Old organ a treasure in church set for demolition

The pigeon droppings, falling plaster and buckled floors cannot hide the grandeur still inside the l
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The pigeon droppings, falling plaster and buckled floors cannot hide the grandeur still inside the long-abandoned First Baptist Church on South Main Street.

As the city prepares to use a $534,000 state grant to demolish the massive Gloversville landmark, Mayor Tim Hughes said a historic assessment of the church and its contents must be conducted.

The last congregation, down to 25 members or fewer, moved out in 1998, and the city declared it a dangerous building in 2002.

Deputy City Historian Judith Marcoux said she anticipates leading a team in the coming months to complete the historic inventory.

Hughes said he would like to see demolition completed by the end of the summer. The bell tower, built in 1890, has visible cracks and may be listing toward the adjacent property, H & P Motors, Hughes said.

The church, though grand in appearance, is not historically significant architecturally, Marcoux has said, because it is an amalgamation assembled after the original church was built in 1835 and after a 1920 fire destroyed the sanctuary.

That assessment does not nullify the value of many of the assets inside the church, including the giant Moller pipe organ installed in 1926.

Theodore Perham, the last president of the congregation’s board of directors, said the organ is believed to be the third largest in the state.

While the congregation was forced to abandon the church in 1998, he said efforts were made to find a new home for the organ. With its 2,908 separate pipes installed in chambers on both sides of the altar, it was perhaps too difficult to remove, Perham concedes. Some of the pipes are 10 to 12 feet in length and some the size of a finger. Some are copper and some made of wood. There are also chimes and a harp incorporated into the system.

Perham said that when the congregation left, the organ was in working order, although some of the notes could not be played.

Marcoux said she inspected the organ last summer and saw evidence that at least some of the copper pipes were missing. Perham said he believes they are still intact in the sound chambers.

The organ itself is intact and is located in one of the few places inside the church where water has not infiltrated.

“It’s a beautiful instrument,” Marcoux said. Plaques on the walls harboring the pipes read: “Echo Organ Given in Memory of Edgar LeRoy Durkee,” and “Memorial Organ Given in Memory of John Veeder King Sr. and Anna Ballantine.”

Hughes said the plaques and other artifacts will be catalogued as part of the historic inventory.

Marcoux said the church offers other wonders, including an ornate tin ceiling now hidden by a drop ceiling.

Hymnals piled in various rooms date as far back as the 1800s, she said. The stained glass windows that were not removed and sold after the church was closed are very valuable, Marcoux said.

In an attempt to keep the building open for a while after 1998, Perham said the congregation made a deal with a local antique dealer who took the pews, some windows and other items from the building.

Hughes said there will be interest in the old wood in the church, including the hardwood wainscotting, doors and floors.

In one of the many rooms in what was once a school attached to the rear of the church are the financial records of the Sunday School program from the 1960s.

Hughes leafed through the records Wednesday, observing that the program closed out 1969 with a $40 balance. Checks were signed by Treasurer Russell Tracy.

“We won’t leave any stone unturned,” Hughes said, acknowledging “there’s a lot of history here.”

Categories: Schenectady County

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