Made in America with Foreign Parts

13 Hammered Dulcimer Performance, 1976

Gale McAfee and Paul Gifford playing “Liverpool Hornpipe” in 1976.


Ellen and James Donald’s hammered dulcimer is a remarkable artifact in the Donald collection at the Mt. Horeb Area Historical Society. The duo played in Madison circa 1925-30. The family story is that the instrument was made by Orrin Sweet (1834-1910) and given to the Donalds in exchange for living in a log cabin on their property in 1857.

Based on e-mail information from Paul Clifford, Sweet was living in 1850 in the town of Poland, Chautauqua County, NY, near the dulcimer factory of Henry Ransom (1856-1859) or his brothers-in-law Harrison and Lewis Wade (1855-1860). Both firms hired local salesman to travel the country, demonstrating the instruments, taking orders or selling them. Sweet may have been hired to travel and sell these dulcimers in Wisconsin, but may have begun making his own.  In any case, he was back in Chautaqua County to enlist in the Civil War but died in Fergus Falls, Minnesota.


Many thanks to Paul Gifford for his contribution of music and information.


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