The Concept

There are over 20,000 professional organists in the US. The vast majority do other jobs during the week and play in a church on the weekend. Despite the complexity of the organ, organists who perform every week may have only a few late night hours in which to practice. Thus it is difficult to add new music to their repertoire.

A need has long existed for helping organists to fine-tune their craft. Musicians who sing or play a violin can easily find inspiring places to practice during the summer months. Young people can audition for Interlochen in Michigan or Tanglewood in Massachusetts. Composers might even earn a coveted trip to the MacDowell Colony in New Hampshire for a period of uninterrupted creativity in the summer. But, until now, no such option has existed for organists.

The Portageville Chapel provides a place where organists can come for a week of uninterrupted practice in a private rehearsal facility to renew their artistry and explore the splendor of the Genese valley.


What is the mission of The Portageville Chapel?
The mission of The Portageville Chapel is to create private rehearsal facility that professional organists can rent for a week at a time to renew their artistry and explore the splendor of the Genesee Valley in Western New York.

Where is it located?
The Chapel is located one quarter mile from the south entrance to Letchworth State Park, 14,000 acres of spectacular park land, known as "The Grand Canyon of the East." The historic building, once a Universalist church, was recently restored and equipped with a two-manual 1982 Schantz pipe organ and a 1915 nine-foot Knabe grand piano.

Free concerts will be offered to the community periodically during the summer months.

Is this a not-for-profit organization?
Yes. Contributions are tax-deductible and fees are kept as low as possible, in keeping with continuing education budgets.

Is the chapel affiliated with any religious organization?
No. The name "The Portageville Chapel" is derived from the town and the character of the building. It is a retreat for professional organists, not only those who are employed by religious organizations. The only service held at the chapel is a once yearly Thanksgiving Day service.

What does it cost to rent the chapel for a week?
The Chapel will be available from the first of May until the end of September, a week at a time. Rental fees are $900 a week for exclusive use of the chapel and housing in a near-by cottage. You are welcome to bring guests as the cottage has three bedrooms. However, if you wish to use more than one bedroom, the cost is an additional $150 per bedroom per week. The rental period is Wednesday noon to Tuesday noon.

To reserve your week for the 2016 season, please email or call Helen Smith at 585-468-1088.

Can you tell me more about the building itself?
Built in 1841, the architectural style of the building is rural Greek Revival. Nine original clear-glass Gothic windows are among its most notable features. The chapel measures 43' long, 34 wide, and about 20' high. Its seating capacity is about 225 with all the pews installed. The bell tower, with elegant pilasters, is intact with its original bell, which has a rich deep tone.

The building is a prime example of the one-room meetinghouses that were the center of religious and social interaction during the mid-nineteenth century. Its architecture and construction are a tribute to the skill and craftsmanship of Western New York pioneers. From the basement, you can look up a the 50' long, rough-hewn timbers that support the building, and know they will look just as sturdy 200 years from now. Standing in the center of the room, surrounded by the light from all nine windows, you can understand how this simple building was able to generate a sense of awe and spiritual excitement.

More information
For more detail about the organ and piano, please see the instruments section. For information and photographs of the park, please see park attractions. For information about the cottage, see accommodations. And just for fun, take a look at the restoration photo journal in restoration.

If you can't find the answers to your questions here, please email us at or call Helen Smith at 585.468.1088.



This illustration was made from the earliest known photograph of the building, taken in 1931. We are currently seeking grants
to restore the tower and spire.



The Portageville Chapel Board

Timothy Smith, Executive Director, earned degrees in organ performance from Wheaton College, Northwestern University and The Boston Conservatory. His concert career has included a dozen appearances at annual conventions of the Organ Historical Society, several which have been rebroadcast nationally on Pipedreams, and two appearances with The Boston Symphony Orchestra under Seiji Ozawa. He has released three compact discs on the Raven label, including a program of French music entitled Pipes and Angels, recorded in New Bedford, Massachusetts. As a church musician, Mr. Smith has led both volunteer and professional choirs and has conducted numerous works for choral and orchestra. A skilled organ builder, Tim is also the owner of Chesapeake Organ Service, serving churches in Maryland, Virginia, New York, Pennsylvania and Tennessee.

Mr. Smith spent his early years in Wyoming County, New York, beginning formal organ study with Charles Finney, professor at Houghton College and continuing with Squire Haskin, organist of the Buffalo Philharmonic. Letchworth State Park was a favorite “go-to” in those days, and Tim continued to return to the area. He first noticed the Portageville church building in 1996, and sensed that Portageville would be an ideal artists’ getaway.

Helen Smith, President, was born in Cleveland, Ohio, attended Denison University ( Granville, Ohio), and graduated from Cornell University New York Hospital School of Nursing. She worked 30 years as an R.N. in various capacities in locales from Massachusetts to California. An avid music lover, she sang with Robert Shaw in the Cleveland Orchestra Chorus for 2 seasons. She married Rev. Carlyle A. Smith in 1969, and, in addition to thirty years of parish ministry together, they owned and operated a motel on Cape Cod for 3 seasons.

Barbara Hunt, Secretary, a native of Detroit, studied organ at Capital University in Bexley, Ohio, and served as an organist/choir director for over 20 years. She earned her B.A. and M.A. in Education and taught in the Columbus, Ohio Public Schools for 31 years.

John Novak, Treasurer, is the School Business Official at Letchworth Central School and also serves as Organist and Director of Music at University Presbyterian Church, Buffalo.  John holds degrees from Binghamton University (M. Mus. in Organ Performance), the University at Buffalo (M, Ed. in Educational Leadership) and Houghton College
(B. Mus. in Music Education).  He is very involved in music organizations in Western NY, serving as president of the Genesee Valley School Music Association, Past-Dean of the Buffalo Chapter of the American Guild of Organists (AGO), and Western New York District Convener of the AGO.  An accomplished music educator, John served as the middle and high school choral director and general music teacher at Letchworth for over 10 years before moving into school administration.

Dr. Judy Congdon is Professor of Organ and College Organist at Houghton College (just about 15 miles south of Portageville). She holds degrees in organ from Eastman School of Music, the University of Colorado ( Boulder), Wheaton College, and the Musikhochschule in Frankfurt, Germany, where she was a Fulbright Scholar. An active performer and church musician, Dr. Congdon's recent activities have included serving as presenter, recitalist, and service organist at the January 2006 Calvin Symposium on Worship, and she is featured on a 2005 CD release entitled With Heart and Hands and Voices: Hymns and Chorales for Organ, available from

The Portageville Chapel Advisory Board

Edla Ann Bloom is Treasurer of The Leo Sowerby Foundation. Her career has included diverse positions: Former and only female Chairman of the Board of Massachusetts Municipal Wholesale Electric Company (a $3 billion corporation); Senior Vice President of Retail Banking in a large New England Bank; Director of Electric Service of a $10 million municipal electric company in Central Massachusetts; Former Executive Director of the most comprehensive AIDS Service Organization in New England. Her civic accomplishments include Directorships with Montachusetts Girl Scout Council, Worcester Community Housing Resources, America Red Cross of Central Massachusetts, Holden ( Mass.) Chamber of Commerce. She was honored by Governor William F. Weld when July 9, 1997, was declared Edla Ann Bloom Day in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

Randolph R. Bloom has been a public middle school language arts teacher for the past 35 years in Holden, Massachusetts. He holds a BA in English and MA in Education. As a musician, he has served as assistant organist for Wesley Methodist and All Saints Churches in Worcester, and a substitute organist throughout the Worcester area. Raised and worked in Worcester area all his life. Randy's interests include travel, architecture, antiques, and gardening. Together Randy and Edla Ann own an 1850’s home in the Crown Hill historic district of Worcester, where they actively support historic preservation and community action.



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