The Library of Congress for the organ: The OHS Library and Archives moves to Villanova, Pennsylvania

October 2, 2018

Bynum Petty is archivist of the Organ Historical Society and is the author of three books related to the pipe organ.

Over Mother’s Day weekend, more than one thousand invited guests attended garden parties celebrating the opening of Stoneleigh Mansion and Gardens, the new home of the Organ Historical Society in Villanova, Pennsylvania. After two years of planning and renovations, Natural Lands, owner of the property, opened the estate to the public for the first time. The gardens are open to the public Tuesday through Sunday, while visits to the house are made by appointment only.

Causing great excitement at the weekend festivities was the introduction of Aeolian-Skinner, Opus 878. Speaking through tone openings in the floor, the organ is located in a basement space immediately beneath the large music room. On two occasions, Jeffrey Brillhart and Chris Kehoe, respectively, played demonstration recitals on the instrument. Originally installed in a residence in West Orange, New Jersey, the completely restored organ was installed at Stoneleigh by Emery Brothers of Allentown, Pennsylvania. The instrument was a gift to the OHS by the Wyncote Foundation.

In addition to the two organ recitals, guests were treated to guided tours of the thirty-five-room house and were invited to stroll through the forty-two-acre property to admire the gardens in full flower. Guests were also offered box lunches served in the shade of a massive London planetree.

With funds provided by the Wyncote Foundation of Philadelphia, Natural Lands oversaw the attic-to-basement renovation of the house, all to accommodate the needs of the OHS. All areas occupied by the OHS Library and Archives have individual temperature and humidity controls, while windows are fitted with ultra-violet blocking glass.

Taking the grand stairway from the first to the second floor, visitors are greeted by three glass display cases, each presently filled with material and objects related to organbuilding and the Aeolian-Skinner instrument. The remainder of the second floor contains the offices of OHS chief executive officer Ed McCall and archivist Bynum Petty and five rooms dedicated to the library portion of our collection, one of which also serves as a conference room.

Taking a less grand stairway—albeit equally attractive—from the second to the third floor, visitors find themselves in the heart of the OHS Library and Archives: “Special Collections.” Here one finds business records and contract files of organbuilding companies including E. M. Skinner and Aeolian-Skinner, M. P. Möller, Odell, Pilcher, Aeolian, Hillgreen-Lane, Philip Wirsching, Steere & Turner, and soon to come,
C. B. Fisk. Special Collections also contain files of, among others, Edward Hodges, André Marchal, Roland Diggle, and Anton Gottfried. Also on the third floor are two workrooms—each equipped with computers and wifi—and a rare books room.

Taking the capacious new elevator from the third to the first floor brings us back to the beginning of this tour. While the second and third floors are devoted exclusively to the OHS, the ground floor is designed for mixed use. One wing of the ground floor is occupied by the OHS corporate office, managed by Marcia Sommers, while the remainder of this floor is reserved as flexible space for public events: silent film viewings (with organ), organ recitals, chamber music, lectures and seminars, and garden parties among which was the American Guild of Organists Philadelphia Chapter’s June celebration and annual meeting.

Access to Stoneleigh and the OHS Library and Archives is by appointment only; but all are welcome, whether to conduct research or simply walk through the garden. Interested visitors are encouraged to contact Bynum Petty, OHS archivist, at [email protected] or by calling the OHS office at 804/353-9226.

The Organ Historical Society is indeed forever in the debt of the Haas family—especially Fred Haas, the Wyncote Foundation, and Natural Lands for providing a home to the OHS, whose library and archives have been described by the National Endowment for the Humanities as “the Library of Congress for the organ.”