Sunday, July 5, 2015

Roswell Towsley and His Plow

Farming was probably the most important occupation of early Scipio residents, as it continues to be today. Farming sustained the family, and brought income with which to continue to improve their lives. This is nowhere as evident as when looking at the patents granted in Cayuga County in her earlier years. Other occupations became necessary to assist with farming, and inventions to make things work better and more efficiently for all this industry were sought after.

The following is extracted from the booklet titled “From The Inventors and Inventions of Cayuga County” as read before the Cayuga County Historical Society at Auburn, NY, on September 21, 1880 by Cyrenus Wheeler:

From 1790-1836, 474 patents were granted in Cayuga County. Many you may not recognize as they are not items in use today: 10 for plows, 8 for threshing machines, 5 for stave sawing and joining, 2 for spinning wheels, 3 for washing machines, and one each for a churn, harrow, millstone, mortising machine, hand rake, potash, pump raising water, saddle, bedstead, fanning mill, fence wire, knife sharpener, furnace, shears, cordage, manufacturing harness, and, last but not least, manufacturing brandy from domestic articles.

The earliest patent was granted on January 11, 1812 to Roswell Towsley of Scipio for a plow. Due to a fire at the Patent Office in 1836, which destroyed their records, no one knows the exact nature of Towsley’s invention but it does precede that of Jethro Wood.

Towsley was a blacksmith by trade, and came to Scipio to live near the present day town of Aurora in 1806. He had previously lived in Manlius, of Onondaga County. An enterprising man, Towsley also ran a tannery, shoe shop and furnace.

In 1817, Towsley built the first steam flouring mill west of the Hudson River at Aurora. 

Unfortunately, the mill was in operation only about one year when Towsley became deranged. He was sent to the “Lunatic Asylum” in New York City, where he died a lonely and broken man in 1820.

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