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Historic organ returns to Heath church

  • Recorder/Paul Franz<br/>Richard Frary locates parts spread around the sanctuary at the The Heath Union Evangelical Church in Heath where they are putting the organ back together.<br/>

    Recorder/Paul Franz
    Richard Frary locates parts spread around the sanctuary at the The Heath Union Evangelical Church in Heath where they are putting the organ back together.
    Purchase photo reprints »

  • Recorder/Paul Franz<br/>Scott Huntington and Richard Frary put the organ back together at the The Heath Union Evangelical Church in Heath.<br/>

    Recorder/Paul Franz
    Scott Huntington and Richard Frary put the organ back together at the The Heath Union Evangelical Church in Heath.
    Purchase photo reprints »

  • Recorder/Paul Franz<br/>Richard Frary locates parts spread around the sanctuary at the The Heath Union Evangelical Church in Heath where they are putting the organ back together.<br/>
  • Recorder/Paul Franz<br/>Scott Huntington and Richard Frary put the organ back together at the The Heath Union Evangelical Church in Heath.<br/>

HEATH — After a 2 1∕ 2-year absence and a $150,000 restoration, a Civil War-era pipe organ is being re-installed at the Heath Union Evangelical Church.

“I can’t wait to sit down and see what it sounds like,” said Ruth Johnson, chairwoman of the restoration fund, who has also played the organ for some of the services there.

It took about 11 years to raise the money to bring the organ back to “museum quality.” But it will take a few months longer before anyone really hears what it sounds like.

This week, the unassembled Johnson Organ Co. instrument was brought back home and much of it still lies in packing crates. Hundreds of carefully labeled and numbered parts are carefully being put back together.

One delightful surprise, says Johnson, was learning that the organ is a little older than anyone thought.

“They found a piece of wood inside it that was signed by Cyrus Barett Smith Jr. from 1850 to 1854, when he was the pumper,” she said. Before this discovery, residents thought the organ was built in 1851.

In pre-electricity days, youths were usually assigned to manually pump the leather bellows that make the organ sound. In the 1940s, Walter Coates put in an electric motor to replace the hand-pumping, although he left the original mechanism intact.

“This (organ) has never been altered, except to add the electric motor,” Johnson said.

Today, the original hand-pump has been restored and the 1940s electric blower has been replaced.

The last time it was played, the organ cabinet wore a thick coat of white paint. According to Richard Gallup, seven coats of the white paint were removed — stripping the organ down to the natural woodwork, which now has a walnut-colored stain.

Other improvements to the organ have included the replacement of the 162-year-old leather parts, including bellows and gaskets, replacement of felt bushings and broken or cracked ivory keys. Other components were cleaned and lubricated.

Johnson said the reinstallation of the “Opus 16” Johnson organ, by S.L. Huntington & Co. of Stonington, Conn., will continue for the next two to three weeks. After that, she said, the organ will have to have a period of “settling in.”

“All the wooden parts and leather parts have to be acclimated,” Johnson said. She explained that these 19th-century organs were built to withstand cold, New England winters, in the days when church-goers sat through chilly church services in their winter hats and coats.

From January until Palm Sunday, the Heath church now holds its Sunday services in a heated, lower-level section of the church, to cut down on heating costs.

But a springtime dedication for the restored Johnson organ is being planned. Johnson said a summertime series of concerts is being organized, to raise money for a maintenance account to keep the organ in top shape.

Johnson said that pipe-organ builder Bill Czelusniak of Northampton will continue maintenance of the organ.

The massive pipe organ was built by the Johnson Organ Co. of Westfield, and was the 16th out of an eventual 860 organs to be built by that company. It contains at least 500 pipes and has two keyboards. The organ was first owned by the Haydenville Congregational Church and then the Whately Congregational Church before it was bought by the Heath church in 1914, for $100, and was hauled up to Heath by horse and wagon.

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