Organ museum gets new managing director


BRATTLEBORO -- Phil Stimmel never met a reed or pipe organ he didn't like.

At Stimmel's home in West Brattleboro more than a dozen organs, in various stages of repair, are stored in his living room, hallway and garage.

For the past 50 years he has been an organist at churches in New Jersey, Massachusetts and New Hampshire and when he and his wife took a road trip through the Midwest this summer their itinerary included visits to a number of Estey Organ owners that he met over the Internet.

Stimmel retired recently from his church organist job, and also scaled back on some of the accounting work he did on the side.

So when the Estey Organ Museum board of directors came calling to see if he was interested in becoming the museum's first director he didn't miss a beat.

Stimmel was recently named as the Director of the Estey Organ Museum, and as the organization enters its second decade, he says he wants to continue growing the education and preservation programs that have been largely led by a small group of volunteer board members.

"The people who have been working on this over the years have really built a strong foundation, so now the questions is ‘Where do we go from here?'" Stimmel said while showing off his own personal collection of Estey Organ memorabilia. "I've been asked to take this over and see what I can do to bring more people here to see what we have."

The Estey Organ Museum was started about 11 years ago by local Estey Organ enthusiasts who wanted to promote and preserve the history of the Estey Organ Company.

Brattleboro resident Jacob Estey bought the Estey Organ Company in 1852 and at the height of its popularity the company employed more than 500 people who built the pipe and reed organs that were shipped all over the world.

At one time the Estey Organ Company was the largest manufacturer of reed organs in the United States.

The company went out of business in 1960.

Stimmel moved to Brattleboro about 11 years ago, just as the museum was being established.

He had played at some churches in New Hampshire and moved to Brattleboro not knowing anything about the history of the Estey Organ Company.

He has since become a collector of Estey Organ Company memorabilia. He owns original pencil drawings of the organs along with promotional cards the company published at the height of its popularity. He has a hand written letter from Jacob Estey to his wife and stacks of photographs and company manuals. And his house is filled with organs, many of which he accepted free of charge from home owners and churches that were clearing out their buildings.

Stimmel says he sees all of it as important pieces of the Estey story and he wants to let more Windham County residents, as well as visitors from all over the country and world, know about the important history of the company.

"There are people all around the country who have a love of Estey Organs," he said. "There is a connection people have with these organs, beyond the musical or technical end of it, and we want them to come to Brattleboro and learn more about it."

Stimmel, who himself will be a volunteer director, says the board should be commended for all it has been able to accomplish over the past 11 years.

But now, he says, the board can step back and perform more of the responsibilities that a non-profit organization's board of directors should be doing while he develops programs and strengthens the museum's offerings.

Stimmel says there are educational programs that can highlight the company's technical and creative achievements.

There are ways to look at the promotional and marketing materials in the context of 18th and 19th century advertising history.

There are themes to explore around business, civic responsibility and changes in the world economy, all of which can be explored from the Birge Street complex where hundreds of craftspeople and employees lived and worked.

"There are no shortage of ideas," he says. "There is a lot of interest in the complex and what Estey and his people were able to achieve. So now we have to figure out how to take that and create something that will last a long time."

Howard Weiss-Tisman can be reached at hwtisman@reforme; or 802-254-2311, ext. 279. You can follow Howard on Twitter @HowardReformer.


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