Eaton is a fictitious place, a loose conglomeration of several towns in Central Pennsylvania, and is the setting for many of the stories within my novels. Characters are either from Eaton or nearby towns or visit the city.
Now that you know the city is not a real place, let me describe it and the surrounding area: Eaton is a small city with a population of 10,000 people. Its closest neighbor is Chance, a small township to the west with about 2,000 residents.
Eaton was established in the late 1700s and by the mid-1800s, was a prosperous town. Settlers transformed its pioneer villages into thriving communities where generations of German, Scottish, Irish and Italian immigrants found opportunity and made homes.
Coal resources provided stable jobs for many and fortunes for a few. Coal mining in Pennsylvania began in the mid-1700s, fueling the Industrial Revolution and providing small, Colonial foundries with iron, then steel mills of the 1800s. Two kinds of coal are mined in Pennsylvania: anthracite, or hard coal, and bituminous, softer coal. The coal called many and at one time, Eaton’s population swelled to more than 50,000 people. It was a bustling river valley town with access to the canal system, and then the train.
Many of the coal barons lived in mansions, competing with each other to see who could build the fanciest house. Most of these homes were designed by the same architect, so the affluent neighborhood became a Victorian showcase.
By the end of the 19th century, dwindling resources at nearby coal mines forced the community to seek alternative sources of income. The city’s future flared once again post-World War II when the board of trade enticed companies to relocate to the area. The economic boom of the 1950s created labor shortages, however, and to overcome this, corporations worldwide looked to countries where unemployment was high and labor was cheap. Soon, American companies were exporting jobs and the ones that did not soon found themselves undercut and out of business.
Like many industrial towns in small-town America, Eaton’s heyday is over. It struggles to maintain a population capable of providing the taxes needed to run its small government. Abandoned factories dot the riverside landscape and, in the rural areas, empty houses fall into ruin.
The once-depressed region is evolving, though, thanks to its proximity to major cities and the advent of high-speed telecommunications. More people work at home, via the Internet and cellular technology. Many of the young people, who left for big-city opportunities, are now returning to the river valley, embracing its majestic mountains, abundant timberlands, and fertile farmlands. Intelligent and hardworking young families seek a quality of life. Quiet, pastoral, historic, the small city of Eaton was a safe place to raise children.
A new boom is beginning. Eaton is on the cusp of a major renaissance, boasting several small art galleries, chic new restaurants, and even a nightclub. Although tucked away in upstate Pennsylvania, it is becoming a popular place to live.