© Donn Haven Lathrop 2003

Orsamus Roman Fyler of either Connecticut or Vermont is one of those shadowy clockmaker figures who seems to abruptly (and randomly) pop up in our horological consciousness---and then quietly fade away--usually when someone comes across one of his clocks, asks for information on him, and is told that there is little information to be had. Truth to tell, there just isn't all that much information available--but he keeps on popping up in research on clockmakers in New England.  A search through the BULLETIN Index yields some 33 references, beginning in 1954 and running through 1995, primarily concerning his clocks and his patents.  There are but two articles that have any sort of biographical information---one of these is dead wrong, the other1 has a couple of errors---and there's nothing much at all about his clockmaking.  George Eckhardt's2 book on clock and watch patents has two listings for Fyler:

Fyler, O. R. Chelsea, Vt. Jun. 13, 1831-

Tyler, O. R. Bradford, Vt. Sep. 6, 1833-

In the second of the two listings above, the surname is misspelled 'Tyler.'  Whether the original documents carried this spelling is unknown; the Patent Office burned in 1836, and everything went up in smoke.  However, the text of these two patents appears as an Appendix to the book.3>

1  The locations given by Richard F. O'Connell in BULLETIN #119, Pg. 40, should be "...Chelsea, and Bradford, Vermont, and Newfield, Connecticut.  James W. Gibbs in BULLETIN #184, Pg. 433, writes of Fyler as Orsamus J. Tyler.
2  George Eckhardt: Unites States Clock and Watch Patents, 1790 - 1890.  The Record of a Century of American Horology and Enterprise.. Fyler is the Orsamus J. Tyler given by Gibbs.  Incidentally, the listings in this book have been scanned and have been made available to the NAWCC Library for a quick computerized search.
3  See also BULLETIN #294, Pg. 75, for the text of his first patent.  Somehow copies of these two patents ended up in the Franklin Institute Library in Philadelphia, where Mr. Eckhardt found them.


Orsamus Roman Fyler, son of Roman and Hannah (Barton) Fyler was born 4 November, 1793, at Newfield, Connecticut (near Torrington).  Lane Kendall Fyler, (a descendant of Fyler's half-brother4), and the genealogist for the Filer/Fyler family, wrote:

"He did not marry but was a man of energy and character.  He was the first inventor of a clock to run 8 days in a short case.  He manufactured whetstones (author's emphasis) and later became interested in selling the Guinabang Whetstones."

Zadock Thompson wrote the below thumbnail sketch of Burke in his 1842 History of Vermont:

"In 1817, Roman Fyler and others, established a manufactory of shaving boxes and brushes here, and for several years manufactured these articles to the amount of from $1,000 to $2,000 annually.  (Orsamus did not grow up in a poor household, regardless of its primitiveness.)  In 1819 Mr. Fyler and sons (author's emphasis) commenced the preparation of oil stones, in this town.  The stone was procured from a small island (known as Whetstone Island) in Memphremagog lake, and was here prepared for use and then sent to market in the amount of three or four tons annually.  It has been considered nearly, or quite equal to the Turkey5 oil stone, and is generally known by the name "Magog oil stone."

Whetstone catalog
Figure 1. A page from a catalog illustrating some of the sharpening stones from various quarries.

'Guinabang' Whetstones?  I spent frustrating weeks (and in the process got the State Geologists for both Connecticut and Vermont all wound up) looking for the source of these whetstones, only to

4  Hannah Fyler died of complications of childbirth on 14 November, 1795, and Roman married a Mrs. Sally Lyman (widow) in Newfield on 26 March, 1797.  If some of this material sounds familiar, both Paul Hollingshead (BULLETIN #56, Pg. 313) and I are quoting from the same material.
5  Turkey stone is a stone imported from Turkey.  It is a novaculite, a hard, extremely fine-grained siliceous rock known in this country as Arkansas stone.


find that "Guinabang" appears to be an orthographic error by Mr. Fyler carried over into the article in BULLETIN #56---these whetstones were quarried and prepared in Northeast Connecticut in the Quinebaug area, and were known as Quinebaug Whetstones.

Whetstone box
Figure 2. A box of Quinebaug Whetstones.
One has to wonder whether the Fylers ever saw the legendary monster of Lake Memphremagog, of which a note appeared in a recent local newspaper:  "It was the legendary monster of Lake Memphremagog---locally known as 'Memphre.'  It appeared to be fairly long and narrow, disturbed a substantial amount of water, and part of whatever it was appeared briefly above the surface before disappearing."
The first record of this "legendary monster" dates from 1816, stating that the local Indians would not swim or bathe in the lake.  In that the lake was a major conduit for illicit liquor before and during Prohibition, many locals put the alleged sightings down to an over-indulgence in their wares by rum-runners.

Mr. Fyler continues:

"He was a man of unusual intellectual powers, studied especially geology and chemistry, and became interested in most scientific subjects.  He was a perfect gentleman in manners and social life.

"He educated a young lady at Wilbraham, Massachusetts, expecting to marry her.  She went south to teach, met a young southerner and married him.  It was afterward learned that she had met the young man before going south and went there to marry him instead of teaching.  This so turned Mr. Fyler against the ladies that he not only resolved not to marry, but disliked to hear anyone talking about them6.

"Fyler also patented the first wooden rotary butter churn..."7

6  Franklin Moore's letter to Vox Temporis (BULLETIN #59, Pg. 544) is in error.  Mr. Moore wrote that "(Fyler) undoubtedly married as a probable offspring named O. R. Fyler was the Manager of a trolley line between Torrington and Winstead, Conn. around 1900."  The name is the same, but this Orsamus was not a descendant, but a distant cousin.
7  From the article by Paul Hollingshead in BULLETIN #56, Pg. 313.


That's a new one---a jilted misogynist clockmaker who made butter as well.

In July of 1999 we moved back to Vermont, and within a week found ourselves sitting a friend's house in East Burke, a town just a few miles to the north of Lyndonville.  Amongst the books in the house was a history of the town of Burke.  Since town histories are a favorite reading material, I sought a comfortable chair and opened the book...

...and came right up out of the chair, scrabbling for paper and pencil when I read, on page 6, among the names of the original settlers, the name of one Roman Fyler who had moved from Connecticut to Burke Hollow in 1800.  He owned and ran the first sawmills and gristmills on Fyler Brook (now Roundy Brook), was a member of a company chartered as the Passumpsic Turnpike Company to build a turnpike through the town of Barnet, south of St. Johnsbury, and of another company organized to push a road through the Notch of the White Mountains of New Hampshire---Crawford Notch.  Roman alone is mentioned eight different times in the book and his (abbreviated) business and personal biographies appear in at least two Vermont gazetteers and one state history; rather a prominent citizen!  Orsamus Roman is mentioned but once (as Orasmus) on page 8.

I had always wondered why a Connecticut clockmaker (he is so listed by Palmer and others) had filed patents from the small Vermont towns of Chelsea and Bradford where neither of the town histories make any mention of him.  Why was he in Vermont?  Now I knew.  But where did he apprentice---and did he indeed apprentice?---and if so, with whom?  Did he return to Connecticut and work with or for Riley Whiting?  Many of Whiting's clocks have labels that refer to "Fyler's Patent"---exactly which patent is never defined---examination alone will reveal whether it uses the escapement patent or the long-running patent, or both.  Curiouser and curiouser---and the why had niggled at the back of the mind for years without resolution.  I've restored tower clocks in both Chelsea and Bradford, and no one in either of those towns had ever heard of the Fyler name.


Regardless, his patents were filed just at about the end of the wood clock era.  Whiting is considered to have been one of the very last of the major wood works clockmakers; he died in 1835 and his widow eventually sold his factory to Lucius Clarke, William Lewis Gilbert and some other investors some six years later.  Clarke and Gilbert et. al. made brass clocks.

Horologically, Burke Hollow was Nowheresville.  Clock and watch ownership is spottily preserved in the town's tax records:

1801-3 watches taxed
1829-1 house clock and 14 watches taxed
1833-3 house clocks taxed
1835-3 house clocks and 26 watches taxed

So where did Fyler aquire his clockmaking skills?  There were no clockmakers, jewelers, or machinists in Burke until 1873, years after Fyler's death.  We know that he was still in Burke in 1820---27 years old---so he never apprenticed in the normal fashion, and that he filed his first patent 11 years later from Chelsea, a small Vermont town whose last resident clockmaker had fled to Ohio a year earlier.  In the article8 in BULLETIN #144 (Pg. 129) by A. Bruce Burns, the author mentions a loose movement by Whiting that has apparently been modified by Fyler, therefore he may have merely adapted an existing Whiting movement to his design, and perhaps manufactured a few clocks on his own.  Initially, I suspected that he may have used Whiting's facilities to make his clocks, and later granted Whiting the use of his patent(s).  (More on this later.)  But it is curious that his biography in the Fyler - Filer History and Genealogy emphasizes his commercial whetstone ventures over his clockmaking activities.

It's clear that Orsamus began life in Connecticut, but went to Vermont with his family when he was 6, and probably attended the one-room school opened in 1801, a school his father helped establish and maintain.  The history of Burke records that his father made

8  This article has the best description of Fyler's re-design, therefore I will leave it to the interested reader to look up the article.


several trips back to Connecticut over the years, and it was likely on one of these trips that Orsamus returned to Connecticut, and possibly began working with clocks.  In 1820, prior to his possible "apprenticeship" in Connecticut, Orsamus is known to have made whetstones and oilstones in Burke of stone mined and hauled in from either a Westmore quarry or a quarry on a small island in Lake Memphremagog called Whetstone Island.

It's also obvious that Fyler returned to Vermont and continued to work on clocks.  His first patent was filed from Chelsea, the county seat for Orange County.  Chelsea wasn't exactly an horological hotbed either:  Nathan Hale made perhaps one or two clocks after moving there from Windsor in 1807; his partner (from 1809 on) "by the halves," Phinehas Bailey, quit clockmaking in 1816-17 because of competition from cheap wood clocks from Connecticut with the declaration that he was "the last brass clockmaker in New England," and Jeremiah Dewey fled Chelsea for Ohio in about 1830.  Fyler's second patent was filed from Bradford, a few miles off to the northeast on the banks of the Connecticut River---another horological dead spot.  However, The Rembrances of Orrin Simpson, of Haverhill NH, August 1902 (in Early Pike and the Whetstone Works by Robert Fillion) includes the paragraph:
"I also remember of Mr. Filer (sic) making scythestones at Bradford, VT and he got his stone at Piermont. He was followed by Charlie Rogers who also got his stone from Piermont."
Another memo by an anonymous author, quoted in the same book, includes the paragraph:
"Osborn F. Filer (sic) got out some scythestones near Henry Nutt's [in Piermont NH] called the Filer ledge, afterward called the Taylor ledge, drew them to Bradford and sawed them, & Filer probably failed and then moved to Conn. Made Quinnnebog (sic) stones at Killingly, Conn."
It's also curious that neither of the town histories record any Fyler presence, yet his brother Barton and three of Fyler's half-brothers lived in Bradford, two of the latter until their deaths in 1836 and 1843 at fairly early ages.  Orsamus' name also appears on several deeds recorded in Bradford between 1828 and 1834.  His tenure in Chelsea would have been rather short---perhaps 21/2 to 3 years.  He may have been the "...experienced WOODEN CLOCK Maker from Connecticut..." whom Nathan Hale mentioned hiring in a 1 March, 1830, advertisement in the Vermont Advocate, but although it seems highly unlikely that a 37 year old man of "unusual intellectual powers, [who] studied especially geology and chemistry, and became interested in most scientific subjects" would stoop to repairing wooden clocks.  The truth, as it turned out, was considerably different.

Fyler needed the money---he was known to be overly fond of the grape, and was somewhat improvident as well.

Hale ad

Figure 3. An advertisement placed by Nathan Hale possibly touting the services of Fyler.

The following appears in Edward Taylor Fairbanks' The Town of St. Johnsbury, Vt., as an excerpt from (an unspecified) newspaper:

"Oct. 6, 1861. Orsamus Fyler having been by his misfortune and the caprice of his creditors driven from his business to the jail limits, announces that he is engaged in the pursuit of wooden clock making.  He can now furnish small mantle (sic) piece clocks superior in all respects to any others made in New England."

9   A telephone conversation with Mr. Fyler's son suggests that the source of the whetstone raw material is Westmore, just to the northwest of Burke Hollow.  A professor who teaches Earth Science at the local college located a quarry for me in Westmore, but it doesn't appear to be the source of the Magog oil Stone.
10  There was no known clockmaking activity in Bradford until 1859 (oddly enough, by a John C. Carleton), but Dudley Carlton, John Osgood's step-uncle (See BULLETIN #324, Pg. 46) made cases for Osgood's tall clocks in that town in the early 1800's.


I find it somewhat odd that Hale should label himself "CLOCK MAKER" in this advertisement since he evidently hadn't made more than one or two clocks since some time before 180711.  Lane Kendall Fyler quotes a Fyler genealogical correspondent:

"Orsamus was called "Old Boss Fyler." There is a family legend that "Old Boss Fyler" owned a quarry or considerable quarry property in Vermont---but that he was a little too fond of hard cider and signed too many notes for friends---notes on which they never made good."

Carleton ad

Figure 4.  The only evidence of clockwork activity I can find in Bradford in this general time period.

Fyler's main claim to horological fame is the design of a striking clock that would run for 8 days in a much shorter than usual case using two hammers driven by a common pinwheel, and a temperature-compensated (See Fig. 6.) pendulum (never patented) to correct for the likely tremendous indoor temperature swings before central heating became common.  BULLETIN #294, Pg. 75, has a thorough discusssion of his first patent.

Fyler clock

Figures 5A & 5B.  Two views of a Fyler Patent clock made and sold by Riley Whiting.  The clock case is but 33 inches tall, yet runs for a full 8 days.  In Figure 5B and in the inset, note the ivory-bushed escape wheel pivot, and the eccentric mounting for the verge pin.   The two strike hammers and the two-fall compounded weights are clearly seen.

11  See Phineas Bailey as well as Nathan Hale


Lane Kendall Fyler further wrote of Orsamus:

"He died May 16, 1867, and is buried in the private Fyler burial ground at Newfield, Connecticut.  I have seen his grave and the odd thing is, in contradiction to the records I have quoted, the next stone to him says: 'His wife, Mary Corman (or Gorman) died Nov. 1, 1821...' "

One has to wonder if the legend on this stone is the literal truth or if there is little buried beneath the "next stone to him" other than the somewhat sour memory of "...a young lady who went south to teach..." whose romantic double-cross was exposed on a certain date and who therefore is memorialized as having "...died Nov. 1, 1821..."

And I would still like to know where he apprenticed---and whether he did indeed apprentice?---and if so, with whom?

I will leave Orsamus as I found him:  "...a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma...", and will also leave any further speculations to the imagination of the reader.

Fyler inside

Figure 6. A Fyler-made clock clearly illustrating the temperature-comp-ensated pendulum. The upper end of the vertical rod is firmly mounted to the front plate, and bears on one end of the pivoted Z-shaped lever whose other end carries the typical slotted post for the pendulum suspension.


My particular appreciation to Mr. Lane Fyler, who freely loaned me his father's manuscripts and other research items, and to Paul Wood, who found and shared with me a great deal of information on Orsamus Roman Fyler's whetstone endeavors.

Fyler Bibliography

BULLETIN of the NAWCC, #56, Pg. 313; #119, Pg. 40; #144, Pg, 143; #294, Pg.†75.

BURBANK, Phyllis, Burke---More than Just A Mountain.  Co-published by the Burke Mountain Club (Burke Historical Society) and Phyllis Burbank. 1989.

CARLISLE, Lillian Baker, Vermont Clock and Watchmakers, Silversmiths, and Jewelers, 1778-1878:  The Stinehour Press, Lunenburg, Vermont. 1970.

ECKHARDT, George H., United States Clock and Watch Patents, 1790-1890. The Record of a Century of American Horology and Enterprise. Privately printed, New York. 1960.

FAIRBANKS, Edward T., ST JOHNSBURY VT., A REVIEW OF ONE HUNDRED TWENTY-FIVE YEARS to the Anniversary Pageant 1912. The Cowles Press, St. Johnsbury. 1914

FILLION, Robert G., Early Pike and the Whetstone Works. R.G. Fillion. 1994

FYLER, Lane Kendall, A History and Genealogy of the Fyler Family, unpublished manuscript held by his son. 1967

HEMENWAY, Abby Maria, Ed., The Vermont Historical Gazetteer, Vol I.  Published by Miss A. M. Hemenway, Burlington, Vermont. 1867.

THOMPSON, Zadock, History of Vermont, Natural, Civil, and Statistical, in Three Parts.  Published for the author by Chauncey Goodrich, Burlington, Vermont.1842.

THE VERMONT ADVOCATE, published at Chelsea, Vermont, 29 June, 1830.


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