February 14, 2012

Our Neighbors: Pair restoring a parlor organ

By Carol Mills
Staff Writer

LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. — Shirley Landen and Don Barton, antique enthusiasts, are restoring a parlor organ that was donated to the Heritage Hills History Museum & Genealogy Center.

Landen donated the organ, which was rescued from a home that burned down on Christmas day 2011.

“It was the Wyatt house on (Ky.) 229. It was just before you get to Overbey’s on a hill. Keith Wyatt’s father, James Wyatt, built the house in the late 1800s. He went to Louisville with a team of mules and a wagon and bought the organ for his wife, Lucy. She was a Blair and her family was musically inclined. Her father was a Methodist minister, who traveled as a circuit rider. He traveled through Laurel and Jackson counties. He actual preached in the Ball Church out in Levi Jackson Park.”

The house, which was more than 120 years old, was on a 100-year-old farm registry. It caught on fire in the back of the home where the chimney was. What was left after the fire was torn down so that a new, smaller home could be built for Keith and Roxie Wyatt, who are both in their 80s.

“They said there were at least 100 volunteers  that stopped by and carried most of the stuff out of the house,” Landen said. “The organ got carried out and got placed on the porch on the side of the house. It sat on the porch for a few days and Keith decided to let me have it for the museum. He was my great-uncle, so James and Lucy Belle Blair Wyatt were my great-grandparents.”

The organ had not been played in a long time and it needs some work to make it playable.

“It really has a lot of meaning to me,” Landen said. “Considering he drove a wagon with a team of mules all the way to Louisville to pick it up. That trip must have taken a week and a half or two weeks with a wagon and mules. It’s unique to me that my grandmother played it. They also told us that Virgie Beets, who lived on (Ky.) 229, used to come over there and they would have sing-a-longs and she played it a lot back in the day.”

Landen said she got the organ because other members in her family did not have room for it and because she asked for it.

“I asked, ‘if no one else wanted it, could we have it for the museum,’ so he donated it to the museum because of me,” she said. “We’ve seen some of them that are not restored, for not more than a couple hundred dollars. They’re not extremely rare. Everyone back then wanted a parlor organ for their house.”

Barton has been working on trying to get the piano to play, however, he and Landen need someone to volunteer to restore the keyboard.

Anyone wishing to volunteer can call Judy at 878-6688 or Shirley at 864-2686. The Heritage Hills History Museum & Genealogy Center is open by appointment.