The Sleepy Eye Depot Museum has a new tenant that hardly looks its age.
An upright piano dating back as far as the late 1800s was first owned by Christian Emmerich and Theresa (Rinke) Emmerich who then gave it to their daughter, Margaret Emmerich, who married Dr. J.W.B. Wellcome, Jr. They passed the piano on to their son, Frank, and his wife, Bertha Marie (Engle) who have passed it down from generation to generation until finally it was given to Dr. William Nelson and his wife, Mary, who have had the piano for many years.
“The final owners, who happen to also be doctors, said that everyone in their family already has a piano and while this one is the most historic piano in the family, they felt it should come ‘home,’” said museum director Deb Joramo as to how the donation of the piano came about.
According to records at the historical society, Christian Emmerich came to Sleepy Eye in 1872, to build the town’s first hotel, the Lake House, which stood on the northwest corner of Main Street and what is now First Avenue North.
Dr. J.W.B. Wellcome, Jr. was one of the first doctors in Sleepy Eye, following in his father’s footsteps. He married Margaret Emmerich and they acquired the piano.
It has been said that Margaret loved the piano so much that when they went to California to vacation, the piano would travel by railroad with them.
Joramo said according to the Nelson family the piano has never been refinished and remains in great working condition to this day. The Nelsons noted piano tuners have said over the years they have been unable to locate a manufacturers mark, possibly lending the idea that the piano could be homemade.
“It is amazing how the piano comes from well-known Sleepy Eye descendents and now it returned to Sleepy Eye again,” added Joramo.