Abenaque Machine Works

Yankee ingenuity

| December/January 2004

  • 10 HP Abenaque
    A 10 HP Abenaque outfited with the company's signature cooling system. thin, twin tanks provided ample surface area for cooling while minimizing evaporative loss
  • Hopper-cooled Abenaque
    A hopper-cooled Abenaque portable circular saw rig.
  • Portable combination drag
    A portable combination drag and circular saw outfit shown in a circa-1913 Abenaque catalog.
  • Old Abenaque Machine Works plant
    The old Abenaque Machine Works plant in Westminster Station, Vt., as it looked in 1983.
  • Old Abenaque Machine Works plant
    The old Abenaque Machine Works plant in Westminster Station, Vt., as it looked in 1983.
  • Gasoline traction engine
    From 1908 to at least 1911, Abenaque offered a 15 HP and 25 HP 'gasoline traction engine.'
  • Portable compressor
    Abenaque also built portable compressor outfits such as the unit shown here, boasting the units had ' ... met with signal success. These machines are used for road work, quarry work, stone carving, etc.'
  • Stationary engine
    Stationary engines such as this one came in 6 to 25 HP sizes. A circa-1913 catalog intentionally deleted the cooling system, 'In order to give a clearer and more detailed view of the engine.'
  • Abenaque hopper-cooled engine
    Abenaque hopper-cooled engines came in 6 to 12 HP sizes and were dubbed 'Abenaque Semi-Portable Engines.'

  • 10 HP Abenaque
  • Hopper-cooled Abenaque
  • Portable combination drag
  • Old Abenaque Machine Works plant
  • Old Abenaque Machine Works plant
  • Gasoline traction engine
  • Portable compressor
  • Stationary engine
  • Abenaque hopper-cooled engine

In 1893, Frederick M. Gilbert and his family backed up their horse and wagon to the Keene, N.H., bank and wrestled barrels full of gold, jewelry and money through the front door for deposit. This was both an ending and a beginning: The end of the saga of how the Gilbert family, of Glencoe, Md., transplanted to the area, and the beginning of the Abenaque Machine Works, Westminster Station, Vt.

A little history
Very little is known about the history of the Abenaque Machine Works and its main constituents, say Patricia A. Haas and Alice C. Caggiano, authors of the Westminster Historical Society's booklet, Abenaque Machine Works. What is known is that the Gilberts took a trip in a four-in-hand coach from Glencoe to Portland, Maine, sometime in the late 1880s. On the way, one of their horses came down with pinkeye, and they stopped in Westminster for help. With their horse left in capable hands, they purchased a substitute animal and made the trip to Maine. They returned a few weeks later, only to find their horse had died. During the second visit, however, and perhaps because of the beauty of the land, Frederick Gilbert decided to move to the area, which he and his family did in June 1892.

For reasons unclear, the start of Abenaque Machine Works was shrouded in secrecy. Doubtless, Gilbert already had his business plan in mind when he moved to Vermont. In February 1893, Gilbert bought 64 acres in the part of Westminster known as Westminster Station, and started remodeling a tobacco barn already on the property and laying foundations for other buildings, where, Haas and Caggiano write, 'He planned to introduce a manufacturing industry.'

Gilbert wouldn't say what kind of business he was starting, and evidently he let rumors circulate without debunking them. The major rumor indicated the new business would involve starch-making. This made sense because Gilbert had been previously involved in the starch-making business, and the Westminster corn-canning factory was next door.



Construction took off in earnest in 1894. A barn was turned into a shop, a new machine shop and woodworking shop, both of brick with slate roofs, were built, and people began to figure out the business would not involve starch making.

Early products
By the latter part of 1894, the factory was in full swing, and it was clear what the business was all about - manufacturing automatic scales and farm and marine gas engines of 3/4 to 15 HP. These engines, forerunners of the Abenaque engines collectors treasure today, were used throughout the factory as a vote of confidence in their own products. A 25-foot boat was kept on display with a marine engine mounted on it.



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