hill country observerThe independent newspaper of eastern New York, southwestern Vermont and the Berkshires


News July 2018


A governor’s career spanned engineering and music

Maury Thompson



It was not unusual for prominent politicians in the 19th century to visit Lake George.
But when the politician also was an executive at a piano company, that was big news, particularly when the company was a regular advertiser in the Lake George Mirror.

Vermont Gov. Levi K. Fuller, an executive with the Estey Piano Co., was a guest for two days at Nirvana, the luxurious Sagamore Island summer home of John B. Simpson, the Mirror reported on July 28, 1894.

“Much of the time was spent on the lake exploring summer life among the islands or exploring the hundred and one inlets and bays,” the Mirror reported.

Simpson, also an executive of the piano company, was “a gentleman of unlimited wealth” and was commodore of the Lake George Yacht Club, the Mirror reported in a story published Sept. 9, 1893.

Simpson owned The Fanita, a luxury steam yacht.
Fuller, the Vermont governor, had more than 100 patents on piano- and organ-related components, and his work led to adoption of the world’s first standard pitch for piano tuning, according to Fuller Steam Division, a contemporary company located at Fuller’s former estate in Brattleboro.

Fuller lived as a child at his family’s farm in Westmoreland, N.H. At 19, he went to work at Jacob Estey’s parlor organ factory in Brattleboro; he later married the owner’s daughter.

The Estey Organ Co., established in 1846, was at one time one of the largest manufacturers of reed organs in the world, according to antiquepianoshop.com, a Web site devoted to the history of piano manufacturing.

In 1885, Estey Organ Co. bought The Simpson & Praddow Piano Co. of New York City. In the era before radios and recorded music, pianos offered a focal point for home musical entertainment, and sales of new pianos were nearing their peak.

Estey Piano Co. advertisements in the Lake George Mirror touted its instruments as having superior tone quality and being “equal to any in beauty and design.”

Fuller, in addition to his career in musical instruments, was an astronomer, philanthropist, supporter of colleges, and a politician.

A Republican, Fuller was a state senator in 1880-81, lieutenant governor in 1886-87, and governor in 1893-94. In that era, Vermont governors were limited to a single two-year term.
In his farewell address to the state Legislature on Oct. 4, 1894, Fuller said he had focused on improving roads, improving conditions for prisoners and the insane, and improving public health.
Under Fuller’s leadership, the state bought building materials and supplies to construct new wings at state prisons to house hobos – migrant workers who frequently turned themselves in to law enforcement to gain housing in the colder months.

Hobos and prisoners volunteered the labor for the project, which alleviated overcrowding in the state’s prisons and separated hobos from criminals.

Fuller also initiated a state study of how to prevent or reduce outbreaks of typhoid fever and other diseases among prisoners, and he directed an expansion of the state’s insane asylums, which also were overcrowded.

Fuller increased appropriations for the state Board of Agriculture, and he established a policy that state road tax revenue should be dedicated exclusively to building new roads.
While Fuller was governor, the federal government established Fort Ethan Allen, the first federal military base in Vermont.

“The past history of our own state is teaming with the record of great blessings that have been enjoyed,” Fuller said in his farewell address. “Doubtless there are other blessings for our State in the days yet to come, since the future in the keeping of the same Almighty One who was the Helper of our fathers in the past, and who is their loyal children’s reliance in the present.”
Fuller died on Oct. 10, 1895, barely two years after leaving office. He was 55. His death was attributed at the time to overwork and exhaustion.


Maury Thompson retired last fall after 21 years as a reporter for The Post-Star of Glens Falls. He now is a freelance writer focusing on the history of politics, labor and media in the region.