Lewis Swift was born February 29, 1820 in the village of Clarkson, Monroe County, NY.  He eventually made his way to Rochester, NY and then California, yet he is buried in the Marathon Cemetery.  Lewis swift made Marathon his home for a period and continued to have connections to the area as he made his way to fame.  He later retired to Marathon where he lived out the remainder of his life.

  In 1854 (or 1851) Lewis opened a hardware store in Hunt’s Corners, NY. During this time he toured the country lecturing and demonstrating the microscope. While shopkeeper Lewis bought his first astronomy books. He built his first telescope following instructions in these books, a 3 inch refractor telescope with a hand made brass mount. With this telescope he began a systematic sky survey, most likely scanning for comets like the ones that had impressed him so many years earlier.

  Lewis read much about astronomy and tried to keep up with the latest in the field. His keen interest compelled him to travel to Rochester in 1857 and 1858 to attend lectures by the director of the Cincinnati Observatory, Ormsby Mitchel. Mitchel played a leading role in establishing an observatory for the Cincinnati College completed in 1845. The observatory was one of the most advanced in the United States at that time.

  Swift purchased a 4 ½ inch “comet seeker” telescope from optical craftsman Henry Fritz.  Once his new telescope was delivered he built his first observatory near Marathon. This first observatory may have been located near what is now known as Greek Peak in Virgil, NY not far from the village of Hunt’s Corners.

  In 1862 Lewis moved his family to Marathon. An 1863 map notes Swift’s Astronomical Observatory to be located near his home on what is now Swift Street in Marathon. This observatory was a roof top construction on his barn. His first comet “discovery” followed soon after the observatory was completed, but he found that several others had observed it before him.

  In the same year that Lewis Swift moved to Marathon, he made his most famous discovery. While looking for a comet that had been announced in the New York Times, Lewis noticed another faint object in the same region of sky. Another astronomer, Horace Tuttle of Harvard, had also observed this comet. After some controversy and debate, the details were sorted out and the comet became known as Comet Swift-Tuttle.

More can be read about Lewis Swift in my book "Lewis Swift - Marathon's Connection to the Stars" available at http://scimuze.com/RisingRiver/


All pages © 2008, 2017 J. Rienhardt