Organ Update 12-29-11

posted Jan 10, 2012, 6:15 AM by Stephen Reynolds

The 2012 Reconstruction of the 1896 Casavant Organ, Opus 74, by Messrs. Czelusniak et Dugal, Inc., Northampton, MA 


The 1896 Casavant Organ’s History


When reconstructed, the 1896 Casavant organ will be the oldest playable Casavant organ in the United States, an instrument of considerable historical importance with exceptional tonal quality and superb craftsmanship.  Named the “St. Hyacinthe,” it was built especially for the St. Ann Church and School in Woonsocket, RI, which served primarily the immigrants who worked at the Woonsocket mills.  When the St. Ann parish built a larger church in 1918, the parish installed a larger organ in the new church and moved the “St. Hyacinthe” organ to Our Lady of Victories Church, a parish founded in 1909.   Eighty-five years later, three Woonsocket churches (All Saints Catholic Community, St. Ann, and Our Lady of Victories) merged.  The latter two closed, and All Saints Catholic absorbed the other two congregations.  The “St. Hyacinthe” organ was acquired by the St. Ann Arts & Cultural Center, which replaced St. Ann’s Church.  It was the Center’s intent to restore the instrument for continued use, but other priorities prevailed.  When the Center offered the organ for sale, Mr. Parkman Shaw, of Boston, MA, purchased it and made arrangements with Czelusniak et Dugal, Inc. to document and remove the instrument with all of its pipes and parts so that it could be restored and installed in a church in the greater Boston area.   Two Boston sites were considered, but neither proved to be physically, musically, or visually a good fit.  The disassembled organ was placed in safe storage until a new home could be found. 


When South Church faced the prospect of having to make expensive major repairs to its less-than-satisfactory Berkshire organ in early 2011, the Church’s Organ Committee explored the alternative of purchasing and installing another organ that would be well suited to our sanctuary.  With the advice of Grant Moss, the Smith College Organist, and Jonathan Ambrosino, a Boston-based organ construction consultant, the Organ Committee rejected the more expensive option of repairing and rebuilding our Berkshire organ and advocated contracting with Mr. Czelusniak to rebuild the available 1896 Casavant organ, which surprisingly was almost the same size as the existing Berkshire organ.  In a special congregational meeting called on November 6, 2011, the congregation voted unanimously to purchase the organ from Mr. Shaw and contract with Messrs. Czelusniak et Dugal, Inc. to rebuild and install the Casavant organ. 

Subsequently, Mr. Shaw agreed to sell the organ to South Church for a nominal price of $1 because he was pleased to know that this historic organ would be treasured and preserved by our congregation.  The firm of Messrs. Czelusniak et Dugal, Inc. of Northampton, MA, is now in the process of rebuilding the Casavant organ, and will install it in the South Church sanctuary during the summer of 2012.  


It is the Organ Committee’s intention to document progress on the reconstruction of the Casavant organ with pictures and to share them with the congregation.  The following photos represent the first installment.

The interior organ is being built.  The wind reservoirs sit on the floor frame; the wind chest for the Great division sits on top of the structure.

This is the rollerboard for the pedal key action.  The jacks showing at the rear interconnect the couplers from the manual keys.  (Open wind reservoirs appear behind.)

Fine craftsmanship supplies missing parts.

Organ builders (l-r) Jon Van Houten, Richard M. Frary, Jr., and Bill Czelusniak.

A row of Melodia pipes being cleaned carefully.

New leathers have been applied to all pipe stoppers.

The newly leathered tuning stopper is fitted into the pipe.

Larger Bourdon pipes with nicked languids to make the tone smooth.