A southern Vermont museum dedicated to organs has found itself with a surplus of the instruments.
The Estey Organ Company began producing organs in Brattleboro in 1863, and the company manufactured hundreds of thousands of reed and pipe organs inside its Brattleboro factories before closing in 1960. The Estey Organ Museum was set up 16 years ago to honor that legacy.
The museum opened after people began donating their old organs — but with every working organ, there were three or four others that came in that needed some care.
Now the museum is saying it just can’t accept any more broken-down instruments.
“We had to stop just taking them,” said Barbara George, a volunteer at the museum who also owns the warehouses where the organs are being stored. “Because some of them make sounds, but you wouldn’t call it music.”
The storage warehouse behind the museum is filled with broken organs and related pieces.
George said for a very long time the museum would pretty much accept anything that had the name Estey Organs on it. But as the warehouse filled up, George said it was time to make a change.
George said the museum is coming into its own and offering concerts and talks on the Estey legacy — but, like at any nonprofit, every penny counts.
“We're only now maturing into realizing that it's also a responsibility that you want to be able to take care of them,” said George. “You know, you don't want to be spending money on storage when you could be spending money on programs and that kind of a thing. So that's the point where we are now, I think.”
The Brattleboro Historical Society began collecting old organs back in the 1980s, years before there was even an organ museum.
“The Estey Organ Company is ... probably the most important thing that ever happened to Brattleboro,” said historical society member John Carnahan, who was one of the members who began accepting the instruments more than 30 years ago.
Carnahan said it was the historical society’s duty to take in these relics of Brattleboro’s industrial past and, over time, the society collected more than 50 organs.
“It was a complete mix,” Carnahan said. “Some of them were just really — just trash, almost; they were in such bad shape. But some were in beautiful condition.”
They took in enough beautiful organs that in 2002, some local musicians and historians started the Estey Organ Museum.
But the donations kept coming in: The museum says they’ve probably got about 150 organs that need some work. So for now, the museum is being much more selective.
If an organ works, and it’s on the small side, they’ll take it in and try to find a new owner.
There are some organs in the collection that only need a little tinkering, and the museum says that for a small donation, they can be yours.
And the old broken ones out in the warehouse? Even if their music-making days are over, the museum says those organs can take on a new life by being turned into desks or bookcases.