Boi's of Springport, New York
From: History of Cayuga County, New York
By: Elliot G. Storke, Assisted by: Jos H. Smith
Published by: D. Mason & Co.,
Syracuse, New York, 1879

(Offsite link) - A complete name index of the Biographical
review of Cayuga County, New York, edition of 1894


J. O. SPENCER was born in Delaware county, N. Y., in 1834, and spent his early life, after attaining a proper age, in attending and teaching school. At the age of twenty years he exchanged the vocation of teaching for that of farming; but possessing a mechanical turn of mind he soon yielded to the irresistible impulse to make a practical application of the principles of mechanism which so fascinated him, and a portion of his time was early devoted to mechanical pursuits. He rapidly developed into a thorough mechanic, and in 1875 became the proprietor of the establishrnent in Union Springs, of which he is still the efficient head.

These, the Union Springs Agricultural Works, were established in by Henry and William McFarland, whose parents settled at an early day about three miles north of Union Springs and still reside there The McFarlands, though engaged in agricultural pursuits, were skilled mechanics, both being millwrights by trade. From their occupation as farmers their attention was particularly directed to the urgent need of improvements in thrashing machines, which were then very rude and imperfect and consequently unsatisfactory. By a series of experiments they invented many of the improvements now in use in nearly all first-class thrashing machines. They were the inventors of the first straw carriers, the over-blast flue in fanning-mills, and beaters for separating the grain from the straw, though they never took out patents therefor. They engaged in the manufacture of the thrashing machines which bear their name, which are a]so known at present as the "Wide Awake" machines, and continued the business successfully till 1867, when Henry, the younger, then just in the prime of life, died. William bought his brother's interest in the business and continued it till his death in May, 1874, when the works were successfully run one year by the administrators, who completed and sold the large quantity of unfinished work left on hand, and in the spring of 1875 sold the works at auction.

The establishment was then bought by the present proprietor, Mr. J. O. Spencer, who, though commencing late in the season, succeeded in manufacturing a large number of machines, which met with a ready sale. Thus encouraged, Mr. Spencer was induced to add to the manufacture of thrashers and horse-powers, to which the works had thus far been confined, other branches, and in the fall of 1877 he commenced building portable steam engines. He selected as a model one of the very best engines in the world, and is now turning out engines, which, like his thrashers, are styled the "Wide Awake," and are not inferior in any respect to any manufactured in. this country. His ambition to excel in his chosen department of labor bas been rewarded with a most gratifying and merited success. He has more than trebled the productive capacity of the works, and is turning out the present season (1879) from 25 to 30 engines and 75 to 100 thrashers, thus necessitating the employment of a large capital and the labor of forty to fifty workmen.

Mr. Spencer married Miss Lydia Bunn, of Tompkins Co., N. Y., in 1857, and is blessed with four children, three sons and one daughter, viz: Otto, Andrew, Warren and Fannie, the former of whom, the eldest, is foreman in the machine shop.

His father, Welden T. Spencer, who was born in Schenectady Co., April 11th, 1806, is still an active, energetic man. He removed with his parents to Delaware county, where he remained till he attained the age of twenty-three years, when lie commenced business for himself in Tompkins county, as farmer and lumber dealer, which he pursued there forty years. He then sold out, retired from active business, and removed to Sullivan county, where he remained till the death of his wife, April 9th, 1874, since which time he has made his home with his son in Union Springs.


JOHN F. and CHARLES E. COURTNEY are prominently identified with the manufacturing in.terests of their native village, Union Springs, Cayuga County, N. Y., where the former was born November, 1846, and the latter in September, 1848. They are sons of James E. and Catharine Courtney, who were born in Ireland, the former in 1800, and the latter in 1815, and emigrated thence to this country, Jarnes, in 1818, and Catharine, in 1817. Both parents settled in Salem, Mass. Mrs. Courtney's maiden name was Coburn. After their marriage, in 1840, they removed to Cayuga County, where James E. died in 1855, leaving a widow and ten children, five sons and five daughters, six of whom are now living. James T., the eldest child, has resided in California since 1859. William H., another son, died in Libby Prison. He was captured by the Confederate forces with thirtynine others of Capt. J. R. Angel's command, west of Newbern, N. C., during the war of the Rebellion. Thirty-two of the number were from the town of Springport, and only two of the forty-none of the latter number-were afterwards heard from.

John and Charles being left thus early, at the tender age of nine and seven years respectively, without a father's protecting care, were obliged at a very early age to assist their mother in the support of the family. Their scholastic advantages were, consequently, extremely limited, as the weightier cares of providing for the physical necessities of the family left them little time for attendance at school; but the little thus afforded was sedulously improved, and this, combined with the talents with which nature has liberally endowed them, together with industry and frugality, have earned for them a reputable business standing.

Both early learned the carpenter and joiner trade, in which they acquired a good degree of proficiency, and in March, 1875, they commenced their present business, which is conducted under the name of the New York Central Planing-Mill and Hub Works. Besides operating a planingmill, they are somewhat extensively engaged in the manufacture of hubs, sash, doors, blinds and moldings, in which they give employment to fifteen to twenty men. The demand for their goods has been such as to necessitate extensive additions to their facilities, and they have just completed a fine large addition to their building, which, for the present, will enable them to meet the demands of their increasing trade. This evidence of prosperity at a time when the business of the country generally is very much depressed, sufficiently indicates the excellence of their work and that their popularity is merited. In addition to the business above mentioned they manufacture Thomas' celebrated buckwheat huller.

Nature has blessed both with a fine physique, which has not been abused by intemperate or frivolous habits. It is worthy of note that neither of the Messrs. Courtney have ever used tobacco, or ardent spirits in any form. This, considered in the light of the alarming prevalence of this species of intemperance, which, from its effect upon man's finer sensibilities, may justly be regarded a vice, is highly commendatory. Both are possessed of mental vigor and great physical endurance.

Charles E. Courtney has acquired a world-wide fame through his superior skill as an oarsman; indeed his great proficiency in the use of the oars has made his name a household word throughout Cayuga County, as also with all admirers of athletic sports. At the Centennial exhibition in Philadelphia, in September, 1876, Mr. Courtney, in an exciting contest in which there were fortyfive competitors, won the beautiful Centennial badge, which glistens with thirty-eight diamonds, representing the States in the Union, and which, with other trophies, to the number of eightythree, many of them fine and costly, he wears with characteristic modesty.

Charles E. Courtney was united in wedlock Jan. 28th, 1875, to Miss Della S. Halsey, of Ithaca, N. Y., though his brother and copartner, John F., remains single. Their mother still survives and is living with these her sons in Union Springs. She is the recipient of their unremitting and affectionate care and attention.

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