Canton, Illinois is enjoying its second wind. Business is strong, Graham Hospital’s care is exceptional and top-notch education follows each citizen from kindergarten to Spoon River College. To feel the wind in her sails again means Canton had a first run of greatness pioneered by leaders in industry. What do Robert C. Culton, William Parlin and William A. Cook have in common? They were each pioneers of industry have shaped Canton into what it is today.
Kentucky native, Robert C. Culton arrived in Canton in 1836 and purchased the blacksmith shop. By 1840, Mr. Culton had transformed his operation into a plow manufacturer. Culton’s plow set the stage for a booming agricultural machinery business in Canton.
William Parlin arrived in Canton that same year from Massachusetts. With him he brought a few tools, a leather apron and the willingness to work hard. He began working for Culton and advanced to become Culton’s business partner. Parlin later opened his own business and purchased a foundry to make Canton’s first steel plow. With the business expanding rapidly, Parlin took on his brother-in-law as a partner. The company was named Parlin & Orendorff.
Parlin & Orendorff was purchased by International Harvester in 1919 and became Canton Works International Harvester. With this new development the farm machinery boon continued in Canton for 64 more years. Sadly, on October 31, 1983 International Harvester closed its Canton Works facility in an effort to turn its agricultural machinery division around. The plant lay dormant until August of 1997 when the facility that occupied four of Canton’s city blocks went up in flames and burned for days.
To understand the pioneering spirit of men in Canton like Culton and Parlin is to know the drive with which William A. Cook approached his own success. Raised in Canton, Mr. Cook went on to Northwestern University and then created COOK Medical in the spare room of his apartment in Bloomington, Indiana. COOK Medical is a global leader in the medical device industry. Having celebrated great success over the years, Mr. Cook began giving back to the communities that had supported him and his businesses through the years.
To the Credit of Mr. Cook and his wife Gayle, are revitalization projects in Bloomington, French Lick and West Baden, Indiana as well as others and the latest venture in Canton, Illinois, Cook’s boyhood home. Cook purchased four buildings in downtown Canton, a shopping center, the site where the International Harvester plant was located as well as constructing the brand new Canton Harvester Inn boutique hotel and another factory—COOK Polymer. The Louis Building Pharmacy was restored and is now home to the Sweet Shop. The Randolph Building is another Canton purchase made by Cook. The main floor offers store fronts and there are apartments for rent on the second level. Also purchased is the Fulton Square Shopping Center.
The old International Harvester location is now a COOK Medical plant known as COOK Canton that employs 50 people to start. The crown jewel in Cook’s Canton holdings is The Canton Harvester Inn. This unique boutique hotel provides an additional 32 rooms of lodging for those who come to the area for business or play.
Culton, Parlin and Cook—the pioneers of industry in Canton, Illinois have formed and continue to shape the city of Canton and Fulton County for future pioneers and the citizens who live here. Because of great men like these that Canton says “we do that here.”