Although many historical pieces on display at the Miners Foundry, the Joseph Mayer pipe organ is a definite favorite. Born May 27, 1823 in Baden Wurttemberg, Germany, Joseph Severin Mayer was the first builder of organs in California. He immigrated to the United States in 1853 and initially worked in several organ factories in New York City. Eighteen months later, he left for California to try his luck in the gold fields. He prospected throughout the Mother Lode Country, but fortune did not favor his quest. He settled in Marysville in 1856 and eventually moved to San Francisco, where he established a successful organ business on the south side of Page Street, near Octavia. Joseph Mayer passed away on October 15, 1909 in San Francisco.
The organ was originally built in 1872 for a Jewish Temple located on lower Post Street. The congregation moved to a new building near Laguna in 1899. The organ moved with the congregation and therefore survived the Great Earthquake and Fire of 1906. The Temple later became the Zen Soto Mission, a Buddhist sect and the organ, not needed for services, was nearly forgotten. In 1966 a pipe organ technician named Paul Alexander discovered the organ in a dilapidated state and spent the next five years rebuilding it, together with Robert Hunt. The keyboards, main frame, manual actions, stop knobs, and wooden pipes are all original. Of the twenty eight organs built by Mayer in San Francisco, the only piece surviving to this day is the organ housed at the Miners Foundry.
The organ was purchased in 1974 by David Osborn and Charles Woods, and installed in what was then the American Victorian Museum, now known as the Miners Foundry Cultural Center. A dedicatory recital was given by Reiko Oda-Lane on November 30, 1974, one hundred and two years after the organ was built. Many more organ concerts followed, to the delight of the Nevada County community. Sadly, the roof over the organ deteriorated over the years and leaks caused severe damage to the instrument, rendering it not playable. The organ remains a favorite historical piece for all who visit the Miners Foundry, and is a feature of our annual Fright Night Celebration.