What I Learned about My town


Photo of a rare lithograph lent to the group by Ken Morse for our use.

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with help from 'Backstreet Mary'Neighbors for Historic Eaton RR 1, Box 124 Eaton, New York 13334

Eaton, New York, is a small rural hamlet near the center of the state. Its usually sleepy demeanor was interrupted this past year to celebrate its 200th birthday. The celebration was to bring a fun day to the community with the usual parade, speeches, craft show, baseball game and ice cream social at the church. Instead it brought all of that and something even more important, it brought out the rich history of a hamlet that was once a well-known name in American agricultural business.

Many of the town folk knew of native Eatonite 'Fanny Forester' (famous writer Emily Chubbuck who later married the world famous missionary to Burma, Andoniram Jud-son); some knew about famous writer, comedian, and lecturer 'Eli Perkins' (Melville Delancy Landon); but most had never realized that Eaton was the home of an important business, the Wood, Taber & Morse Steam Engine Works.

The business, founded by Allen N. Wood, was the third steam engine foundry in the United States. The company started by making steam engines to run cotton mills and machinery in the 1850s, but by the 1870s had converted to making portable agricultural engines that could be pulled by horses anywhere for ready power.

In the 1880s with the invention of its patented (19 patents) four drive engine, which is considered by many to be the first practical edition of the four-wheel drive farm tractor of today, it had become one of the largest steam engine companies in the world. By the time of the development of this engine, which won the coveted Gold Medal of Excellence at a London show, the Wood, Taber & Morse Company had sold steam engines to every state in the union as well as abroad. The company had an office in Chicago as well as in Eaton.

A remarkable fact is that in its first 25 years alone, the Wood, Taber and Morse Engine Works had produced over 3,000 engines at a cost of $200 to $1,500. Imagine that in today's monetary terms!

When its founder, Allen N. Wood, and engineer, Loyal Clark Taber, died in the year 1892, for all practical purposes the company ceased production. A business that had spanned over forty years, employing 50 to 100 men, stopped. The business's only surviving partner, Walter Morse, retired to his Norvel Bacon-designed Victorian home, 'Park Place,' and Eaton fell asleep for 100 years.

The shock of realizing that on the now empty lot, on a street which bears the name Mechanic Street (so named, to us, for no apparent reason), rested this giant, was a driving force in putting together a historic celebration. A small group of neighbors joined together and wrote two history books, one alone on Wood, Taber and Morse; a graphics display which will now tour the library system, schools and state; put up a state historical marker on a piece of land that was nothing more than a graveled parking area behind the mini-mart; and made this sign and new found information into a cornerstone of a community's pride.