J.H. & C.S. Odell, Pipe Organ Builders

More than 150 years building distinctive and refined instruments for worship

Brothers John Henry and Caleb Sherwood Odell founded the organ building firm of J.H. & C.S. Odell on the bustling corner of West 42nd Street and 9th Avenue in New York City in 1859. Odell was immediately successful and built more than 500 pipe organs at that location before relocating to Westchester, New York in the 1930s.   Odell remained active in the Greater New York Metropolitan area well into the 1970s, but after the death of the principal of the firm, William H. Odell in 1979, decided to dissolve the firm after completing obligations to then-current clients.

In the pursuit of a long sought vision, the Odell company was re-established by Caleb Sherwood Odell's  great-great grandson Edward Odell, in 1999 -- this after garnering more than twenty years of organ building experience -- both on his own and with other well-established national firms. With more than three decades of full-time work in the trade, Edward is now a respected and credentialed professional as a Colleague member of the American Institute of Organbuilders.  The new Odell firm has been active in a modern shop in central Connecticut for more than 15 years.

Since re-establishing the firm, Odell has successfully built many exciting new pipe organs, executed meticulous historic restorations and performed vastly complicated repair projects. With our team of carefully recruited artisans, Odell performs all its own millwork, joinery, fabrication, voicing and finishing. Further, unlike many firms today, Odell casts its own pipe metal and makes its own organ pipes.

Timelessness, musicality and an unflinching commitment to quality are our foremost concerns as pipe organ builders. We possess a profound dedication to our work;  clients quickly learn  that when they partner with Odell, they work directly with people who -- given the opportunity  --  will design and construct their instrument from raw materials with passion and exactitude. Our ever-present goal is to develop nuanced solutions and create pipe organs that will serve their congregations with reliability and grace for generations to come.

Our restoration of this instrument offered several challenges, not the least of which was our concern to keep within the budget of Old South Haven’s Organ Committee. While perfectly at home in our approach to restoration, we were mindful of Conservation issues from the outset: the organ had been appreciably altered since being moved from its original location at the Dutch Reformed Church of West Sayville, New York. Alterations included severe modifications to the organ façade in order to fit into the gallery in Brookhaven, as well as the total removal of the original mechanical pedal action.

We made clear in our proposals that we were reticent to alter the organ any further, but knew our work had to return the organ to service as a dependable instrument, while at the same time doing whatever we could to bring out the best of the organ’s modest tonal resources. Disturbed by the “cut off” appearance of the organ façade, our sole suggested alteration lowering the corbels below the case impost. This option was passed over due to cost.

Thankfully Mann and Trupiano had already undertaken some restorative work in the early 1990s: the Great windchest had been overhauled and re-tabled. In examining the organ we were surprised to find short tracker runs for both manual divisions (similar small instruments often have backfall levers for the Great, and sometimes even for both manuals). In Mann and Trupiano’s work the Great trackers were replaced, and the Great Dulciana 8’ removed in favor of a Principal 4’, though the stop remained tenor C compass, sharing a common bass with the Melodia 8’. We had considered the possibility of reversing this alteration, but in consultation with the church ultimately decided against it. Since substantial work had also been done on the keyrows, in our restoration we were free to concentrate the remaining portions of the action: stickers, squares, couplers and Swell trackers, all of which we rebuilt, rebushed or replaced where necessary.

In August of 2006 we dismantled the organ and brought it to our shop in East Hampton. Our plan was direct: cleaning, overhaul of the Swell windchest (pallets redressed, table repairs), complete restoration of the extant manual and pedal key action, an entirely new electro-pneumatic windchest, switching and wind system for the Pedal Bourdon, and total restoration of all pipework. At this time the church advised us that a private donor had stepped forward with funds to be used to address the organ’s cosmetic issues.

While we were glad to be permitted to do this work, it was somewhat difficult to include while the restoration was already underway. Originally we considered modification of the organ case to lower the impost far enough to restore the original outline of the façade, but for various reasons this was not possible. Our solution was to try and reintroduce the most “natural” appearance possible through altering pipe body lengths. In the case of the six pipes set in the two main corbels of the case, this meant the fabrication and use of Haskell re-entrant tubes. We found this a more elegant solution than the inexpertly executed miters they replaced. With a design plan in place we could then consider the application of a suitable color scheme and simple stencil pattern.

As the pipes emerged from our pipeshop with new bodies, inserts and ears (where needed), one by one they went through our finish room for acid-wash priming and basecoating. Stencils and borders were then applied by hand using traditional techniques. As pipes were completed they were carefully packed while the rest of the organ was prepared for delivery.

Reinstallation commenced in mid November 2006, and the organ was ready for use by the following first Sunday of the Advent season, with an overwhelmingly positive reaction from the Congregation. The approval of the church has been unanimous: it has been thoroughly edifying to be told how astonished church members have been in both the visual and tonal enhancement of the organ.

Staff members that contributed to this project include: Edward Odell (logistics, layout and design, electrical and switching), Shop Foreman John Williams (new chestwork, pipe shop assistance, painting/stenciling), Richard Hamar (removal, stopper repacking, chest and key action, installation), Stewart Skates (pipe shop), Holly Odell (voicing), Gordon Auchincloss (installation) and new hire Gustavo Silva (millwork, stenciling).

We are grateful for the assistance and understanding of the church organ committee, most especially church organist Margaret Angus and Reverend Thomas Phillip. Special mention should be made of Thomas White, who acted as ex-officio consultant to the organ committee throughout the project as well as church member Ann Wiswall for housing our staff during removal and reinstallation phases of the project.

Old South Haven Presbyterian Church, Brookhaven, New York
Hinners Opus 1550 | II/7 | 1913 | Mechanical Key and Stop Action