The Pipe Organ at Katsbaan Reformed Church

For information on the Katsbaan pipe organ, believed to be the oldest extant three-manual organ in America, contact Janice M. Trevail
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Church History: 

The Katsbaan Reformed Church is located about 3 1/2 miles north of Saugerties on the Old King’s Highway. The congregation was established in 1710 with the arrival of the Palatine immigrants to West Camp. Visible from all parts of the surrounding Catskill countryside, the old stone Church “de steene kerk op de Kats Baan” was built in 1732 – the year George Washington was born. It is a Church built literally “upon a rock.” The land on which it stands was leased in perpetuity on March 1, 1731 by the trustees of the Kingston Commons at an annual rental of three peppercorns per annum if demanded.

The first records of the Church begin November 30, 1730, in the handwriting of Reverend George Wilhelmus Mancius. The Church was incorporated on March 28, 1796 when its title became “The Minister, Elders, and Deacons of the Reformed Protestant Church of Kaatsbaan in the town of Kingston, Ulster County.” The Church at Katsbaan was the place of worship between Kingston and Katskill (Leeds). It remained unchanged until 1816, with few minor improvements. In 1816 the walls were raised and galleries built in the east, west, and north side. The pulpit was placed in the north, doors inserted in the south wall, and a steeple erected in which a bell was hung. In 1867 it was rebuilt with its wall extending seventeen feet to the south. Thus the building remains as it is today. The initials of some of the builders may be seen in the north wall. The lines of the 1732 Church and old entrance may also be seen in the north wall. On July 1, 1892 it was re-incorporated as the Reformed Church of Katsbaan.

As of the year 2002, the Katsbaan Reformed Church has been supplied by twenty-one ministers. During the Revolutionary War the ministers and Church members were very active in the cause for freedom. Reverend Henry Ostrander preached from 1812-1862 (50 years) and Reverend Arad Joy Sebring preached from 1885-1916 (31 years). Church services have been held continuously by ordained ministers or supply ministers since 1732.


Pipe Organ Information: (provided by Dana Hull and John Ogasapian)

It is believed that the Katsbaan Pipe Organ was originally built in New York City c. 1820. In the 1850’s this organ was dismantled and installed in the Saugerties Reformed Church, where it was used until 1892. It was then given to the Katsbaan Reformed Church. Amazingly, throughout this instrument’s mobile history, it remains largely intact with its original workings.

Nothing substantive is known of the history of this instrument before its arrival in Saugerties. According to tradition it came from either an Episcopal or Reformed Church in New York City. However, its few stops, small pipe scales and compact size on one hand, and its fine woods and workmanship on the other, suggest the strong possibility that it was originally intended for a prosperous residence. Although it shows traits similar to an English organ, the heavy use of walnut in the instrument indicates that it was made in America, and structural facets in the swellbox and pipes suggest a date well before 1820. Without a doubt, it is the oldest extant three-manual organ in America.

The pipes, visible in the gothic case are actually wooden dummies. In fact, the two side flats themselves are additions from the 1860’s. The actual organ case, made of superb oiled walnut, and gracefully curved back at each side, is hidden behind them. Only the center pipes are real. The pedal appears originally to have had no stops of its own; however, two sets of pipes were added in the 1860’s, and their stop action is in the outer case flats. The kick-board is of rosewood, as are the keyslips and keychecks.

The compass of the keyboards on the Katsbaan organ are from a low G to a high f, with no low G# (standard practice in a G compass organ). The pedalboard compass is from low G (includes the G#) to a C.

The stoplist is as follows:
Great: Open Diapason, Stopped Diapason, Principal, Fifteenth, Sesquialtera, Copula (which is a coupler)
Choir: Dulciana, Principal, Flute, Copula (couplers)
Swell: Open Diapason, Cornet, Trumpet
Pedal: Bourdon, Open Diapason. These two stops were apparently added later. The original pedal was probably pull-downs (coupled). However, the pedal board now having a G# makes me wonder if the present pedalboard replaced an earlier on without a G#. Otherwise, the G# would have nothing to “pull down”.

The following memo was sent to the Katsbaan church by Nelson G. Burhans in March, 1973:

Information relative to the organ in the Katsbaan Reformed Church

“This is a three manual Erben organ built around 1830. We think it was first used at Trinity Church, New York, or Marble Collegiate Church and moved here about 1860, installed in the Saugerties, NY Reformed Church. When the Saugerties Reformed Church bought their new Frank Roosevelt organ about 1895, the Erben was moved to the Katsbaan Reformed Church. Robert Rowland of Ossining, NY rebuilt it there with no structural changes in 1925, though there had been some changes before his time. There were two cases, one inside the other. If you remove the case work on the three sides, it reveals another of different architectural design. The original has speaking display pipes and the added case has dummies. This is the most outstanding of all I know.”

This above is a basic quote with some added clarification words of a letter from Bob Rowland to the editor of The Tracker, a magazine for and about organ and organist.

The Katsbaan Reformed Church has a very small congregation, but we are strong in faith and spirit. A complete and faithful restoration is the single goal of our Pipe Organ Restoration Committee, and we are searching every possible avenue in order to achieve this goal. In 2010 our church will celebrate its 300th anniversary, and nothing would please us more than to have our beautiful instrument restored to it’s original glory in time for this momentous celebration.

The restoration of the Katsbaan pipe organ will be a once-in-a-lifetime event of significance to organ players, organ repairers, and especially organ restorers. Your prayers would be most welcome, and if you would be kind enough to spread the word about this project we would be truly grateful. If you are aware of any foundations who might be willing to help fund our project, please let us know.

If you would like to make a donation to the Pipe Organ Restoration Fund, checks can be made payable to the Katsbaan Reformed Church and mailed to:
Katsbaan Organ Restoration Committee
c/o Janice M. Trevail
1866 High Falls Road
Catskill, NY 12414