Schantz Organ Company recreates Ford family pipe organ

Schantz Organ Company recreates Ford family pipe organ

The Schantz Organ Company of Orrville recreated the large residential pipe organ that once graced the home of Henry and Clara Ford in Dearborn, Michigan.


The Schantz Organ Company of Orrville has been commissioned to recreate the large residential pipe organ that once graced the home of Henry and Clara Ford in Dearborn, Michigan. The residence, named Fair Lane by the Fords, has seen an extensive overall restoration.

Schantz Organ Company Vice President Jeffrey Dexter said the project began as a simple representation of the organ that would have been in place in the Ford home but became a full recreation of the instrument as the project unfolded. Recreating the historic organ has not been without challenges.

“The original organ was built by the Estey Organ Company of Brattleboro, Vermont in 1915 when the house was built,” Dexter said. “At the time there was this sort of movement to have pipe organs installed in private residences. It was a matter of status, but it was also how people entertained each other before the time of widespread recorded music.”

In keeping with the wealth and status of one of America’s most influential manufacturing titans, the organ at Fair Lane was one of the largest private instruments in the country.

“It was fitted with 31 sets of pipes,” Dexter said. “That’s a lot of pipes, triple what would normally be in a residence. The reimagined organ we’re creating will have 17. The pipes will be actual original Estey pipes, which we have sourced from four separate surviving Estey organs around the country.”

The organ will be as authentic as possible but will not be mechanically identical to the original for several practical reasons.

“The Estey Organ Company was a very large and well-respected company who made a lot of organs for churches and institutions, as well as for residences. When the organ was installed at Fair Lane, the house was still unfinished with no windows or heat, so the mechanism suffered from the very beginning. Estey also used a very complex mechanism at a time when many innovations in organ manufacturing and design were occurring. The Fords were often frustrated with the organ, as it gave them a lot of trouble right from the start,” Dexter said.

The organ lasted about as long as the Estey Company. The organ maker didn’t survive the Great Depression and World War II, and the Estey Organ at Fair Lane was removed and discarded at about the same time.

“There are no photographs of the organ’s interior,” Dexter said, “so we are fitting it with a standard Schantz mechanism, which I can say for certain is very reliable. The exterior key desk will be as close as possible to the original as we can make it. No one would be able to tell the difference.”

The inside will be quite modern with a control system enabling the curators to play the instrument to greet visitors, just as would have been the case when the Fords were at home 100 years ago.

“And it will record what is played on it,” Dexter said. “It will remember what is played and be able to play it back, in a similar way to the original, which used paper rolls to play tunes. Having the organ playing for visitors to the house was the goal of the restoration foundation from the beginning.”

Such an undertaking is not inexpensive. The entire restoration of the Fair Lane estate including the organ is funded by gifts and foundational grants. Dexter declined to assign a cost to the organ project.

Both the Fair Lane estate of Henry and Clara Ford and the nearby estate of their only son, Edsel Ford, in nearby Grosse Pointe are operated by the same nonprofit organization, The Henry Ford Estates.

The restoration is ongoing and can be followed with more information at

“They are taking the house back to the time when the Fords lived there in every way,” Dexter said, “the colors, wood tones, furniture, fabrics, rugs, everything. Originally we were engaged to recreate the key desk, or console, with nothing inside it. We asked what they planned to do, and they indicated they were going to mount speakers inside and play organ music via recordings. We suggested we could create a fully functioning organ. ‘You can do that?’ they asked. They seemed surprised when we said yes. This is what we do.”

The restoration of Fair Lane is slated for a showcase unveiling on Sept. 14.

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