Harmon’s Histories: With flair, Francis Worden’s grand piano returns to Missoula
(Missoula Current) The near-overflow crowd was excited. The champagne flowed freely. The hors oeuvres were marvelous. The setting, the historic Florence Hotel, was perfect for the official unveiling of Francis Lyman Worden’s Hazelton Brothers square grand piano on Friday, April 14.
The Worden piano is the earliest documented grand piano brought to Missoula (circa 1880).
Myra Shults, the great-granddaughter of Missoula co-founder Francis Lyman Worden, along with other Worden family descendants, had tried many times, but failed to find a home for the historical musical instrument (until recently in storage in Idaho).
They even offered to pay all expenses to ship it back to Missoula and have it properly tuned.
Enter the new owner of Missoula’s historic Florence Hotel, Thomas Taylor, who not only offered the mezzanine of the downtown building to display the unique “square grand” but paid for the party!
Taylor, a structural engineer who lives in Dallas, Texas, had been visiting his daughter, who was attending the University of Montana in 2017, when he first saw the Florence.
According to press reports at the time, he had just sold some other holdings, “had some extra cash on hand,” and made an offer on the Florence.
Barbara Blegen, a renowned pianist whose 50-year career included performances with the St. Louis and Baltimore symphonies, as well as the New York Philharmonic, came out of retirement to play the historic piano.
The Hazelton Brothers square grand is nothing like the vision we all have of a “grand” piano. It is rectangular – designed to fit up against a wall.
Francis Worden took out an insurance policy on August 13, 1880, valuing the piano at $500 (the equivalent of $14,500 today).
The piano is now on display for the public to view, but it is not to be touched or played except on special occasions, to be determined by Thomas Taylor. Taylor also assured the crowd that the piano’s new home will not be limited to his lifetime, but is permanent.
Jim Harmon is a longtime Missoula news broadcaster, now retired, who writes a weekly history column for Missoula Current. You can contact Jim at firstname.lastname@example.org. His best-selling book, “The Sneakin’est Man That Ever Was,” a collection of 46 vignettes of Western Montana history, is available at harmonshistories.com.