The Edythe Bates Old Chapel was built in La Grange in 1883 as the Episcopal Methodist Church of La Grange. The congregation of the Travis Street United Methodist Church used the sanctuary for worship until it was sold to the Festival-Institute in 1994. Moving the structure to Festival Hill took from January through April of 1994. The sanctuary was extensively restored and is now used as a venue for chamber music rehearsals and concerts, organ recitals and as a lecture hall, for the Round Top Festival Institute educational programs.
The catalyst for the acquisition and historic makeover of the structure was the desire on the part of a number of dedicated patrons to create an organ and chamber music recital hall. The late Ted W. Blankenship, Jr., of Albany, Texas presented the 1835 Henry Erben Organ to the Round Top Festival Institute in May of 1993. Friends and family of Ted W. Blankenship along with the late Edythe Bates Old raised the funds to restore the Erben organ. Edythe Bates Old (1903-1995), a longtime friend and Festival Hill patron was a Juilliard School trained organist and vocalist. Mrs. Old provided for the purchase of the church, the extensive site preparation, including the initial construction of the lower chapel, the dismantling and move from La Grange and the reassembly of the church on the created Festival Hill site. She died in 1995 and left a bequest to complete the restoration of the sanctuary, which was named for her, the Edythe Bates Old Chapel.
The Henry Erben Pipe Organ
Henry Erben was born in New York City in 1800. He built organs under his name from 1827 to 1884, building as many as 1,000 organs including the organ in Trinity Episcopal on Wall Street. The Erben organ in the Old Chapel was built in 1835 for a church in Maine and for many years resided in a Methodist Church in Showhegan, Maine. The one manual, 11 rank organ is a rare survival of the Erben’s early work. The classical case is 14 feet tall, 9 feet wide and 6 feet deep and has 14 half stops and 484 pipes of both wood and metal. There may be a connection to the workshop of Duncan Phyfe, who supplied Erben with case materials after a fire in the Erben workshop in 1835. The organ is the oldest built American organ in use in Texas today. It is a fine example of English style organ building of the 18th century, which was common in 19th America. The organ was dedicated in May 1997.
The Traugott Wandke Organ
Johan Traugott Wandke was born in Prussia in 1808. He immigrated to America, arriving in Galveston on June 7, 1855. The Wandke family first settled in La Grange, but by 1860, has moved to Round Top where he established himself as a cabinet maker and organ builder. He practiced his trade till his death on December 21, 1870. Of the seven organs he built, three have survived; one in the Bethlehem Lutheran Church (built 1864-1867), one in the Sophienburg Museum in New Braunfels (built after the Bethlehem organ) and the one in the Edythe Bates Old Chapel (built September 1863 to January 1864). This organ is possibly the first organ built in Texas. It is constructed entirely of cedar from the vicinity and all of the pipes are made of knotless cedar.
Both the Erben and Wandke organs were restored by Friedmann Bushbeck of Dresden and Pascal Boissonnet. The Wandke Organ restoration was funded by Mrs. William F. Gore and the late William F. Gore.