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Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Isaiah Lukens: Colonial Clockmaker

The Lukens family (originally spelled Luyken and then Lucken) were Dutch Mennonites who, due to religious persecution in Holland, ended up in Krefeld, Germany, in the 1600s. They endured more persecution there, and Jan Lucken eventually sailed for America aboard the Concord in 1682. He and his wife were among the original settlers of Germantown (now part of Philadelphia), at some point became Quakers, and went on to have twelve children. These people, who braved their first winter in America living in a cave along the Schuykill River, went on to become a family well-known in colonial Philadelphia and in areas to the north of the city. Jan Lucken’s great-grandson, Seneca, and especially his great-great-grandson, Isaiah, were noted clockmakers.

Seneca Lukens (born 1951) was a farmer and self-taught watch- and clockmaker who lived his entire life in Horsham, Pennsylvania, a small Quaker community north of Philadelphia. While he was quite well-known for his watches and clocks during his lifetime, he is now equally as known for allowing Elizabeth Graeme Ferguson, the “most learned woman in America” during colonial times, to live in his home in her latter years. Seneca’s son Isaiah, however, would be most know for his occupation:

Isaiah Lukens, daguerreotype by
Charles Wilson Peale
“Isaiah Lukens, the son of Seneca, was born August 24, 1779, in Horsham, where he received but a common English education, but by subsequent diligent study he acquired a profound knowledge of the sciences. He learned clock-making from his father, and the excellency of the workmanship of his high-standing clocks, spreading far beyond the circle of his neighborhood, formed the basis of his future reputation. He made the clock of Loller Academy, Hatboro, in 1812, and the large clock in the State-House steeple in 1839, for which he received five thousand dollars. In early youth his mechanical skill exhibited itself in constructing wind-mills for pumping water, and air-guns of improved construction, besides other ingenious appliances. While a young man he made a voyage to Europe, spending some time in England, France and Germany, in visiting the greatest objects of interest, particularly those involving a high degree of mechanical knowledge. He finally settled in Philadelphia, and became a member of its several literary and scientific institutions, and was one of the founders and a vice-president of the Franklin Institute. He died in the city November 12, 1864, in age the youngest of the family.”[1]

Here are a few pieces of Isaiah Lukens' craftsmanship:

To the right is a clock made for the Philadelphia Bank, which was at the southwest corner of Chestnut and Fourth Streets. It remained there until the bank moved in 1859. At that time it was sold at auction by M Thomas & Sons, and bought by Henry Bird, librarian at The Athenaeum, for twenty-three dollars. The clock is thirteen feet high, and is now on display in the Busch Room of The Athenaeum.

He also designed and built the clock that graced the Pennsylvania State House (now Independence Hall), in 1828. This clock replaced the former clocks built by Edward Duffield and then Thomas Stretch. Lukens' clock kept Philadelphia's time until 1876, when it was moved to Town Hall in Germantown. It was then incorporated into Germantown's new municipal building in 1924.

Lukens clock at Loller Academy, 
on the night of it's rededication (12/31/2015)
Another Lukens clock is in the Loller Academy building (now the municipal building), in Hatboro, Pennsylvania, which was built in 1812. Similar to the clock that would later be made for the State House, it is a seven-day clock with a bell above it that chimes on each hour. The clock fell into disrepair during the twentieth century, and over the last several years has been undergoing restoration by the Millbrook Society (Hatboro's historical society) and Winships' Pieces of Time. It was rededicated in a ceremony on New Year's Eve 2015, although the Winships are still making some repairs to return it, as closely as possible, to its original state.

Upon his death, Isaiah Lukens was a member of the American Philosophical Society, the Academy of Natural Sciences, and the Franklin Institute, for which he had previously served as vice president. My favorite title for him, however, is "cousin."

[1] Theodore Weber Bean, History of Montgomery County, Pennsylvania (Philadelphia: Everts & Peck, 1884), 876.


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