Harmon’s Histories: Missoula welcomes back historic Worden family piano
By Jim Harmon/Missoula Current
It is one of the earliest grand pianos brought to Missoula (circa 1880) by the town’s co-founder, Frank Worden. Yet in modern times, it has had no home, no place to be displayed and appreciated by Missoulians.
I posed the question late last year: “Wouldn’t it be nice to find a public home for this historic piano? 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.”
Well, it certainly did.
The new owner of the historic Florence Hotel, Thomas Taylor, has proposed displaying the unique “square grand” in the mezzanine of the downtown building. An official welcoming/unveiling ceremony will be held Friday, April 14 at 4 p.m.
Myra Shults, a descendant of Frank Worden who paid to have the wonderful piano returned to Missoula and properly tuned says, “Taylor, who purchased the hotel in 2017, is hosting the event, including a bar and food.”
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.
Now he's making headlines again by giving the Worden family piano a historic home.
At Friday's event, Shults said, “Barbara Blegen has agreed to play the piano briefly.”
Blegen returned to her hometown of Missoula a couple decades ago, after retiring. Her 50-year career included performances with the St. Louis and Baltimore symphonies, as well as the New York Philharmonic.
The piano (the star of the show) is a Hazelton Brothers (New York) square grand piano.
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 (New York) 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.
The Worden piano may or 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, 1880, 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 1880 is equivalent in purchasing power to $14,500 today.
If you have a chance, stop by the Florence for the official welcoming/unveiling ceremony on Friday, April 14 at 4 p.m. See a part of Missoula’s history.
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.