Biography of Ellery Colby
Owego, Tioga County, NY Biographies





ELLERY COLBY was born near Litchfield, Conn., May the 8th, 1845. His parents were Lucius H. and Rosette (Perkins) Colby, and his grandparents, John and Annis Colby, were of Goshen, Conn. Lucius H. Colby was a prosperous farmer and raiser of blooded stock, and of influence in the community in which he resided. He was an ingenious man of an inventive turn of mind, and as an illustration of this it may be worthy of mention that having purchased one of the first mowing machines sold in that section, he found upon trial that it was a very crude affair and worked heavily; so the following winter he set to work to improve it. This he did, by so changing the mechanism as to add another wheel to the machine, which greatly improved it, and thus constructed what was probably the first two wheel mowing machine ever built. Letters patent on various inventions were also granted to him. About 1848 he removed with his family to Scipio in Cayuga county, where he continued his former occupation of farmer and stock breeder. Four years later he again changed his place of residence, this time to Groton, in Tompkins county. He was the father of a large family of children (twelve in all), and when Ellery was nine years of age he went to live with his father's brother, in Fabius, Onondaga county, and here he remained till he waa twenty two years of age. This uncle was the owner of two hotels as well as about 1,300 acres of land. An energetic man himself, he believed in keeping those around him busy, so young Colby's boyhood was not spent in idleness; upon the other hand he wrought early and late, and at one time had charge and supervision of the entire 1,300 acres. At the age of twenty two Mr. Colby returned to Groton, and soon afterward married Miss Hattie E. Cornwall and engaged in the business of farming, which he continued till 1875, when having secured two different patents pertaining to bridge structure, he abandoned agricultural pursuits and devoted his entire time to bridge building. This may be said to have been the pivotal point in Mr. Colby's career. He had inherited his father's mechanical genius and that he possesses that quality in a remarkable degree is best shown by the fact that without special schooling or training he entered a field where he was brought into direct competition with scientific men and graduates of our best polytechnic schools and succeeded from the beginning. He had taken out two patents, one on bridge trusses and one on pile foundations, and these patents were the basis of his entry into constructive bridge work. He organized the Groton Bridge Co., and was its president. He began at once to take orders and build bridges over water ways, etc., and his improved methods soon began to attract attention in various parts of the country. Among the more notable bridges built by Mr. Colby may be mentioned the iron bridge across the Potomac river at Washington, P. C., (extension of Pennsylvania avenue). He also built for the United States government the first iron pier ever constructed, the one at Fortress Monroe. Mr. Colby's business in bridge building and other structural iron work has reached a half million dollars worth per year. In 1891 Mr. Colby sold out his interests in the Groton Bridge Co., and coming to Owego established the Owego Bridge Co., of which he is now president. The business has been successful from the start, and now ranks as one of the leading industries of Owego. Mr. Colby has been for many years a F. & A. M. (K. T.), is a member of the Congregational church, and in politics a republican. He has but one son, Ray, who is associated with him in business. He has been too busy to take much active part in political or official matters, and the only offices he ever held were president of the village of Groton when he lived there, and he is now one of the trustees of Owego. Mr. Colby is entitled to much credit for what he has accomplished in life under the conditions that existed. He never attended school after he was fourteen years of age, and when he took up bridge building he set to work to master the theoretical as well as the practical features of the work, and to such good purpose that he is now an authority on that branch of engineering. He is a genial, courteous gentleman and a man highly respected in his community.

From:
OUR COUNTY AND ITS PEOPLE
A MEMORIAL HISOTRY OF TIOGA COUNTY
NEW YORK
EDITED BY: LEROY W. KINGMAN
W. A. FERGUSSON & CO. ELMIRA, N. Y., 189?


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