Hiram Todd Dewey, Clockmaker,Vintner & Snake Oil Salesman

Donn Haven Lathrop 2008

While working through several studies of various New England makers, and their work in that section of the country, I noticed that many of these makers or their relatives, apprentices, or partners were emigrating to the Midwest. Research is a strange mistress---the more one knows, the less one apparently knows. Hours spent in the musty depths of a library have a bad habit of leading one astray, simply because so much other data is discovered while searching for references to the particular subject of one's interest. I also wandered into the Midwest...


Therefore it happens that I found that the subject of this paper was born 13 July, 1816, to Jeremiah and Orinda (Todd) Dewey in Poultney, Vermont. His father was a clockmaker who began his career in 1808 in Middlebury, then in 1820 moved to (what was evidently a rather unproductive) East Randolph, and then on to Chelsea in about 1823. It is interesting that Phinehas Bailey of Landaff, New Hampshire, an apprentice to John Osgood in Haverhill, New Hampshire, and journeyman to Jedidiah Baldwin in Hanover, New Hampshire, had moved to Chelsea in 1808, "[because I had] learned that there was one Nathan Hale who formerly worked at the clock business who had some tools to sell." Bailey then struck a bargain with Hale in a partnership wherein Hale would provide the shop and the tools and stock, and Bailey would make clocks "by the halves." But, by 1816, the flood of cheap wooden clocks (Eli Terry probably drove the ante-penultimate nail in the hand-made movement's coffin) had begun to flow northward from Connecticut, and Bailey's market for brass clocks collapsed. His personal claim in later years was that he had been the "last brass clockmaker in New England" when he quit the business in 1816. I feel that Bailey was already somewhat out of touch with reality when he made his claim to be the "last clockmaker in New England". He was by this time on the doorstep of the development and subsequent publication of his unique shorthand method, while simultaneously redefining his life more toward religious pursuits.

In reflecting on the apparent lack of business in this particular area, this dropping out of clockmaking isn't too surprising. Perhaps as an illustration of this apparent lack of business for the local maker: It has been noted that as late as 1848 in Strafford, Vermont, only 24 men---4 per cent. of the grand list---were taxed on their pocket watches, and it's estimated that there were, at the most, 50 clocks in the town. This Upper Valley (as it is known today) region of New Hampshire and Vermont does not seem to have been kind to the clockmaker---Martin Cheney moved from Windsor, Vermont, to Montreal in 1809; Jedidiah Baldwin left Hanover, New Hampshire, in 1811 after a rather unrewarding career; Phinehas Bailey quit the business entirely in 1816; Stephen Hasham of Charlestown, New Hampshire, made his living principally as a builder and architect (it took him nearly ten years to sell his first four tower clocks), and the Dewey family left for Ohio in about 1830-31.

However, some makers in this Upper Valley area of New Hampshire and Vermont continued to work profitably, well into the late 1830's. For instance, Bailey's own master, John Osgood, made a gallery clock in 1838, (very likely his last clock---he died on 29 July, 1840, at the end of a clockmaking career covering some 45 years) that he presented to his church in Haverhill, New Hampshire.


The Early Years...

In 1829, the 13-year old Hiram began working---obviously an apprenticeship---in his father's shop, only to have this apprenticeship interrupted within a year or so. The Dewey Family History does not record a precise date, but in about 1830-31 Jeremiah Dewey moved his family from Chelsea, Vermont, to Sandusky, Ohio. Notwithstanding the interruption, by 1836 Hiram was 'given his time', and first engaged in the jewelry business at Perrysburg, Ohio, on the outskirts of Toledo. He later removed to Fort Wayne, Indiana, and there continued in the jewelry business. While in Fort Wayne, he married on the 23rd of November, 1838, Susan Lanfrey Stapleford, the daughter of William and Elizabeth (Defuty) Stapleford. She was born on the 28th of December, 1818 at New Castle, Delaware, and died 25 May, 1898, at age 79 at Brooklyn, New York. Dewey served in the Wayne Guards as First Corporal in 1841, when the militia was organized. Two of his five children were born in Indiana, but by 1843, according to the Dewey Family History, he had returned to Sandusky. In the 1850 census, he is listed as 'watchmaker', with no apparent assets, and is later listed in the 1855 Sandusky Directory as a dealer in jewelry and watches. According to this Directory, Hiram continued in this business in both Sandusky and Tiffin (about 50 miles to the southwest) until about 1861---by this time he had added boots and shoes to his inventory. It is of interest that in the 1850 census he was listed as without assets, yet, by 1860, he had obviously prospered: His real estate holdings were listed at $4,100, and his personal property at $4,500. Also resident in his house was a (probable) maid named Lucy, born in Ireland.

The Vintner...

The Dewey Family History records:
"[In] 1857, ...he purchased a farm one mile from [Sandusky], and planted therein a vineyard. This was the pioneer vineyard in northern Ohio, on the main shore of Lake Erie. There were already small vineyards on Kelley's Island (an island just offshore in Lake Erie). Mr. Dewey's success was immediate: by 1860 his vines were in full bearing and were a wonder to the people in the surrounding country: hundreds of visitors came to inspect the vineyard, people became enthused, and business men, professional men, school teachers, and others began to buy land upon which to plant vineyards, and property in the neighborhood advanced from $75 to $400 per acre. The idea had hitherto prevailed that grape culture could only be successfully conducted on an island. Mr. Dewey first sold his fruit for table purposes, but in 1862 he began to make wine, and put up 4,000 gallons, the following year 15,000, and progressed from year to year, until the business of wine making absorbed his entire attention. In 1865 he opened a house in New York for the sale of his wines."

Dewey Building

Figure 1. A postcard showing the H. T. Dewey & Sons building in New York circa 1898.

"There then existed a great prejudice against American wines, and the outlook was discouraging. Success was at first slow in coming, and it was hard to do away with the popular prejudice then existing. But in time the American product came to be appreciated, and Mr. Dewey found ready and increasing sales for his wine, and the pioneer wine house has established for itself a name and trade..."

A bottle from Dewey's winery.

Figure 2. A bottle from Dewey's winery.

As late as 1920, H. T. Dewey & Sons---Jeremiah, George, and Hiram, Jr.---were wine merchants at 138 Fulton Street in New York City. Dewey evidently found the New Jersey soil in the vicinity of Egg Harbor accomodating of the cultivation of a vineyard, as he planted one that did well. The company is known to have flourished through the 1920's, until Andrew Volstead's Eighteenth Amendment to the Constitution caused it to fade from the wine business. Hiram Todd Dewey, clockmaker and vintner, died on the 11th of July, 1901.


Figure 3. The Restaurant Department of HT Dewey & Sons,
Wine House in New York City.  A hand-tinted postcard from 1906.

The Snake Oil Salesman...

Dewey did, however, concoct some rather interesting potions which, rather naturally, featured his wines. One of these was "Dewey's Emulsion" of cod liver oil and port wine, recommended for: "Coughs, colds and general run-down conditions, also for the relief of bronchial troubles and irritations of the mucous membrane surfaces"---plus it was also "beneficial to convalescents after pneumonia, the grippe, and influenza." The bottle blurb concludes with: "The new formula retains all of its vitamin elements---flesh producing and tissue building, blood making and digestive advantages."

Dewey's Emulsion

Figure 4. A bottle that illustrates the components of Dewey's Emulsion on one side and provides the image of Hiram Todd Dewey himself on the other. The labeling made claims about the various ailments that Dewey's Emulsion of Cod Liver Oil and Port Wine could treat.

snake oil

Figure 5. Recommended for what ails you... If the ingredients are "pure," perhaps this emulsion will be of some benefit. The author's youthful experiences with cod liver oil and castor oil mixed with various substances in vain efforts to make them somewhat more palatable has left him with a permanent aversion for lemon meringue pie or any of its permutations.
The Clockmaker...

The Dewey Family History interjects an intriguing and mysterious note---"...in 1843 he [Hiram] returned to Sandusky, Ohio, and began the manufacture of 'town clocks', in which he made several improvements, such as reducing the number of wheels in the movement." The HISTORY OF SENECA COUNTY records that: "In March, 1847 H. T. Dewey was permitted to place a clock in the [Tiffin] court house steeple which he should be allowed to remove at pleasure if the county or citizens did not deem it worthy of being paid for. This was not adopted, but some years after Philip Siebold furnished a clock, which was used until the last court house was taken down." A subsequent search of patents---clock and otherwise---yielded absolutely nothing along this line patented by Hiram Dewey, although I found one of his father's patents, which was of a medical, not an horological, nature.

Attributed to Dewey...

The Clock...

In reading through my collection of BULLETINs---from #1 to the latest---I noticed in 'Chapter Highlights' for December, 1988, (#257, Pg. 537), a photograph of the late Paul Heffner with "...the tower clock in the Warren County Historical Society Museum." Unidentified and odd-looking tower clocks are always interesting, and I wanted to find out as much as I could. Later correspondence with Mr. Heffner elicited just enough information to pique my interest considerably, and several photographs and articles Mr. Heffner sent me put the icing on the cake.

The clock had evidently been installed---as a Town Clock---in the Methodist Protestant Church in Lebanon, Ohio, in December, 1847. Its installation was supervised by a Peter Deardorff, whom the newspaper accounts call silversmith, and James Gibbs names 'watchmaker.' Forty years later the church building was sold to the Odd Fellows Lodge; locks, clock, and bell. The Lodge raised a new building the following year, and in a contract with the town in which the Lodge was paid $600, agreed to build a tower for the Town Clock. The Town was further to pay $25 annually to have the clock wound and kept in good repair. The clock continued to function well until the early 1900's, but fell on hard times in 1911, and was neglected until 1988. The clock was removed from the Odd Fellows Lodge by members of Buckeye Chapter (#23) , who then cleaned it up, and installed in the Warren County Historical Society Museum in Lebanon, Ohio. It ticks away happily, but the strike train is not run very often---the vibration created seems to be excessive.

Dewey's Clock

Figure 6. The clock attributed to Hiram Todd Dewey. Note the odd 'strike train,' consisting of various levers, a verge, and just one 78 tooth wheel.

A story in The Western STAR for 26 March, 1914 quotes the rather interesting opinion of a local gentleman; "M. Kohlhagen is of the opinion that the clock was made two or three hundred years ago." There may be a connection here with the famous (or infamous, depending on how hard one was 'bitten') 'Columbus Clock,' a crown-wheel and foliot single-hand reconstruction with the date '1492' impressed on the front, which has been known---and to this day continues---to sucker collectors. The 'Columbus Clock' was made a few miles from Sandusky in Norwalk, Ohio. If this tower clock was indeed made that early (1614 to 1714), it must have been stored somewhere for a very long time---the Cincinatti area wasn't settled until 1788.

The photographs illustrate a wood-framed clock typical of those made by several makers in New England to a basic pattern pioneered by Abel Stowell, Sr., in Worcester, Massachusetts, in 1799, and developed further by Stephen Hasham in his 1823 Pittsfield clock. Stowell's wood-frame flatbed clock (the flatbed design was originated by the French) was later copied by clockmakers such as Simon Willard, Gardiner Parker, and Thomas Woolson, Jr. Later adaptations of the wood-frame flatbed came from the hands of Stephen Hasham, Major George Holbrook, George Handel Holbrook, and Benjamin Morrill. Commercial makers such as Howard, Stephenson & Davis, and George M. Stevens in Boston, Massachusetts, began to produce clocks with flat-bed cast-iron frames from about 1842 onward. The blue-grey painted frame members are held together with 'bedstead' hardware, and interestingly enough, have the characteristic 'New Hampshire bumper' at the ends of the top beam.

Top frame decorative 'bumper'

Figure 7. The decorative flourish applied to the ends of the top frame members on clocks by Stephen Hasham, Benjamin Morrill, and this clock attributed to Dewey.

The frame (in inches) is 51. 25 wide, 25. 5 deep, by 54 high at the peak of the 'A' frame. The time train winding barrel rests on the top of the upper frame beams, and the train wheels 'climb' up the right-hand side of the central A-frame to the conventional anchor escapement. A setting dial with one hand is mounted at the front of the clock, driven by the 'non-working' end of the second wheel arbor. The 48.5 inch, 1.042-second pendulum, with a coarse rating nut below the bob, and a fine rating adjustment at the suspension, hangs at the back of the clock. (The front of a tower clock is considered to be the side on which the clock is wound.) Two rubble-filled 'barrels' suspended with (added before 1914) wire ropes drove the trains. The weight lines were evidently not compounded, but were led down to a pulley at the base of the clock frame, then back up to another pulley at the top of the weight channel at about the same level as the clock.

A bevel-gear driven vertical shaft at the back of the clock drove a distribution transmission above the clock at the level of the four, 6-foot diameter dials. The outside dial minute hands had an integral extension to act as a counterpoise. The use of a distribution transmission to drive more than the usual 3 dials is unusual this early. Among New England tower clock makers, Benjamin Morrill of Boscawen, New Hampshire, was the only one to use a bevel-gear driven vertical shaft capable of driving four dials. The norm was three dials, with the leading-off rods coming off the clock at the level of the top of the clock frame. Among those who built similar clocks using but three dials are both Holbrooks, Phineas Quimby and Timothy Chase, Abel Stowell, Sr., and Stephen Hasham.

The strike train is one of the most unusual strike "trains" I've ever seen. If this clock is indeed an H. T. Dewey, he certainly carried out his declared intention of "reducing the number of wheels" in the clock. There is but one wheel (nearly 2 feet in diameter) in the strike train, which incorporates the winding barrel, ratchet wheel, 'lifting pins', the 'strike train lock', and count wheel (on an integral, appropriately slotted, axially cast count rim). The wheel looks like an escape wheel---somewhat oversized---with 78 teeth. It drives a verge spanning 4 teeth, which in some way in turn swung a bell hammer to strike the hours. According to several members of Chapter 23 with whom I spoke, the strike side has never been rigged to run in the Museum, because of the noise and vibration. The clock struck on a bell cast by an as-yet unknown maker. Excepting for the count rim and the various levers, there is apparently very little difference between this strike mechanism and the escape-wheel/verge alarm in the common kitchen clock. Same principle, different result, unless the clock struck as rapidly as does one of those little alarm units. Without any sort of speed control such as a fly or weight governor, I imagine the weight of the bell hammer had to be rather carefully balanced against the weight driving the strike wheel. (I can't bring myself to call this a train---there's only one wheel!) Regardless, this seems to be very close to the addition-of-weight/subtraction-of-weight system used in the good old days to regulate a clock with a crown-wheel/foliot escapement.

Strike train

Figure 8. The various parts of the "strike train," comprising the winding barrel, strike count rim, count lever, strike trip lever, strike lock lever, and the "verge."

There is a distinct hint that this was the sole means of controlling the speed of successive strike hammer blows in one of the The Western STAR accounts of the clock. Although it is taken from a highly romanticized account of the clock's history, the story avers that:

"It was a patriotic clock, and never but once indulged in any tantrums different from what might be expected from any well regulated clock. This was on the occasion of Lee's surrender (Sunday, 9 April, 1865). All the bells in town were rung on that day, including the one on which the old clock has reckoned so many hours of joy and sorrow. For a moment the ringing on this bell was stopped for the accommodation of the clock. The faithful guardian struck its appointed hour, paused for an instant, and then went off on its own hook. Men are living in Lebanon today who will swear that the clock struck two solid hours without the interposition of human agency---now beating time as if to a polka measure, then slowly sounding the melancholy cadence of a dirge (author's emphasis). It was a queer freak, but there is no reason why a clock should not be so patriotic."

The clock now stands in the Warren County Historical Society Museum, still a mystery as to its maker, and even more of a mystery as to exactly how the odd strike train worked.

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