There died in this city last night at the age of 81 years and some months a man who in his day did more to develop the business and commercial interests of Oswego than almost any other citizen who ever lived here, and we do not know that it is too much to say that he did more than any other in his time. We mean Sylvester Doolittle.
Mr. Doolittle has been compelled to an inactive life for some years by paralysis, though his mental faculties were substantially unimpaired. Last evening he seemed to be affected by a cold and some difficulty of breathing. Hon. B. Doolittle, his nephew, was sent for. Mr. Doolittle knew him and conversed rationally.He objected for sending for a doctor, but Dr. DeWitt was called and informed the family that there was some interference with the action of the heart and death was near. Alleviates were administered and Mr. Doolittle was assisted to his bed.
He was in usual strength, and wrapped the bed clothing around himself in his usual manner, and in about twenty minutes died without a sign of pain. Only a very brief outline of Mr. Doolittle's active and useful life can now be given. he was born in Whitestown, Oneida County, January 11, 1800, of Connecticut parentage. At Sodus Point he learned the business of a ship-carpenter, his father having moved to Big Sodus, and in 1822 located in Rochester and there built the first canal boat that went through to Albany. She was called the Genesee of Wheatfield and was owned by himself and two brothers named Hendricks. She carried the first cargo of flour sent by canal from Rochester to Albany, having loaded at Philip Garbet's mill. Her arrival at Albany created a sensation.
Mr. Doolittle sold his interest in her and did a large business in boat building till 1826, when he was induced by Utica capitalists to remove his boat yard to Utica, his packets being the finest on the canal. In 1827 he built a freighter called the City of Utica, designed to run to New York. She was laden with oats and lumber and started out, escorted by a packet. The Albany and Troy towing companies refused to tow her to new York, on the ground that it would affect their freight business by changing the mode of transportation.
At length he engaged Mr. Hitchcock, who owned an independent steamer, to tow her to New York, where her arrival created great interest among the merchants. Thus started canal towage down the Hudson River. Mr. Doolittle remained in Utica till 1836, having built over 100 packets and many more freight boats. The railroad having killed packet business, he came to Oswego. Here he engaged in vessel building.
In 1841 he met Ericsson, inventor of the screw wheel, in New York, and made a bargain with him to put a screw in one of his propellers at Oswego, with the right to introduce it in all the propellers he might build in three years. In July 1841, The Vandalia, a vessel of full Welland Canal size, was put on the stocks at Oswego. Ericsson had the machinery built at Auburn after his own plans. In November, 1841, she made her trial trip, working successfully, and next day was loaded for St. Catharines, Welland Canal.
She made the trip at the rate of about six miles an hour, and was received by wondering crowds along the canal. At. St. Catharines a public dinner was given to Mr. Doolittle. Thus was introduced the screw propeller on the lakes. The Vandalia made three trips to Toronto and Kingston that fall. In 1842 and '43 Mr. Doolittle's propeller line was increased to five, as follows:The Vandalia, Capt. Rufus Hawkins; Oswego, Capt. Dan Davis; Chicago, Capt. Pierce; New York, Capt. Cornwall; and the Racine, Capt. Brown.
The line ran 13 years without an accident of any consequence. Mr. Doolittle was also a large builder and owner of sail vessels, and engaged in forwarding, elevating and other business enterprises too numerous and varied to be now mentioned. Indeed, he founded some of the now most prosperous business houses in Oswego.
His last public enterprise was to secure the famous Deep Rock mineral spring, at a cost of over $30,000, and built and equipped the Doolittle House at an expense of $200,000. He had previously built the Doolittle Block and Doolittle Hall, the most prominent place of amusement. He invested the balance of his fortune in the Deep Rock Spring and Doolittle House, and soon after, being stricken with paralysis, was obliged to give up active business and live quietly.
He then disposed of most of his valuable dock property and real estate. For his enterprise in building the Doolittle House he was complimented by a public dinner given by the Oswego Board of Trade. In 1829, Mr. Doolittle married Catherine, daughter of Samuel Gould of Utica, who died about three years ago. The had no children. Mr. Doolittle was a man of boundless business enterprise, and it has often been remarked that were he now in the prime of his years his influence and our business and transportation interests would be most beneficial.
He will be honored for his active record and his services to the commercial and transportation interests of this state and country, and for his correct and honorable business life. the funeral occurs tomorrow.