Sunday, May 17, 2015

Memorial Day Monday is Eaton Day, nostalgia, history, & the All American Pie Sale await you!

Dr. Gawn as part of Eaton's float on the 4th of July
Another Sunday in Eaton, more pleasant than many lately as Mother Nature has come through with a rainbow of green colors with a bit of purple... as the lilacs finally opened down here.  We still had two nights this week in the low 20’s… but the days have improved.

I have been putting together clips of video taken 20 years ago on Monday, and I started wondering what the town will look like and who will be here in 20 more. 

The Eaton History Day that started in1995 has been put on to bring the community together as a  celebration of what is right with living in a small and historic rural town.  Nothing is wrong really, except perhaps the distance for many to go to work…but now we have so many beautiful cars to do it…no longer needing a horse and wagon.  What is sad,  is that most people don’t realize what caused a loss of community.  We no longer used it.

You might say, “use it”… yes, use it.  We lost our grocery stores and businesses because we no longer need to shop in town or near by.  In the old days money that was paid out came back to the community or stayed in it supporting “the butcher, the baker, and the candlestick maker”.  100 years ago there were 4 stores, barbers, Doctors, machine shops, mills, and all kinds of small business.  Today we have a Price Chopper and Walmart people shot at.

There were 3 churches in town then, luckily we still have one on “Back Street”, it has been working for 182 years.  As a mater of fact when the bell rings on Sunday… as I write the Sunday blogs for you…  it has been ringing like that since 1848.  It reminds me that the community is still alive.

Eaton still has a mini-mart and gas station, though remnants of the old Tower Gas Station are still in town housing the Post Office. We have a volunteer fire department... that still rushes to help those in need in the community.  We still have that Post Office… something that is also disappearing from rural America.  Our cemetery is still kept up and by the original Eaton Cemetery Association that was formed by George Morse in 1856.

We also have a museum that keeps the history for the Town of Eaton and the community, although the Town does not run it. 

So this is where you as a member of the community come in.   Come out to Eaton before or after the parade… that this year is in West Eaton.  Have a hot dog and soda like the old days, buy a pie at the 200 year old American institution of Pie Sales to raise money, join the Friends of Eaton Society that keeps the museum alive buying a commemorative 220th History Book (You can buy it for those special people who can’t come to the event this year)…  listen to the speakers that this year will include Harry Riggall Historian of West Eaton and Mary Messere former Madison County Historian....and enjoy HISTORY AND THAT THING CALLED AMERICANA.

If you were at the original Bicentennial in the parade, or watching Dr. Willabee Gawn, at the Cemetery, at the Church,  at the cutting of the giant Birthday Cake… then you can view yourself on a video that will be playing during the day….Memories for sure!

The kids in it are now full grown and many have children of their own... many faces have disappeared from view... though they now rest on the hill in the cemetery or in a nursing home, and unfortunately some of us are a bit heavier…but we are there enjoying that day.  So come out and enjoy this one!!

*The museum will not be open for the day, but Back Street Mary will giving a tour of the Cemetery at 2 PM.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Hops, Beer, Patents and History on the march in Eaton!

The new history book that is coming out for Memorial Day Monday is filled with new tidbits on history and leads to another book that I am working on describing the Patents that came form the area.  As they say.. everything old is new again...and that goes for the history of an area and its products.

“In 1808 James D. Coolidge planted the first hops field in Madison County. By 1859 NY supplied 87 percent of hops grown in the U.S.”  

That is an unbelievable statement but it is true. Madison County grew hops and the crop was a bumper crop that made many of the farmers in the area, but it also destroyed some.

The Hop commodities market was actually moved to Waterville where hops were bought and sold with the fluctuating hops market.  Many an Eaton Farm grew hops and held hops to get the best value at market. They also welcomed the pickers in season because in town the money flowed from outside to in.
Many a farm put families up during the “season” and stories of fun and friendships made abound… a more simple time.  My own mother recalled taking the canal to Madison County where her family would pick hops.  She as a small child remembered hiding under her mother’s skirt on the trip.

The hop fields of Samuel Coolidge ran between Madison and Eaton near the Summit level of the Chenango Canal.  The field crops were called by some locals, as filled with “the Devil’s weed”… because of Hops addition to beer to make it bitter or to add flavor and aroma.

Hops would later disappear from the hills of Eaton and Madison County because of blight and because of white or blue powdery mold.  Another problem “Temperance” played a large part.

Another facet of hop production were the numerous attempts to patent labor saving devices.  A few out of Eaton and the area are pictured in the back of the book.

One was a “HOP-PICKER’S BOX” designed by Frederick A Fargo of Pine Woods, New York it was Patent No. 949,915 dated November 22, 1881. (Fargo Corners in Eaton today).  He states that: “My invention consist of a hop-picker’s measure or box having such construction that it may be easily taken apart for stowing away in small spaces and for transportation, and easily set up for use.”

Another interesting invention out of Morrisville is a Vine Trellis.  The Trellis was submitted by Andrew S. Hart and is Patent number 495,673, dated April 18, 1893. Hart says: “The object of this invention is to provide a trellis for training chiefly hop-vines, and which shall be permanently erect on the ground to afford ready access to the uppermost parts of the vines.”

The time of hops passed and became a time of cows and corn that have in recent time given back land to the cultivation of Hops in Eaton and in Madison County.  It is interesting to note that at Fargo Corners today you can see a new “hop field” located on today's  Mosher Farm.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Memorial Day Monday to bring history to the "Forefront" with food, fun, raffles and PIES!

Well the special Eaton Day is coming together.  Though the parade will be in West Eaton you can follow the road down to Eaton and enjoy History Day.  The 3rd Annual Pie Sale, gift sale and more will be in front of the old Auction Barn on Route 26 again.  

This year weather permitting Back Street Mary will be giving a tour of the Historic Eaton Cemetery and we will be having history lectures on front street and will show history videos….A great look back at the Bicentennial Celebration 20 years ago.

In that idea we are publishing a special book for the occasion with almost 50 pages of history, with new pictures and information… that... even some historians are unaware of.  The book will be in the same size and style as the old one and we are seeking donations to publish it in that format.

We sold the original Eaton History Book on History Day 20 years ago! Since then we have a museum full of history and tons of history books on subjects pertaining to Eaton.

This book covers not only Eaton but also the entire Town of Eaton… stories and pictures that are new to the museum and that represent the years after 1850.

To get this book printed we need a little help.  The advertising off the other book paid for it and we are hoping to do the same thing again.

So we will place a page or two with Friends of History and card size ads for businesses that are friends of history

For your name only $5 as a friend of history
For a Memorial $10 (For a deceased family member that was a part of the original group of Eatonite)
For your business card only $25

First printing will be of a hundred and of course they will continue to be printed and sold at the museum forever after or when our gift shop travels to Madison Hall.

So Help if you can…our printing deadline is the 18th…Contact Cathy Nagle,, Barb Keough, Bob Betz, Steve or Judy Goodfriend or Pat Utter for details or you can always go to our web page at and hit donated to book to do it with charge card or debit….it will go through PayPal.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Baseball, Eaton, Hooks Wiltse, & the Field of Dreams on this Sunday Morning in Eaton, NY..

Eaton Baseball Team
Working on the new small history book for Eaton's 220th History Celebration on Memorial Day Monday this year.... I ran across a baseball story that I thought would be a great little addition.

The story starts in the Town of Eaton and a small dot on a NYS map today called Pecksport, near Lower Leland Pond.  The pond was named for one of Eaton's first settlers Joshua Leland... and the area named for Josiah Peck who came from Rhode Island... the spot is now a fishing paradise that was once the busiest port on the Chenango Canal. 

Located at the actual summit of the canal... which started a quarter mile to the north at a stake in Johnson’s Swamp in Eaton... Josiah and his son Alonzo built warehouses and dug out an area that would allow boats to unload and board their cargo headed or coming from the then industrial and business giant of Eaton Village located just over the hill. This port was needed for the delivery of coal and iron ore for the early Eaton foundries, and grain for the famous Morse Distillery.

Pecksport was also the home of one of baseball’s early greats, George “Hooks” Wiltse.  The Wilste family lived near Burchard farms and the numerous Wiltse children attended the one-room schoolhouse located in Pecksport. Living just a stone’s throw from Bouckville, in the Town of Madison, “Hooks” and his brother Lewis “Snake” Wiltse grew up playing with the Bouckville boys and this progressed to playing with the famous Bouckville Summits (so called because Bouckville was at the Summit level of the canal along with Pecksport).  

Wiltse later went on to play for the Giants as a pitcher of note and a player under the infamous John J. McGraw. Wiltse also played on the team that was immortalized in the film Field of Dreams...playing with the famous Shoeless Joe Jackson. 

In those early days... as the movie pointed out, boys dreamed of become professional players and would play anywhere USA in any of the small leagues to get a leg up and also to be paid.  As a matter of fact Wiltse, like the others, would jump a bus or train to get somewhere to play in a small local game for MONEY!  Yes money, many times a team paid a player or two to beef up their lineup...

The story of the local rivalries and the times when baseball was a truly American pass-time and was the local entertainment of pride, is well documented in a book by local historian and author Jim Ford. Titled “The Pride of Cidertown”, Ford tells the story of local lore in one of central New York’s baseball hot spots.  

The book is filled with pictures and information on the early days of baseball in Madison County, and the history of the famous Wiltse boys, part of the area’s “Pride”.

So come out on Memorial Day Monday and pick up a pie or two and a collectable... our new history book...filled with some interesting sidelights to some of the history you already know about "old Eaton New York".  Eaton is really Madison County's most historic town, I have 20 years of writing and research to prove it.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Beer, brewing, April 29th in history and a man who supported women's rights in the mid 1850"s.

What a week… more SNOW and cold… so, next to the wood fire I took some time to look back on history…and as usual I found some interesting reading.  It pertains to a little book we are putting out for our May, Memorial Day special... since it is the 220th Anniversary of Eaton’s founding.  The date that I was interested in is coming up this week... April 29th, 1792.  It stood out as born on this day in history in England was a lad named Matthew Vassar who became a beer mogul of the 1800’s. Yes BEER mogul!

A few years after his birth his family move to America to seek some religious freedom with entertained thoughts of starting a beer business… since both Matthew’s father James and his brother Thomas were English “brewers”.

The two bought some land on the Hudson near Wappinger’s Creek, but it wasn’t until Thomas returned from England with English barley that the family began to brew ale. 

As he grew Matthew did not want to be a tanner, the trade his father chose for him … so he ran away from home to make his own “fortune”.  After many jobs he became successful enough to move back to his family and start making beer with them.  The Vassar Brewery in Poughkeepsie became a large concern whose success was interrupted when fire destroyed the brewery and Matthew’s father was killed by fumes when inspecting the damage.

To make a long story short, after much trial and tribulation, Matthew became rich and began a climb that went from owning a huge beer business to incorporating the Poughkeepsie Savings Bank in 1831 in which he took a prominent lead, and the formation of the Poughkeepsie Whaling Company in 1832, of which he was a subscriber/shareholder, and a director and a trustee of the young city of Poughkeepsie.  He also ran to a brick making business and in 1842 took on the development of the Hudson River Railroad to get his beer to New York City when the Hudson froze over.

When a step-niece, Lydia Booth,  move from Virginia to New York to take the reins of a women’s Seminary school in Poughkeepsie… he helped support her and at that point became enlightened about the importance of education for females.

After a trip to England and noticing buildings donated with the donors names on them as monuments to them, he decided that a female educational institute would be the perfect thing to put is name to…it would be a lasting honor… So he did… he founded Vassar College… at that time for women.

Not only did he donate close to $500,000, in those days a vast sum, but became intimately involved it its construction and hired Maria Mitchell the astronomer as its first professor.  He toured Europe to learn about women’s education and even gave his house and art collection to the new college which, opened in 1865 to 353 young women.

When he decided to retire as head of the Board of Trustees for Vassar in 1868, and while delivering his farewell speech to the board, Vassar collapsed and died.  They placed him in a chair and after a short silence… one of the other men read the finish of his address as follows…

“And now, gentlemen, in closing these remarks, I would humbly and solemnly implore the Divine Goodness to continue his smiles and favor on your institution, and bestow upon all hearts connected therewith his love and blessings, having peculiarly protected us by his providence through all our college trials for three consecutive years, without a single death in our Board or serious illness or death of one of our pupils within its walls. Wishing you, gentlemen, a continuance of health and happiness, I bid you a cordial and final farewell, thanking you kindly for your official attentions and services, not expecting, from my advanced years and increasing infirmities, to meet with you officially again, and imploring the Divine Goodness to guide and direct you aright in all your counsels and social business relations.”

April 29th, his birthday is still today celebrated as “Founder’s Day and the college  (now coed) is a major success.  Its main President, John Raymond who taught at Colgate, was married to Cornelia Morse of Eaton and the Morse family girls attended, taught at, and left money to this cause…more on this later…

PS (Maria Mitchell’s secretary and assistant was one of them.)  I love it when history leads you from one place to another close to home and old Eaton.