GORDON N. BISSELL
Gordon Needham Bissell was born in Onondaga County, N. Y., September 17 1806 and spent his early life at Onondaga Hollow near Syracuse, where his father, Dr. John Devotion Bissell, was a pioneer physician. The family is of French Huguenot descent, and immediately after the massacre of St. Bartholomew in 1572 many of the name fled to England to escape persecution. Their coat of arms, which was of a religious rather than of a warlike character, is thus described in Burke's "Complete Armory:" "Bissell, Gu. on a bend, or.; three escallops, sa. Crest, a demi-eagle with wings displayed, sa.: : charged on neck with an escallop shell, or." The first and only one of the name known to have come to America was John Bissell, who, tradition asserts, arrived with his family at Plymouth, Mass., from Somersetshire, England, in 1628. In 1639 he was one of a prospecting party authorized to select a site for a colony in what is now Connecticut and the next year he became one of the founders of Windsor, where he received the monopoly of the Scantic Ferry. He was the first settler on the east side of the Connecticut river and died in 1677, aged eighty-six, leaving children whose posterity are numerous, energetic, and respected unto the present day. The ancestry of Gordon N. Bissell is as follows: (1) John, the pioneer; (2) John, jr., died 1693; (3) Daniel, born 1663, died 1738; (4) Ezekiel, born 1705, died in Torringford, Conn. ; (5) Ebenezer, born 1743, married Lucy Roberts; (6) Dr. John D., who in old age moved to Chicago, Ill., and died in September, 1856; and (7) Gordon N. Dr. Bissell married Elizabeth Forman, of Onondaga Valley, whose brother, Judge Joshua Forman, was an early influential citizen of Onondaga county, and the maternal grandfather of Gov. Horatio Seymour.
Gordon N. Bissell was educated at the Onondaga Academy and spent several years of his early manhood with Judge Forman in North Carolina. In 1837 he came to Rome, Oneida county, and commenced the construction of the Black River canal as a contractor, and two years later removed to North Western, where he also opened a general store. In the fall of 1842 work was suspended on the canal and in February, 1843, Mr. Bissell, after disposing of his mercantile business, returned to Rome, where he purchased the drug store of Dr. H. H. Pope. The following summer he formed a partnership with Benjamin N. Leonard, under the style of Bissell & Leonard, and consolidated the drug business of Chesebro & Leonard with his own. In 1844 the firm moved to what is now 117 West Dominick street, where the establishment has ever since been located, and known as the checkered store. After Mr. Leonard's death in June, 1853, Mr. Bissell continued alone until his oldest son, Charles F., attained his majority, when the firm became G. N. Bissell & Son. In April, 1862, Charles F. withdrew and another son, John G., was admitted. In 1883 Mr. Bissell retired and the business was continued by John G. Bissell and James A Owens, as J. G. Bissell & Co., until July 1, 1895, when Mr. Owens withdrew, leaving the proprietorship in the hands of John G. Bissell, the present owner.
Mr. Bissell was for many years actively identified with the banking interests of Rome. He was a director and for some time the vice-president of the old Bank of Rome and one of the organizers of the Rome Exchange Bank (now the First National), of which he was several years the president. He was for many years president of the Rome Savings Bank and of the Rome Gas Light Company, holding both positions at the time of his death, which occurred February 19, 1891. He was one of the chief promoters and organizers of the Rome Iron Works (now the Rome Brass and Copper Company) and also of the Rome Cemetery Association, of which he was long a trustee.
In all public improvements and enterprises he took a great interest, and worked for the prosperity and advancement of the city. He was an advocate of plank roads in early days, and later of railroads, manufacturing industries and all that promoted the welfare of the town. He was one of the best known and most respected citizens of Rome; a man of rare personal worth, and held in high esteem. His name was the synonym for integrity, honesty, and fair dealing; his religion he took with him into all his business relations. He was noted for his earnestness, his honesty of purpose, his perfect candor, and his fairness; he would allow no imposition upon any person with whom he did business or came into contact. He represented all things exactly as they were, and rather than allow his customer to suffer he would himself take the consequences.
Mr. Bissell was a Democrat in politics, but never wanted office, although he was frequently urged to accept nominations. His only public position was that of village trustee. He was one of the oldest members of Zion Episcopal church, and for thirty years was vestryman or warden. When he wished to retire on account of advancing years, a short time before his death, his colleagues, in recognition of his judgment and experience, made him warden emeritus.
February 3, 1829, Mr. Bissell married Miss Luthera Ward, daughter of William Ward, a pioneer of Manlius, Onondaga county. She was born February 3, 1808, and died September 20, 1856, leaving six children who attained majority, viz.: Mary L., Margaret A., John G., and Laura (Mrs. Frank B. Haff), of Rome; Charles F., of Austin, Texas; and William W., of New Rochelle, N. Y.