Rochester has had a lot of nicknames through the years Flower city, Kodak City, City of Homes, but there is one name many Rochesterians have forgotten: Astronomical City. Rochester. In the 1880s Rochester was the home of hundreds of discoveries including comets, nebula, and planets. The key player behind the discoveries was local astrologer Lewis A Swift.
Swift made his first “discovery” on the way to high school when he spotted the great comet of 1843. When he got to school his teacher dismissed the sighting until the news announced the discovery two days later. He continued his observations laying in the alley on Ambrose Street or on the roof of Duffy’s Cider Mill. Eventually he would make the acquaintance of a benefactor, Harrington Warner.
Warner, who made a fortune in patent medicine, agreed to finance building an observatory for Swift. He donated $13,000 to build a small observatory, which included a 16 inch telescope. Warner continued to fund Swift, who at that time had already made several discoveries, until 1893 when The Great Panic bankrupted him. Swift moved to California and became the director of Mount Love Observatory, he took his 16 inch telescope with him.
During his lifetime Swift discovered 13 comets (his last comet when he was 79), hundreds of nebula, and two Vulcan planets off of Mars. Swift received more medals than any other astronomer of his time including three made of solid gold from Imperial Academy of Science in Australia, four made of bronze from the Astronomical Society of the Pacific, and the Laplace Medal from the French Astronomical Society. In 1897 he was the first person awarded the Jackson-Gwilt Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society.
After his death in 1913 the asteroid 5035 Swift was named in his honor.