News » Old organ has a new home
dotty schenk estey organ

dotty schenk estey organ

March 01, 2008

Ian Thompson

The quaint, oak reed organ that played hymns in the Rockville Chapel since the Great Depression now has a new home: the little Mowers-Goheen Museum in Pena Adobe Park.

If it wasn’t for a chance visit to the stone chapel in Rockville Cemetery by members of the Vacaville Heritage Council, the century-old organ probably would have moldered away in storage.

We were reviewing what we would include in a bus tour we were planning when we stopped by (the chapel), historian and Heritage Council member Carole Noske said.

The Heritage Council is also taking possession of the chapel’s original pews that date back to the 1860s and now will be used as seating at the Pena Adobe for special events. The Heritage Council believes the organ is the second one used at the chapel, purchased when the chapel was renovated by the Works Progress Administration in the 1930s.

It was built by the Estey Organ Co. of Brattleboro, Vt., which had supplied most of the nation’s churches with reed organs since before the Civil War.

Estey Organ Co. closed in the early 1960s after more than a century of making organs and was the last reed organ maker in the world.

The organ might even be the original one that was brought to Rockville by ship around the Cape of Good Hope, said Doris Goodrich, the Rockville Cemetery District’s general manager. The chapel was built in 1856 to house the Methodist Episcopal Church South. It had become run down by the 1930s and was renovated then with public donations.

The organ had been kept tuned and used by a congregation that rented the chapel until a few years ago, when the chapel underwent a renovation in which the pews and the windows were replaced.

That congregation has since moved to another location, and the cemetery district now rents out the chapel for weddings and memorial services. Goodrich had tried shortly after the renovation to find good homes for the organ and the wooden pews, but she had no luck.

We had been turned down by the museums in Vacaville and Vallejo because they did not have any room at the time, Goodrich said. We did not want it to leave the county.

Even the Vacaville Heritage Council turned down Goodrich for the same reason, but members of the group changed their minds when they saw the organ in February.

Those members collected the organ earlier this week, then repaired and polished it before taking to the museum in Pena Adobe Park.

It is in good operating condition, local historian Jerry Bowen said. The woodwork is in amazing shape. The plan is to keep the organ until a historical museum can be opened in Fairfield because it really belongs in the Suisun Valley area, Bowen said.

An alliance of local historical and educational groups have been trying to get a museum opened in the Fairfield-Suisun City area for more than a decade. They were unable to put together an acceptable business plan to convince the Solano County Board of Supervisors to let them use the old Fairfield library building.

There is now talk among local historians about attempting to convince Suisun City to use the Lawler House as a museum site, but the city has not been formally approached yet.