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Cowing and Company, Seneca Falls

"It is notable how various manufactures locate in groups, and we have yet to record the history of a fourth industry, which had its rise in, and conduced to the prosperity of this locality, and whose efforts were identified with pump manufacture; we refer to the firm of Cowing and Company. John P. Cowing and Henry Seymour began the manufacture of pumps in 1840, in the 'Old Clock Factory'. In this building, erected in 1832, the clock business was carried on by Marshall & Adams until 1837, and three years later occupied as stated. Upon the site of that old building, the largest brick building of Cowing & Company was subsequently erected. A removal was made, in 1843, to a structure known in those days as the 'Old Red Shop'; it stood just below the lower bridge, and was destroyed by fire in 1858. The partnership was dissolved in 1847, the business being continued by Mr. Seymour. Mr. Cowing and Henry W. Seymour continued to manufacture pumps in what was known as the 'Old Cultivator Shop', where now is located their western brick building, earlier used for the same business by Thomas I. Paine. Six to eight hands only were employed. Their furnace was burned down in April, 1849, and rebuilt at once. In December following it was again consumed by fire; during this year of misfortune, John A. Rumsey entered the firm; the business showed rapid increase, and for two years all went well. Once again the fire fiend made his attack, and in January, 1851, the cultivator-ship and furnace fell before his insatiable ravages. Immediately rebuilding , work was steadily continued till the breaking forth of the great conflagration of 1853, when the factory, the front and rear furnaces, much valuable machinery were destroyed. Yet again, with an undiminished energy, the company proceeded to the construction of the substantial buildings they now own. These were assailed by another powerful element-the air. During the great tornado of '53, which swept with such force over this locality, the roof of the City Mill was dislodged, and a purloin plate was hurled into the upper building of Cowing & Co., and considerable damage done. In January, 1859, Mr. Seymour retired from the company, and Philo and George Cowing, sons of the principal of the firm, were admitted to partnership, and the business continued under the title of Cowing & Co. The sale of manufactures amounted in 1851 to $20,000, and constantly increased, till, in 1862, they exceeded $200,000. In 1858, they bought the site of the sash-factory, at the end of Mill Street, adjoining their own works; on this ground they erected a large brick building of three stories, in which to manufacture fire engines. In 1861, John P. Cowing erected the large six-story building on the old paper-mill site. The company carried on the manufacture of fire engines, pumps of various kinds, hydraulic rams, thimble-skein and pipe boxes, and a variety of brass and iron goods. Four times burned out, once damaged by a hurricane, and once washed away by the flood of 1857, Cowing & Co. have contended successfully with difficulties which fall to the lot of few, and in 1870 had in their employ one hundred and forty men, whose pay roll amounted to $5000 per month; raw material was purchased to the amount of $60,000, and sales reached a quarter-million. In 1875 the number of hands was much reduced and consequently the amount of manufacture. Their wares were known at home and abroad, and agents found ready markets in foreign lands. At the Vienna Exposition a medal for general assortment of pumps was awarded to their house, based on an improved method of finishing pump interiors, which method is secured to the firm by their own patent. The company are not running their works, but are selling off manufactures on hand, preparatory to the organization of a stock company."

"History of Seneca Co., 1786-1876" [Ensign, Everts, Ensign, Philadelphia, 1876; reprinted by W.E. Morrison & Co., 1976] p. 48.

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