Eagle Square

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Eagle Square Company was one of Shaftsbury’s oldest, largest and longest operating industries.  Records indicate that after the War of 1812, a peddler stopped at Silas Hawkes’ blacksmith shop to have his horse shod and bartered steel sawblades that could cut through marble as payment for services rendered. Silas decided to weld these steel sawblades together to create a right angle forming a tool known as a “carpenter’s framing square”. Prior to that, carpenters’ squares were made by placing two pieces of wood and fastening them together. The basic right angle was and continues to be a vital component in construction. Wooden squares did not hold up well especially when working in a blacksmith’s shop with hot metals but the steel framing square did!

 

Hawkes idea was simple yet innovative.  He obtained one of the first U.S. patents for a steel carpenter’s square in 1817 and went into business with Stephen Whipple. In 1823 Stephen Whipple built “The Old Stone Mill” located on the corner of 7A and Route 67 and installed a trip hammer that was run by a water wheel.

 

This Shaftsbury manufacturing plant eventually became known as Eagle Square Company and was incorporated in 1835. In 1854, the invention of the 24-tool graduator by Norman Millington gave the company an amazing advantage over its competitors. Before Mr. Millington’s invention, graduating marks were cut by hand with graving tools which meant that 192 marks, each one exactly 1/8 of an inch from the next had to be put into place. Dennis George and Clark Bates, two other locally well-known master mechanics, followed suite and made several

improvements to joining and finishing the edges of the carpenters’ square. The company earned a highly regarded national reputation due to the skilled dedicated workforce which produced remarkable products. Henry E. Harris secured a patent in 1906 for a “take-down square” that could be joined at an angle and carried in a tool box.

 

In 1915 the plant was sold to Stanley Rule & Level Company of New Britain, Connecticut and in 1916 became known as Stanley Tools Eagle Square Plant a division of Stanley Works. The company continued to thrive making precision hand tools and added many wooden manufacturing components.  Wooden bedsteads (spool beds), door sashes and other house building materials were manufactured and used in homes throughout Shaftsbury, Bennington, Cambridge and Hoosick Falls. During the early 1900s under the master mechanic, Llewellyn W. Cole’s guidance, the machinery underwent a complete retrofitting for piecework and his original design of the rafter table which consisted of six lines of figures that determine the length, necessary cuts and angles of rafters for any pitch of a roof. These Shaftsbury men were mathematical geniuses of their time and took pride in good, honest, skillful workmanship.

 

In 1938, they made screw driver handles and stock for zig-zag rulers.  In 1971 most of the old buildings were demolished except for the original “square shop”.  A new plant was constructed with an area of over 200,000 square feet; almost five acres under one roof! The manufacture of carpenters’ squares, levels, folding wooden rulers, plumb bobs, wood planes, web clamps, mitre boxes, utility knives, wooden handles and chalk line reels continued for over a decade.

 

 

 

 

By 2000, Stanley Works had become a multinational corporation with its headquarters in New Britain, Connecticut. At the end of that decade, the company announced that it was closing the Shaftsbury plant, consolidating its operations and moving its distribution headquarters to South Carolina. Sadly, this company decision ended a nearly 200-year tradition of fine tool making in our town and the plant ceased operations in 2001.

 

In 2002, Friends of Eagle Square was established with a mission to create a museum in order to preserve our tool-making history, as well as display the machinery and products of Eagle Square. Together with Shaftsbury Historical Society some machinery, tools, documents and artifacts have been preserved but a museum has not been erected yet .To date, Shaftsbury Historical Society continues fundraising; grants have been written and applied for but unfortunately none have been awarded.  We have not given up hope of realizing a museum for our town’s beloved Eagle Square Company and welcome anyone interested in helping us to do so.

 

 

 

Written by: Barbara Marino for Shaftsbury Historical Society - December 19, 2015

·      Friends of Eagle Square -meeting minutes & files @SHS

·      Bennington Banner-2-24-2000-Shaftsbury’s Contribution to the World-R.J. Williams

·      The Advocate- 3-13-2002 Group trying to transform former Eagle Square headquarters  

·      Ordinary Heroes- The Story of Shaftsbury by  Ruth Levin  & Tyler Resch

·      www.uvm.edu/findingaids/collection/eaglesquare

·      www.iberkshires.com

·      www.shaftsburyhistoricalsociety.org

 

 

 

 

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