The first head of the Mount Lowe Observatory, Dr. Swift was already a well-known figure in the field of astronomy when Thaddeus Lowe invited him to come to California in 1893. Born to a farm family in rural New York and lame since his early teens, Swift’s disability prevented him from working on the family farm. Instead, he was able to attend school, where he developed an interest in science. Swift was first attracted to astronomy when he witnessed the Great Leonid Meteor Shower of 1833 at the age of 13. He purchased his first telescope in 1860 and set it up on the roof of a cider mill in Rochester, New York. Astronomy was a hobby for him at that time – he supported his family by running a hardware store.
In 1882, H. H. Warner, who made his money from patent medicine, built the Warner Observatory for Swift, with funds raised by local townspeople. The observatory housed the fourth largest telescope in the U.S. at the time. As director of the observatory, Swift held public events on two evenings a week for people who bought a 25 cent ticket at Warner’s store.
Lowe, an amateur astronomer, was fascinated by Swift’s accomplishments. His invitation came at the right time for Dr. Swift, since Warner, his benefactor was badly hurt by the financial panic of 1893. Swift and his entire collection of instruments and research materials, including his famous telescope, moved to Echo Mountain, where he quickly attracted visitors’ interest with his public lectures, scientific articles and astronomical discoveries. After Lowe lost control of his resort, the new owner, Valentine Peyton, continued to support Dr. Swift and the observatory programs. But by 1900, nearly blind and deaf, Swift retired to his New York home. Coincidentally, both he and Professor Lowe died in January of 1913, eleven days and 3,000 miles apart.