Katsbaan's Historic Pipe Organ

It saddens us greatly to have to tell you that Dr. John Ogasapian passed away in June, 2005, but we all feel that he's watching over the restoration of a pipe organ that he would dearly have loved to be involved with.

(updated January 24, 2004)

One of the 5 most historically significant pipe organs in America is located in the Hudson Valley of New York State (according to Dr. John Ogasapian, PhD*). It is housed in the Katsbaan Reformed Church in Saugerties, NY. Dr. Ogasapian believes that the Katsbaan Pipe Organ is the oldest extant three-manual organ in North America. It was featured in Dr. Ogasapian's article in The Keraulophon in October of 1989 where he describes this organ as "having a superb tone and a gentle 18th century English sound, even in its present unrestored condition."

It is believed that the Katsbaan Pipe Organ was originally built in New York City c.1820. In the 1850's this organ was dismantled (possibly from a home in New York City)and installed in the Saugerties Reformed Church, where it was used until 1892. It was then given to the Katsbaan Reformed Church. Amazingly, throughout this instrument's mobile history, it remains largely intact with its original workings.

Exciting things are happening with the restoration of the Katsbaan Pipe Organ. We now have a restoration "team" consisting of three very special and dedicated people. Ms. Dana Hull, from Ann Arbor, Michigan, has worked on our organ in the past, and has been interested in this restoration project for many years. Ms. Barbara Owen, from Newburyport, Massachusetts and Mr.Richard Hamar, from Norwich, Connecticut, will be joining Dana.

(Richard Hamar, Dana Hull, Barbara Owen)

After examining the organ, and then reviewing interior pictures and descriptions of some known early Erbens, Richard, Barbara, and Dana feel confident that the organ is the work of New York builder Henry Erben, and they estimate that it was built in the 1835-45 period. Our organ has all the classic earmarks which they have encountered in other Erben organs of this period. In addition, they feel that our organ has certain peculiarities that would suggest that it had perhaps not originally been a church organ, but a rather unusual house organ. In discussion with Stephen Pinel (who has made a special study of Erben), he felt that none of Erben's organs in New York's Reformed churches (which he had already researched) even remotely ressembled the Katsbaan organ. But he pointed out that Erben did in fact build a house organ with many similarities. It was built in 1840 for the New York lawyer and musical amateur George Templeton Strong. Strong wrote extensively about it in his dairy while it was being built, from April to December of 1840. Fortunately, excerpts from this diary, which Strong kept from 1835 to his death in 1875, and which exists in the New York Historical Society, have been published, including a 3-volume set of musical excerpts entitled Strong on Music, edited by Vera Brodsky Lawrence. Unfortunately, she never lived to finish the task, and her excerpts end in 1862, at which time the organ was still in the Strong residence on Gramercy Park. We are now in the process of searching historical archives to see if we can discover the exact date when the organ came to the Saugerties Church. We are very fortunate to have Janet Loop, historian for the Saugerties Reformed Church, assisting us in our efforts to find out if this is indeed "Goliath", which is the name Mr. Strong gave his Erben organ. (*2011 note: they now feel that the organ is the work of builder Thomas Hall and built in the workshop of Henry Erben. Hall was formerly in partnership with Erben, and was his brother-in-law.)

Fundraising has been and will continue to be a major focus for us. At the present time we have a little over $10,000. The cost of this restoration project was initially estimated to be between $80,000 and $100,000. We have since found out that the costs may be somewhat lower ($50,000-$75,000). It still means we have a long way to go in our fundraising efforts in order to make the restoration of this beautiful instrument a reality. Our goal is to have the Katsbaan Pipe Organ restored in time for the 300th anniversary of the Katsbaan Reformed Church in 2010.

If you would like to donate to the Pipe Organ Restoration Project, checks should be made out to "Katsbaan Reformed Church" and sent to: Pipe Organ Restoration Project, c/o Janice M. Trevail, 1866 High Falls Road, Catskill, NY 12414-5411. Those who donate will be added to our mailing list and will receive updates as to the progress of our project. And please remember to keep the project in your prayers!

CLICK HERE to send an email to our Organ Restoration Committee


*Dr. John Ogasapian received his training in organ and PhD in music history from Boston University. He gave concerts throughout the eastern United States. He was Professor of Music History at the University of Massachusetts, Lowell, and organist and choirmaster of St. Anne's Church in Lowell's historic urban national park. He specialized in the history of American organs, organ building, and church music. He authored four books, numerous articles and critical reviews, was the Organ Historical Society councillor for research, and was the editor of the Society's journal, The Tracker.

**Dana Hull is a recognized scholar and expert in the restoration of early American organs. The Katsbaan Pipe Organ has been the subject of special interest and research for her, and her quest of information has taken her to the records of the Consistory Office in New York and the Archives of the Organ Historical Society in Princeton, New Jersey. She has also examined the interior of the instrument, but has thus far found no clue as to the original builder or owner of the organ. There is no doubt, however, that it is of major musical and historical significance and she is confident that future discoveries will clear up much of the mystery surrounding its origin and provenance.

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