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Richard Ruddle and the Reed Organs of Pendleton County

By Lawton W. Posey

Richard Ruddle plays a reed organ
Richard Ruddle adjusts the stops on a Vocalion reed organ, located in the Upper Tract church in Pendleton County. Photograph by Michael Keller.

Each Sunday morning, Richard Ruddle leaves his 19th-century log home in Ruddle, Pendleton County, to attend 8:30 services at a lovely Presbyterian church in the Upper Tract community. When services are over there, he goes a short distance to the church that bears his family name — Ruddle — for services and stays to teach the adult Sunday school class.

Richard is the organist for these churches, and the organs he plays are historic instruments of a type now rarely seen, except in unspoiled rural and small-town churches. These foot-pumped reed organs were at one time popular instruments, perhaps as frequently found in the mountains as the dulcimer or the banjo.

Richard Ruddle is a repository of much Pendleton County history. When I ask Richard about his family background, he gives a compact history of the Ruddle area of Pendleton County, going back to the 1700's. Ruddle did not become the official name of the community until after the War Between the States, Richard says, when a post office was established in his great-great-uncle Edmund Ruddle's grist mill in 1881.

Today, Richard lives in an 1871 log home built by John Matthew Ruddle, a veteran of the Civil War. As president of the Pendleton County Historical Society, Richard is deeply involved in research and promotion of the study of his county's history.

You can read the rest of this article in this issue of Goldenseal, available in bookstores, libraries or direct from Goldenseal.