Organ possible key to historic designation

Officials from the National Park Service will be in the village later this month to inspect and phot
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Officials from the National Park Service will be in the village later this month to inspect and photograph the historic 1,900-pipe concert organ in the Round Lake Auditorium.

The visit is the result of village efforts to obtain National Historic Landmark status for the 425-seat auditorium, and particularly the 1847 Ferris tracker organ, which is unique.

“They seem to think we have more of a treasure than we even know,” Mayor Dixie Lee Sacks said.

Paul Dolinsky, chief of the park service’s Historic American Landscapes Survey, will be among those documenting the organ for the Historic American Engineering Record during a visit on June 25.

Getting the auditorium onto the HAER listing will help boost the National Landmark application, said Barbara Gulan, a member of the village’s Auditorium Committee.

“We’ll have huge documentation of the way it is now, which is great. It’s unique,” Gulan said.

A National Landmark designation, which would be made by the U.S. Secretary of the Interior, would provide recognition and preservation protection for the auditorium, which was built in 1885 as a place for summertime Methodist religious camp meetings.

Currently, the entire village is on the National Register of Historic Places because of its Victorian architecture, but the auditorium in the village’s center has no special designation beyond that.

The organ, brought to Round Lake in the 1880s from a New York City church by canal boat and train, is a destination attraction for organ music lovers and draws organists for a series of concerts each summer.

“The Round Lake organ is the only large organ predating 1850 still in existence in North America,” Stephen Pinel, national archivist for the Organ Historical Society in Princeton, N.J., said in a 2005 interview. “This is an organ of world-class proportions that is unique in the United States, because it sounds the way it did in 1847.”

Going through the National Park Service application project will actually take several years, Gulan said, and require the village to develop a preservation plan for the building. It needs a new roof and other repairs.

The National Historic Landmark status doesn’t come with any money, but would increase the village’s chances of securing preservation grants in the future.

Round Lake was founded just after the Civil War as a seasonal religious camp meeting site for well-to-do Methodists from Troy and Albany. The auditorium grew out of those meetings, and is the last remaining institutional building from that era; other buildings have been torn down or destroyed by fire.

There are about 2,500 historic places considered National Landmarks, according to the Department of the Interior Web site.

Among National Landmarks in the Capital Region are the Canfield Casino in Saratoga Springs, the General Electric Research Lab in Schenectady, the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall in Troy, Johnson Hall in Johnstown and Fort Johnson in Montgomery County.

The June 25 visit will also serve as a kickoff for the 2008 season at the auditorium, which is unheated and can only be used in warm-weather months.

Erin Shapiro will be the seasonal director for a summer that includes organ concerts, movies and an interactive art exhibit, “Round Lake Erratics,” done by Shapiro herself.

Categories: Schenectady County

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