Harrington Heritage Day:

History and Engines in Southern Delaware

Messick Museum

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In 1810, Benjamin Clark picked a corner on a southern Delaware intersection for erection of his home and an inn. Mispillion Hundred, the area where the corner was located, was home to numerous good and wealthy farmers. As the local farmers retired, they built homes surrounding Clark's Corner and a town grew.

The arrival of the railroad in the late 1850's helped the growth along, and in 1866 the state legislature changed the name of the town to Harrington, in honor of then state chancellor Samuel Maxwell Harrington. By 1869, the town was incorporated.

Harrington is located in the center of the Delmarva Peninsula and has long been a diversified agricultural center. In 1919 the Kent and Sussex Fair Association was organized here, and it is still the location of Delaware's only state fair.

In the midst of this rich, historical area, an informal group of 30 or 40 gas engine enthusiasts from around the state hold an annual get-together in conjunction with a town celebration, Harrington Heritage Day.

Here at the dealership, one will see a number of exhibitors of engines and tractors. One of the more unusual of these is Melvin Fox of nearby Milton, who runs an antique military braiding machine with a small gas engine.

The big surprise of the day, however, is that at Taylor & Messick there is an enormous private museum, Messick's Agricultural Museum, housed in a series of long metal buildings and sheds.

Walter Messick joined the then Taylor's Hardware in 1935. After five years, the business became Taylor & Messick and by 1952 it was incorporated. Today, it is surely one of the largest John Deere dealerships on the east coast.

Items in the Messick collection have been gathered in several ways. Some originated in family use. Some were purchased from 'pickers' who roamed the countryside, and some were trade-ins for new tractors or equipment.

Mr. Messick's daughter-in-law has urged him to record the details of his collection and he plans to do so soon, using videotape. Each tractor, engine and implement has a story, and many had been in one family until acquired. There are 64 tractors, and 168 gas engines. The collection began 40 years ago with a Waterloo Boy and includes a complete farm kitchen and many uncounted handtools as well.

Also in the collection are 13 antique cars (9 with original title) and 6 trucks. Many of the trucks were formerly used in the business. Oldest among the cars is a rare 1911 IHC car.

Certainly, Mr. Messick has put together a collection in which everyone can find some object of interest. The largest tractor in the group is a huge Aultman Taylor 30-60, and the smallest is a John Deere L. There is a nearly complete set of all John Deere tractors ever made up to the 4020. Oldest engine is a 1907 Mogul, and the smallest is a Maytag.

The Messick Museum is open the same hours as the dealership, currently 7:30-5 p.m. Monday through Friday and 7:30 to noon on Saturday. There is no admission fee, and appointments can be made for other times.

The Taylor & Messick dealership is a family enterprise, involving Mr. Messick's wife as well as his four children. It is Mr. Messick's intention that the collection will remain under family control and open to the public far into the future.

The Messick Museum is truly a treasure, and Harrington Heritage Day is definitely a good time to wander through it. Other activities included are a flea market, car show, horseshoe pitching contest and a parade. Jack Short, organizer of the engine gathering, is vice president of this fourteen year old event. September 19 was the date of the 1992 event-watch for next year's date in the 1993 Steam and Gas Engine Show Directory due out in March.