The history behind the Shelton High School Pipe Organ

Shelton High School is home of the Gaels and a musical “secret.”

This secret was hidden from thousands of students who roamed the halls and even some members of the Shelton High administration.

More than 30 years ago, a 1927 Austin theatre pipe organ was moved into the auditorium where a variety of nationally acclaimed organists would perform.

Jon Sibley, president of the Connecticut Valley Theatre Organ Society, said the the organ is surprisingly large, but somehow kept out of sight.

“[The organ is] behind the wall grilles on either side of the stage. Mechanical parts to the rare pipe organ include wind reservoirs that are located below the chambers, making the organ installation two stories high behind the auditorium walls and out of sight. One would be quite amazed as to what and how much is there.”

This organ is currently being repaired courtesy of the Connecticut Valley Theatre Organ Society (CVTOS). The society has agreed to rebuild, install, and maintain the organ with Shelton High at no charge in return for its prime location.

The most recent outlined repairs are to modernize the console with a new electronic combination to add more versatility.

The history of the organ

In 1927, the organ was installed into the brand-new Allyn Theatre in Hartford. The  organ would accompany silent movies. The music, chosen by the organist, was to be coordinated with the mood of the scenes. It was used regularly until a flood in 1938 destroyed half of  the pipes and left serious damage in other essential pieces.

21 years later, Allen Miller, the future founder of the Connecticut Valley Theatre Organ Society, discovered the water-damaged organ while surveying theater organs and made it his goal to be able to make it function once again.

Over the course of one year, Miller was successful in repairing the organ.

To celebrate, he organized a party in the Allyn Theatre with his equally enthusiastic friends. Together, they decided to create the Connecticut Valley Theatre Organ Society in the hopes of preserving numerous theatre organs.

When the Allyn Theatre closed in 1969, the organ was placed in the procession of the CVTOS. The organ was then dismantled and moved to a machine shop in Manchester, Connecticut.  

From there it was moved to a vacant store in Seymour.

During these years a new high school was being built in Shelton, the current SHS building, and an agreement was made with the city whereby space would be allocated for the chambers and a storage crib for the organ console.  In exchange, CVTOS would donate the organ to the city and would rebuild, install and maintain it at no charge.

Discovering an old playbill

In an old playbill entitled “Premiere Concert: Shelton High School Auditorium Organ,”

dated January 25, 1986, a playlist of songs, such as Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Shall We Dance” and Beethoven’s “Für Elise,” were performed by Rosa Rio in honor for the organ being moved in its new home.

The playbill notes that the repairs were just beginning.

It states that “recent months have been devoted to tonally finishing the organ, a process that is still not completed. Each pipe, and there a nearly a thousand, has to be individually voiced for tonal quality, tuned, and adjusted for loudness and timbre to match the acoustics of the auditorium. Finishing is a very specialized art form … the instrument has been made to sound even better than when its lush sound first thrilled the patrons of the Allyn Theatre in Hartford.”

“The console is at my shop in Haddam for complete rebuilding by Connecticut Valley Theatre Organ Society volunteers,” said Sibley. “Our group is working to bring it back to life. The present goal is to have the organ fully operational by late this fall. Re-installation of console and maintenance work in the pipe chambers to include tuning will have to be done outside of scheduled school activities. The only visible part of the organ is the console where the organist is playing with all other parts and pipes not in view, same as when the organ was in the Allyn Theatre.”

When the organ is completed, it will move back to its home of Shelton High.

Shelton High Headmaster Dr. Beth Smith said she hopes to see the organ return to the high school with musical performances on it to follow.
“Although the organ appeared to be a secret because it was being restored and wasn’t presently here, I believe that it will get more attention when it’s back,” said Smith.