Press Release
Contact: Helen Smith 614.551.7977


Historic Church in Portageville to be Fully Restored
Listed on the National Register of Historic Places

Portageville, New York, August 5, 2008. A Universalist Church built in 1841 in Portageville, New York was recently listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The church, which had fallen into ruin, was purchased in January of 2007 by a not-for-profit organization dedicated to creating a private rehearsal facility for organists. Passers by on the intersection of Rt. 19A and 436 are amazed at the transformation which has taken place in only 18 months. Restoration is 80% complete, and has been funded almost entirely through private donations.

Timothy Smith, executive director of the Portageville Chapel, first noticed the building over twenty years ago when he was a resident of Java Village. He was impressed by the building's nine, clear glass Gothic windows, which were unusually ornate for a rural meetinghouse built during the mid nineteenth century. Smith's admiration for the building was shared by Wyoming County historians who fought to preserve the building through much of its 166-year history. But when Smith's organization acquired the property, the building had been neglected for over twenty years. The roof leaked, there was standing water in the basement, the bell tower was infested with pigeons, and the windows were warped. But the building itself was remarkably square and solid.

Smith's vision was to fully restore the meetinghouse, equip it with a pipe organ, and create a retreat where organists could come for a week of uninterrupted practice, drawing inspiration from nearby Letchworth State Park. Smith hired local contractor, Matt Beardsley to oversee the project.

The first step was to replace the roof. Smith and Beardsley contracted with local Amish carpenters to do the job. Restoration of the windows, however, required specialized expertise. Smith brought in David Lewis from Holden Massachusetts, who holds a degree in preservation carpentry. The windows were removed and restored three at a time. The final three are due to be re-installed in early September.

According to Helen Smith, president of the Portageville Chapel, “Our goal is to restore the main building inside and out by the end of this year. Plans to restore the original spire will depend on future funding.” The spire was destroyed by high winds and was taken down in the summer of 1951.

Installation of a two-manual Schantz organ began in July of 2008 and will be completed this summer. Part of the mission of The Portageville Chapel organization is to share this historical treasure with the community by offering free concerts each summer. A concert to dedicate the organ and the building will be held Saturday, September 27 th at 5:00 p.m. and will be open to the public. This concert will feature several organists and a 16-member vocal group from Letchworth High School, performing under the direction of John Novak. Attendees are encouraged to bring lawn chairs, as the chapel has limited seating.

The organists retreat will open in the Spring of 2009 and will operate from May through October. The organization is actively pursuing grant opportunities, but private donations are still needed to complete the project. Tax deductible donations may be made at or care of The Portageville Chapel, P.O. Box 378, Portageville New York, 14536.