Harmon’s Histories: Missoula co-founder Frank Worden’s piano needs a public home
By Jim Harmon/Missoula Current
It is one of the earliest grand pianos brought to Missoula (circa 1880), yet it has no home, no place to be displayed and appreciated by Missoulians.
It’s a Hazelton Brothers (New York) square grand piano, once owned by city co-founder Frank Worden.
A “square grand” is nothing like the vision we all have of a “grand” piano. It is rectangular, designed to fit up against a wall. The specific Hazelton Brothers square grand piano we’re talking about measures 84 3/4 inches long (side to side), 40 inches wide (front to back) and 39 inches tall.
John Jacob Astor is credited for importing the first square grands from Europe in the 18th century. American manufacturers quickly copied the style, and for 100 years – all of the 19th century – the square grand outsold every other model of piano in America.
Its current owners, Worden family descendants, would love to donate it to an institution willing to display it, and are even willing to pay the expenses to ship it back to Missoula. Hopefully, this article may spark some interest in that regard.
Based on an account, published some 50 years after the fact, the very first piano to be brought to Missoula likely was one owned by one of Frank Worden’s business partners, Ferdinand Kennett.
Kennett, born in St. Louis in 1840, spent his youth working as an errand boy in a retail store. Over a period of more than two decades with the firm, Kennett was promoted to the position of bookkeeper.
That work was interrupted by the Civil War. Kennett first served with the Missouri infantry, but was quickly appointed as a paymaster clerk.
After the war he headed west, working first as a lumberman in Wisconsin, then deciding to take the 32-day-long voyage up the Missouri to Montana Territory in 1867, eventually finding work as an accountant for a mining company in Philipsburg.
A few years later, in 1873, he moved to the Garden City to take a position with the newly-created Missoula First National Bank. He became fast friends with pioneers Frank Woody, Frank Worden and John Catlin.
In early 1889, he and other investors created the Western Montana National Bank of Missoula. Kennett also became deeply involved in the community. He and his wife were among the founding members of the First Presbyterian church. Politically, he was a high-profile Republican, and was actually elected Mayor of Missoula.
But you won’t find his name in the mayoral roster at city hall. He refused the position.
A life-long asthma sufferer, Kennett died relatively young, at 55 years of age, on May 2, 1915.
In 1908, one of Ferd Kennett’s daughters married George H. Wilcox. It was Mrs. Wilcox who, in 1933, retold the story of Missoula’s first music club, the Treble Clefs, and an account of Missoula’s first piano.
According to her account, “the old Steinway square piano” which belonged to her mother, Mrs. Kennett, “was shipped to Helena from Galena, Illinois, the family home,” by rail in 1875, and then on to Missoula, first by wagon train, then literally strapped to the back of a mule to cross the more rugged terrain.
The Worden piano, arriving in the Garden City five or six years later, may not have been the city’s first piano, but it certainly was an expensive one.
Frank L. Worden took out an insurance policy on August 13, 1881, valuing his home at $2,500 and his household furnishings at $500.
Separately, he insured his Hazelton Brothers piano for $500, equal in value to all other furnishings in the house. FYI, $500 in 1881 is equivalent in purchasing power to $14,549.41 today.
Wouldn’t it be nice to find a public home for this historic piano? If you have an interest, I’ll be delighted to pass your request on to the owners.
Jim Harmon is a longtime Missoula news broadcaster, now retired, who writes a weekly history column for Missoula Current. You can contact Jim at email@example.com. 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.