21Country: “The Oldest Piano Factory in the West”
Huntington’s history of the Schaff Bros. Company
HUNTINGTON, Ind. (WPTA21) - In 1868, Gotthard and John Schaff founded the Schaff Bros. Company — manufacturing strings, pianos, and music out of Chicago. Three years earlier than the Fort Wayne Organ Company, the Schaff Bros. advertised themselves as “the oldest piano factory in the West”. But it wasn’t until several decades later, under the leadership of Ed Link, that they began their journey out in 21Country.
“The Schaff Piano Company came to Huntington, we think, around the early 1900s,” Huntington County Historical Museum Director Barb Rupley explained. “The pianos are collectors, because they are very few of them still available.” Newspaper excerpts show there was pretty good incentive to move manufacturing to Northeast Indiana. Land west of the old fairgrounds was provided for the factory, and an additional $12,000 to build a plant. Construction was completed before 1901.
Several rare items remain on display at the museum, including two pianos. “We have some other photos of employees from Schaff Brothers,” Rupley described. “Memorabilia… letters from satisfied customers. They did have a store downtown that they sold the pianos, and then the sheet music and other things from that location.”
An advertisement in the museum’s collection, shows a sale on Victrolas as low as $55 — sold from the downtown Huntington music store on 327 North Jefferson Street. The manufacturing plant was on Riverside Drive, along the adjacent railroad tracks. But eventually, both locations closed. “It ran its course,” Rupley said. Newspapers indicate the factory stopped producing pianos in 1928. In the following years, the building would also be used to make lamps for Holiday Inns. But it sat vacant several years, often a site for trespassing and vandalism, until even those last remnants were razed from Huntington’s history.
In 1975, the three-story structure was destroyed in a massive blaze. Firefighters, including Rupley’s father, attempted to extinguish the flames, in what was reported to be a “futile effort”. “We went out there,” she told us. “You could feel the heat from the fire out there on the street. It was just pretty impactful I think, to us as young people — of what our dad really did.”
But the legacy of those high-end instruments continue to be important artifact, of the area’s rich manufacturing history. “I think one of the things is — the Schaff Bros. piano company was such an instrumental thing in the making of Huntington — the city and county alike,” Rupley said, “and making us on the map at that particular point in history? I think that’s a cool thing… To know that it no longer exists, and there’s pieces of it out there somewhere.”
To learn more information on Huntington’s history, you can visit the Huntington County Historical Museum at 315 Court Street Wednesday through Friday 10 a.m. to 4 p.m, and Saturday from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.
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