Estey pump organ returns to descendants

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SHELBURNE, Vt. — A recent gift returned a pump organ manufactured by the Estey Company of Brattleboro, Vt., to a Shelburne resident with a family tie to the founder of the company.

A parlor pump organ donated to the Wake Robin Residents' Association by the Gentry family of St. George, Vt., was discovered to have been made by the forebears of Josh Estey, a Shelburne resident, firefighter, and the great-great-great-great grandson of Jacob Estey, founder of the 100-year old company.

The Estey legacy began in 1850, when Jacob, a former plumber, purchased a bankrupt Brattleboro company that made melodeons, a category of reed instruments that includes accordions. Together with his relatives, Estey took the business from a failing endeavor and built it into what would eventually become the largest manufacturer of reed and pipe organs in the world.

One of the largest manufacturers of pipe organs, Estey's products were key fixtures in movie theaters during the era of silent films, including the Capitol Theater in New York City. The company also produced most of the portable folding organs used by Army chaplains in the field during World War II.

During its lifespan, Estey Organ Co. manufactured more than half a million reed organs from the Brattleboro headquarters.

With market changes wrought by the introduction of electronic organs, the Estey Company was sold, with family involvement ending in the 1950s. The large factory complex in Brattleboro, which included over 20 buildings of unique slate architecture, is listed on the National Registry of Historic Places. To honor the legacy of the company and its founding family, one of the buildings now houses the Estey Organ Museum. Its website is www.esteyorganmuseum.org.

When contacted, Josh Estey mentioned that his grandfather, Wilson, was the last of the Estey sons to have worked for the company and expressed interest in receiving the gift of the Gentry organ on behalf of the Estey family. In December, the organ was returned home to the Estey family just in time for a little bit of holiday cheer.


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