Jacob Estey's Lead Pipes 1835


Learns To Make Lead Pipe and Pumps--

How and Why He Came to Brattleboro.


At 17 young Estey went to Worcester and learned of Thomas Sutton what would now be called the plumber's trade. At that time this consisted of the making and putting in of lead pipe and copper pumps. By the primitive methods of those days lead pipe was made by pouring the melted lead into a mould and then drawing it out to any desired size over a steel rod. Three years later, on Dec. 31st, 1834, when Jacob was 20, his father died and he came up to Hinsdale to the funeral. From thence he came over to Brattleboro and naturally sought out Stephen Parker who had a lead pipe and pump shop here. Parker said he was tired of the business: he would sell it for half what it was worth, and named $200 as his price. Young Estey then had just this sum due him at Worcester, and taking a refusal of the business for six weeks at that price, went back to Worcester to consult with his employer. Mr. Sutton told him the chance was a good one and offered to help him with letters of credit to Boston and New York partners. When the young man got back to Brattleboro, however, Mr. Parker backed out of his trade, but said he would sell his business if he could sell his house also. The price on the whole he fixed at $1275. This looked a large sum to the young plumber, but his judgment told him there was money in the trade, and at Parker's suggestion the two went into Keyes & Bradley's office and had a contract for the sale drawn up. Both parties signed it, with the forfeit fixed at $500. The deed once done, young Jacob's soul was filled with a deadly fear lest he had assumed an obligation which he could never fulfil, and he went to Hinsdale to consult the friend of his boyhood, the late John Stearns, who was 12 years his senior. Uncle John told him that he had probably got cheated, "but if you have not," he said, "I'll help you out." On the following Monday morning, a day in February, 1835, Mr. Stearns and Oliver Adams came over with their young friend, to investigate. By that time Mr. Parker had sickened of his second trade and wanted to back out of it by paying $350, whereupon Mr. Stearns bluntly told him that he would either deed over the property or pay the full $500. The upshot of it all was that the parties went to Stephen Greenleaf, the town clerk, who lived on what is now the Thurber place beyond West Brattleboro, and had the papers made out, and the money, furnished by Mr. Stearns and Mr. Adams, was paid down. Mr. Estey took possession April 1, 1835, a few months before he was 21, and thus became a resident of Brattleboro. The Parker house was a small cottage standing on the site of Mr. Estey's present residence. His shop was in what was then the old tannery building, known to this generation as the Valley mill building which fell a victim to the flames last December. . .


For the following 15 or 20 years Mr. Estey did a successful business in the lead pipe and pump trade. His sales extended over all the region round about, including New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and eastern New York. His goods were largely made in the winter and the summers were spent in laying aqueducts as called for. About the year 1850 he built the two-story shop shown in the accompanying engraving. It stood by the brook just south of the Main street bridge, on the site of the building which was washed away by the December freshet several years ago. A portion of this shop was rented to Burdett & Carpenter, who were engaged in the manufacture of melodeons in a small way.


Vermont Phoenix, May 5, 1887.


This is an extract from a major article.


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Hon. Jacob Estey,


Now universally known as one of the foremost business men of New England, was born in the town of Hinsdale, N. H., Sept. 30, 1814, but has been a resident of Brattleboro the last 42 years. Though deprived of parental care and training at a very early age--thrown upon the mercies of the world when not quite five years old--his life has been remarkably successful. Shifting about from one place to another, meeting indifference, selfishness, neglect and ill treatment, from which there was no relief or escape but by flight, his after career seems so wonderful, and if not so exceptional, we should be inclined to doubt the propriety of Solomon's injunction in Prov. 22: 5. Brattleboro abounds in instances of the strictest compliance with the instructions of the wise man, and the results may be seen and compared with the results of a course exactly opposite.


We know but little of his early wanderings from place to place, to obtain fair treatment or desirable conditions where he could be free in the untramelled exercise of his native capacity, yet we cannot for a moment doubt that the trials and difficulties he successfully encountered had much to do in shaping his future destiny. Another subjected to the same conditions as Mr. Estey, might have become dissolute, improvident and wretched, but with his powerful vital organization, iron will, self control, and great variety of mental resources, opposing influences, perhaps, proved more beneficial than otherwise, like sprinkling water on a blacksmith's fire, to produce a greater desirable effect. From the time he first began to act in his business life, he manifested a sagacity in discovering ways and means, unthought of by others, to improve natural resources to the best advantage, not only for himself, but to cause the world to be beneficially affected by his action.


The disastrous fire at the house of Dr. John L. Dickerman on Main Street in the early morning of Tuesday, August 19, 1834, caused by ashes left standing in a wooden vessel by a shed, took the uninsured doctor's house, barn, shed, a valuable horse, two carriages, oats, wood supply. The fire engines arrived promptly but had no available water supply. A system of reservoirs was proposed immediately, but iron pipes were thought to be too expensive. By the spring of 1835, Jacob Estey supplied the required lead pipes.


Henry Burnham, Brattleboro.


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