Owned by a schoolteacher turned industrialist, the Abel E. Eaton House remains an unusual but attractive example of Second Empire architecture in Oregon.
Union, Oregon began as an industrial town in 1862, serving as one of the state’s primary economic centers through the end of the nineteenth century. Abel Elsworth Eaton, a former schoolteacher in the Midwest, moved to Oregon seeking financial gain, and he opened a successful freighting business in Baker City in 1867. He eventually purchased a woolen mill in neighboring Union in 1871. When the mill became his primary business, he moved to the town permanently and started a ranch in the area. Because of these and other financial interests, Eaton developed a considerable fortune and decided to build a home equivalent to his status in 1908, culminating in the Abel E. Eaton House. He combined two ornamental architectural styles, the waning Second Empire style with the more popular Queen Anne style, to create an unusual but appealing structure.
Queen Anne style bears similarities to Second Empire as it often contains high amounts of interior and exterior decoration, though it follows eighteenth-century British design cues instead of French ones. Instead of Second Empire mansard roofs, which distinctly curve downward from a square or rectangular top, Queen Anne roofs are gabled, sloping downward on the front and back, leaving a gable (the wall) in between the roof’s sides. Steeply pitched roofs are common on Queen Anne structures, creating the perception of a larger home, while Second Empire ones are symmetrical, curving down from the flat top on four sides, providing more space in the second story. The Eaton House combines these two designs, as its roof is mansard, but steeply pitched, including several smaller roofs in front of the second-story balconies and windows, expanding with the exterior walls.
Unlike many Second Empire and Queen Anne houses, the Eaton House does not embrace ornamentation, remaining plain, but tasteful. While elegant in appearance, it is not large and is slightly under 1,500 square feet, though it contains five bedrooms and two-and-a-half bathrooms. Its simple brick siding, however, is broken by the classically-inspired wraparound porch. This feature, often found in Queen Anne style, makes homes seem larger in scale and provides greater exterior variety. In another contradiction, ornamental cast-iron fencing, typical in Second Empire homes, tops the section of the roof curved in the shape of a bell, known as a bellcast tower, above the balconies.
The Eaton House remains well-preserved, with the floor plan unchanged, staying close to the condition Eaton left it when he died in 1917. Before his passing, Eaton served as Mayor of Union for one term and unsuccessfully ran for governor under the Prohibition ticket in 1910, winning 5.1% of the vote. The only major adjustment to this house after his death is the alternation of the wraparound porch. Previously enclosed by large windows in-between classical pillars, the entrance has since been exposed, showing the front door and exterior brickwork. Without older photographs of the Eaton House, this change would be almost unnoticeable, as the open-air entrance appears natural. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1977, the Eaton House remains private property at the time of writing and is not open to the public.