New York City 1820

A postcard from the 1820s shows what was apparently the grocery section of New York City.

Timothy Dewey was born on the farm of his parents, Timothy and Jemima, in Gilsum in 1784. Three years later that portion of the town was incorporated into the new town of Sullivan. Young Dewey attended Sullivan schools and then went on to college, where he studied to become an engineer.

He became a civil engineer and settled in Albany, N.Y. He traveled to Europe and completed his education there. While studying in Germany, he learned the process of making illuminating gas for use in lighting homes.

In 1820 Dewey moved to New York City. He published a newspaper called Mechanics’ Gazette. While working on that undertaking he established the first gas manufacturing plant in New York and one of the first in America.

Gas had been made and burned before, but his New York factory was probably the first American plant for the commercial production of gas for residential lighting purposes.

His home on Grand Street was the first house in America permanently lighted by gas. Dewey was soon selling $2,600 worth of gas to 1,200 customers weekly and anticipating the construction of a second plant in Brooklyn. Dewey’s New York gas company was a great success. In the 1830s, he went to Philadelphia to introduce gas there as well. His company proved the safety and reliability of gas and other firms entered the business, bringing gas to homes throughout the country.

Dewey was also involved in other business enterprises in addition to gas manufacturing, including the construction of the Rome, Watertown and Ogdensburg Railroad. He became very wealthy and acquired a magnificent estate, known as Ashland Farm, in Jefferson County, N.Y.

Sullivan native Timothy Dewey retired to Ashland Farm and passed away there in 1853.

Alan F. Rumrill is executive director of the Historical Society of Cheshire County, which has been collecting, preserving and sharing the history of the region since 1927. It’s on Main Street. To learn more about its public programs and collections, visit hsccnh.org.