A Brief History of The Utica Steam Engine and Boiler Works of Utica, NY1831-1983


| January/February 1993



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R.D. 2, Box 842 West Win field, New York 13491

What was to become one of the most varied and interesting companies in central New York was founded in 1831 by Philo Curtis, Sr. It occupied a large site on Whitesboro Street and was directly on the old Erie Canal. Until quite recently, the old out lines of the canal basin could be easily traced to the west of the building. Canal boats could leave the canal and tie up to the company dock to load or discharge coal, iron and manufactured items. It has also been stated that at one time there was a winch anchored nearby which would drag canal boats out of the basin and either inside or close to the works for re pairs. When the Erie was superseded by the Barge Canal, located to the north about a half mile, the old Erie was filled in and became Oriskany Boulevard, so named as it led to the village of Oriskany and the Oriskany battlefield, site of one of the bloodiest battles of the American revolution.

As originally initiated, the business was primarily a machine shop, but when Philo Curtis Jr. joined the firm a boiler shop and foundry were added. At this time the Utica area was a fast growing center for a vast array of industries. Many of these were manufacturers of heavy machinery for mills of all descriptions. Many foundries were also located here, producing everything from parlor stoves to gristmill machinery. There were also other steam related firms in Utica, such as the large Utica Steam Gauge Company, and the extensive locomotive headlight business of Irwin Williams, which occupied a five story building and at one time was turning out 1,600 coal oil and kerosene burning headlights per year.

Under the management of the Curtises, the business continued to grow until it was one of the largest concerns in the area. Later it was bought and operated by Joel Omens, who had started out in the boiler shop. He operated the company until about 1896 when the business was incorporated and ownership transferred to Mr. Tom McKough and Mr. Will McCann.

When Mr. McKough died in 1919, his interest in the company passed on to his wife, Florence Fisher McKough. Needing help to carry on the business she called upon her brother, Benjamin James Fisher. He was operating, at that time, the Merrimac Mills in Huntsville, Alabama. It was recently related to this writer the experiences of the long trip from Alabama in the rear seat of a Buick touring car with his two brothers. One feature of the trip was going aboard the night boat, car and all, from Cleveland to Buffalo.

Within a year or two Will McCann passed away, and the firm was operated solely by Mr. Fisher. He suffered a heart attack in the 1940s and asked his son Morgan to temporarily operate the business. This task he accepted, not dreaming he would run the company for almost 40 years. He was joined in the business by his brothers, Edwin and Ben; Ben later left to form his own company, the still-operating Oneida County Boiler Works.