a French descendant of the Jesse French family. My grandfather operated the Jesse French Piano factory in New Castle. I was there around 1993 and the factory was no longer being used for anything. After the piano manufacturing ceased, at some point Modern Fold (a furniture manufacturer) occupied the building. They may have been the last tenant. I was given a tour of the old building and found it amazing that some of the upper floors had not beed used for years. There were small traces of what likely had been piano production. An old boot was nailed to one of the beams, reportedly placed there by a worker in the piano factory. The company had various partners throughout the years and eventually new owners. The last affiliation with the company was around 1952 or 1953 when my grandfather, Horace Edgar French, retired and moved to Winter Park, FL.. He lived out his life there, passing at the age of 93. He had been married 3 times (two wives preceded him), and he celebrated his 25th anniversary with his 3rd wife.

    Horace Edgar French, III

    • I am Professor of Music Composition at Wayland Baptist University in Plainview, Texas. In my office sits a Steinway Model O grand piano. According to the serial number – which unfortunately is scrawled in magic marker – this piano was completed in 1907 and was sold to the Jesse French Piano & Organ Company in Dallas on April 2, 1907. It was apparently to be forwarded to a customer in Houston, Texas.

      Wayland Baptist University was chartered in 1906, so we are very interested in tracing and learning as much of the history of this piano, particularly as to how it might have made its way into our possession. So, now, I will attempt to locate any records that might still exist of this transaction. Any help will be appreciated.

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