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A Carnegie funded organ may be in your community

By Carol Sones Shelter - Reporter | Jan 20, 2021

This is a 1961 snapshot of the Lyon & Healy Pipe Organ installed in 1905 at the Picture Rocks Methodist Church. One half of the $2,500 cost was donated by steel industrialist Andrew Carnegie, who did the same for 3,119 pipe organs to churches, theaters and concert halls throughout Pennsylvania.

PICTURE ROCKS-January 1905 and 1906 were banner months for the Picture Rocks Methodist Church and its secretary Charles Sypher.

In January 1905, the congregation received a reply after petitioning steel tycoon Andrew Carnegie, that he would indeed aid in the funding toward the purchase of a new pipe organ. This was especially welcoming news to church secretary Sypher who would benefit from the organ’s music when marrying Una E. Hodge the following January.

As secretary when the request was first filed in April, 2003, the young 25-year old bachelor was charged with all correspondence between the church and the industrialist. Said at the time to be the wealthiest man in the world, Carnegie sold his holdings and from 1901 until his death in 1919, began subsidizing pipe organs for churches, theaters and concert halls.

Although there had been no advertising as such, word of the tycoon’s generosity circulated around the county and indeed throughout the world. In less than two decades, funds aided in the purchases of 7,000 pipe organs worldwide. Within the United States, Carnegie’s adopted Pennsylvania received 3,119, more than any other state.

Carnegie was an ardent admirer of pipe organ music and though dubbed as not a particularly religious man, was raised in the Presbyterian Church. His generosity in donating one half of the instruments costs outnumbered four to one, donations to libraries his other fascination.

Catharine (Elder) Hall was for 50-years, organist at the Picture Rocks Methodist Church, at least half of her tenure playing the Carnegie funded pipe organ. Photo dated 1964.

Carnegie, a Scottish immigrant, is chronicled as being a shroud and frugal businessman. Regardless of that reputation, he became a world renowned philanthropist.

Meanwhile in 1901 at Picture Rocks, the corner stone of the newly constructed Methodist Church had been laid, the former building destroyed by flooding with naught rescued save the bell.

The congregation immediately began to rebuild. At a cost of $9,000 the frame brick veneer building featured stain glass windows, was nicely carpeted and furnished. A small Epworth organ valued at $90 had been gifted them. With their mortgage paid down to $1,500 within three years, they desired a larger organ to accommodate the expansive sanctuary. By April 1903, word of Carnegie’s funding came to the attention of the local church.

The initial request finds a portion of secretary Sypher’s wording as follows: “The congregation is made up of poor people earning their livelihood through daily toil in the town’s industries.” Sypher may have considered himself among the aforementioned category as for all his adult life (1879-1959), he was a store clerk with one employer identified as the Burrows General Store.

As requested, a description of the church building, outstanding bills, number of congregants, and whether or not there was a balcony, was reported as required.

Finally on January 4, 1905, came a confirmation letter which stated, “In response to your appeal, Mr. Carnegie will be glad to provide the last half of the cost of an organ for your church at a price of $1250, when the first half has been collected and payment of the organ when it comes due.”

By return mail, Sypher let Carnegie’s secretary know that, “Plans and specifications are now underway and as soon as they are completed and the organ placed, we will notify you. Thank you and wishing you a Happy New Year.”

It is somewhat humorous to share remarks Carnegie was said to have made regarding his partial funding of pipe organs to churches. Such as, “Listening to hymns transports me more than any scripture.” Perhaps his most barbed quotes were “I cannot be responsible for what preachers might say, but I can be responsible for the positive influence of the music,” and, “the organ lessens the pain of the sermon.”

Surely Carnegie’s gifting was a boom for pipe organ makers as churches, theaters and concert halls were free to select the manufacturers, makes and models of their choice. Due to the era of time, it is likely the organ was delivered by means of the Williamsport &North Branch railway which ran near the church through Picture Rocks.

Records note the newly installed Chicago made Lyon & Healy Pipe Organ had a total price tag of $2,500. The date sounds of the first anthem emitted from its stoic pipes are unknown. Perhaps the first Sunday in May as the church had long held special services on what they noted as Founder’s Day. Likely it preceded the December 26, 1905 marriage between J. William Boatman and Lula May Hessler, or the February 1906 nuptials uniting Joseph E. Derkley and Mary E. Hess.

In January, 1906, between the two preceding events named, the diligent and persistent work of church secretary Charles Andrew Sypher was rewarded. With music from the pipe organ resounding around the sanctuary, and arm in arm with Una E. Hodge his bride, the couple walked back the aisle and out into the village to be residents of Picture Rocks for the remainder of their lives.


Printed programs from special events at the church provide at least a partial list of organists. The first mentioned and indeed the initial musician with the Carnegie organ was Miss Ora Fleming who left the position upon her 1910 marriage to Dr. William Levering then relocated to Stroudsburg. Lists by pastors indicate many weddings were held either at the parsonage or home of the parents with Ora choosing the latter. The former organist returned in 1951 for the 50th anniversary of the church on Laurel Road.

The next organist of record was Miss Ruth Daye who played during the church’s 35th anniversary in 1936. Ruth resigned to attend the Williamsport Hospital School of Nursing, then wed a Mr. Cervinsky and resided in Montoursville.

By 1939, Mary ‘Catharine’ (Elder) Hall was organist. In the sixties, the board of trustees gave special permission allowing Hall to supervise piano students Misses Karlda Boston and Carol Mann on the organ.

Karlda, now surname Thomas, said, “I took piano lessons from Alma Clark, while Catharine encouraged me to play the pipe organ. So as not to overwhelm, I was assigned either the anthem or one hymn during a service.”

At first, the organ needed someone in the hallway to pump air into the bellows which was eventually replaced by an electrified motor.

As the Carnegie organ was removed in the mid 1970s Catharine would have been the last organist before the church went to an electronic model.

Hall’s 2003 obituary revealed that in 1975, she’d retired as a teller from the Commonwealth Bank in Hughesville. Fifty years were spent as organist at Picture Rocks before relocating to Florida where for an additional 20 years, she was organist at the North Port Presbyterian Church.

Recalling the dismantling of the pipe organ and installation of an electronic Allen Organ, the senior Mr. Sides at Sides Music Store in Williamsport gave input. He surmises the instrument went from them to an organ repair company where parts would have been reused. As pipes withstood the passage of time they may be in operation somewhere still.



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