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.

In a simple red brick church on a charming and unassuming street in Brooklyn Heights, our Opus 178 resides. It is the largest, and last extant Odell tracker organ to be found in New York City.

Virtually unaltered since its installation in 1880, the Odell at St. Charles is a living historical document. It is specifically referenced in Dr. Orpha Ochse's "History of the Organ in the United States" as well as other works on American Organbuilding.

The scaling and voicing provide an excellent example of the work that made the Odells so popular in the late 19th century. The specification includes characteristic Odell stops, including a Clarionet Flute on the Great. The composition of the Swell and Great mixtures (which are identical), includes a tierce. Manual I (named "Solo") includes a 7" Tuba, as well as a Clarionet. Contrary to some anecdotal history, the Tuba is planted on the Solo chest, playing on the same 3.5" of wind as the rest of the organ. One could speculate that the tonal design for St. Charles may have been influenced by organ the Odells were building for William Belden, which had begun one year prior in 1879.

Features of the organ include a reversible Swell to Great coupler, the usual compliment of composition pedals, and a Swell box with two sets of tandem-acting expression shades, one behind the other.

While some churches in this Brooklyn neighborhood are on their third or fourth pipe organ, Opus 178 has been in continuous service for over 130 years. Running from a Kinetic blower, the double-rise wind reservoir long ago lost its crank and feeders. Aside from that, the only other appreciable interior alterations are to the metal flue pipes, which were fitted with coke tin tuning sleeves. Manual keys were unfortunately recovered with acrylic as part of work done by local organ man Louis Mohr in 1966.

Still played every Sunday, the organ at St. Charles remains in need of careful attention. Aside from recent work we have done in the Pedal division, much of the action and coupler mechanisms remain original. With cooperation form the Clergy and Staff of St. Charles, plans are in place for future restoration of the instrument.

Odell opus 178, Church of St. Charles Borromeo, Brooklyn, New York