The Ferris tracker organ in the Round Lake Auditorium is so historically significant it could get the auditorium declared a National Landmark, representatives of the National Park Service said Wednesday.
“What you have there is remarkable,” said Paul Dolinsky, a senior official with the park service’s Historic American Engineering Record.
Dolinsky and Park Service senior engineer-historian J. Lawrence Lee were in the village on a preliminary visit toward documenting the 1,900-pipe organ, which was originally built for a prominent New York City church in 1847.
The two men stood inside the organ while it was played to watch the internal movements, and later Dolinsky played the organ himself, testing various tuning features.
Their findings could lead to a thorough federal engineering documentation of the organ’s design and operation to demonstrate its place in the history of American organ development.
“You’ve got a real jewel here,” said Lee, who said in 1847 it was probably the largest organ made in the United States up to that time.
Documentation of the organ and achieving National Landmark status could help the village obtain grant funding to preserve the auditorium, a center of civic life since it was constructed in 1885. It is in need of a new roof and other repairs.
Village officials have been working for decades on ways to preserve the auditorium, which was originally a site for summertime religious camp meetings, and they are overjoyed by the National Park Service interest.
“This is just absolutely fantastic,” said Mayor Dixie Lee Sacks.
She said many local people, including Edna VanDuzee Walter, have worked hard over the years on protecting and preserving the organ. Walter, who obtained for the village a $438,000 federal grant to repair the foundation in 2005, was unable to attend Wednesday due to illness.
“I think this is crucial,” said Barbara Gulan, a member of the village’s auditorium committee. “You don’t get any better, in terms of a crucial step, than this.”
Dolinsky, while enthusiastic, noted that the documentation and landmark approval process is likely to take years.
The village applied to the park service in Washington for a National Landmark designation last September. A colleague sent the information to Dolinsky, who was known to have an interest in historic organs.
“I have been trying for 28 years to get [the Historic American Engineering Record] to document a historic pipe organ,” he said. “This instrument represents something unique in organ making.”
Lee said the inner mechanisms of the organ are intricate, involving thousands of parts. “From an engineering side, there are a lot of things to this that are absolutely fascinating,” he said.
The 34-foot-tall organ was originally built for Calvary Episcopal Church in New York City, and its outer wooden casing is designed to resemble that church, with Gothic spires.
The organ was purchased from the church in 1887, and dismantled and brought to Round Lake the following year by rail car and canal boat, according to a village history, “Round Lake, Little Village in the Grove.”
It was reassembled atop risers that could hold a choir of 300, and has been played each summer since, said Village Historian William Ryan.
It’s no longer used for religious services, but has been used for summer concerts for decades.
Dolinsky said the organ is what makes the auditorium nationally important enough to deserve permanent federal protection.
“Although the building is significant, it’s more significant to New York than it is to the nation,” he said. “But the treasure inside ratchets up the significance. It will be recommended that the [national landmark] application go forward.”
The entire village of Round Lake, including the auditorium, is on the National Register of Historic Places, but that’s a lesser degree of preservation protection than National Landmark status.