ROUND LAKE – The pipe organ played a significant role throughout the birth and evolution of American religious and secular culture. It should be no surprise, therefore, that the massively proportioned Davis-Ferris Organ located in the Round Lake Auditorium has been named a national historic landmark by the National Park Service.
Historical records collected on behalf of the submission for the landmark designation call the organ call the “oldest, largest and most intact organ of its kind in the country.” The Davis-Ferris Organ is also one of York State’s “best kept secrets,” said Dixie Lee Sacks, the longtime Mayor of Round Lake.
Outside of those that live in the village or regularly attend the many musical and theatrical events held from May through October, chances are most area residents have no idea this behemoth of a musical instrument has made its home here on Wesley Avenue for the last 129 years.
The organ was built before the Civil War and its first home was at Calvary Episcopal Church in Manhattan. It faithfully served its congregants for more than 40 years before being purchased by the Round Lake Camp Meeting Association of the Methodist Episcopal Church of the Troy Conference for $1,500 and transported to the village of Round Lake.
“Parts of the organ were transported here by way of the Erie Canal,” Sacks said. The remaining pieces arrived by freight car.
The application documents prepared for the National Park Service state that, “It is not clear which came first: establishing a music festival, making improvements to the auditorium, or purchasing a pipe organ, but they all came together in 1888 as the trustees of the Association sought to broaden the appeal of the summer programs at Round Lake. Music festivals were gaining popularity nationally and seemed a natural addition to the attractions of Round Lake.”
Back then, the property was divided into tiny lots that held tents for summer visitors who were members of the Methodist religion. If one strolls through the tiny Victorian enclave, it’s easy to visualize how it might have looked in the late 19th century, with tents dotting the village.
The auditorium, which began as an outdoor platform for sermons, was expanded and enclosed to house the Association’s new instrument. It gradually became a musical venue with the ability to hold hundreds of visitors.
And, while the auditorium’s acoustics are amazing, it remains unheated to this day. When visitors enter the cavernous space, they can understand why. Walls of windows line either side of the hall and insulation appears to be non-existent. What remains something of a mystery is how the 167-year-old organ has been able to withstand the extreme temperature fluctuations and remain not only intact but tonally and mechanically exceptional.
The organ was used frequently for four decades after it was re-assembled in the auditorium. But the 1930s the popularity of religious music and the draw of the liturgical lifestyle had slowly been replaced by other, more secular pursuits. The Davis-Ferris Organ fell into a period of benign neglect.
By mid-century, years of deterioration, fluctuating weather conditions and a general lack of interest found the organ in a desperate state of disrepair. Fortunately, a resident of the village, Helen Hirahara, decided to do something about it and she succeeded in convincing the Round Lake Village Association to raise funds to repair and restore the organ.
After many years, another Round Lake resident, Edna Banduzee, now in her 90’s, took over the responsibility of maintaining the organ.
“The Andover Organ company in Massachusetts is the only company that has ever touched the organ,” Sacks said. “They tune it once a year and it is very costly. This organ is very special.”
Today, the round Lake Historical Society raises funds and donates to the organ’s upkeep. In addition, the village puts on a series of concerts, musicals and other theatrical events that raise funds for the organ. Most importantly, the organ has become an integral feature of the village and draws musicians from around the country to play it.
Log in below to comment and follow The Ballston Journal on Facebook.