Ira Hammond Lawton, 1844-1917

by Brian Stevenson
last updated March, 2020

A school administrator and amateur microscopist in New York, I.H. Lawton produced a number of microscope slides during the last two decades of the nineteenth century. Some were for his own amusement, while his ca. 1891 - 1905 slides with custom-printed labels were advertised for exchange worldwide (Figures 1 and 2).

Figure 1. Circa 1891-1905 microscope slides by Ira Lawton. The custom-made labels bear his address of Nyack on Hudson, New York, to which Lawton moved between 1890 and 1891. Some of Lawton’s slides have painted ringing, while others have ringing of balsam mountant, or were left unringed.


Figure 2. Earlier slides by I.H. Lawton, from his time in Ellenville, New York (ca. 1877 - ca. 1891). The upper left slide has a handwritten notation of that address. These preparations were likely made by Lawton for his own enjoyment, although the signed slides may have later been exchanged with other microscope enthusiasts. These, and the slides shown in Figure 1, were found in the collection of a person who was probably a member of the New York (City) Microscopical Society.


Ira Hamilton Lawton was born on August 3, 1844, in Whitestown, New York. He was the first child of Hamilton and Elizabeth Lawton. Ira’s father was a factory owner, who was evidently able to provide the son with a good education.

Ira married Alice Amelia McChesney in 1868. The couple had three children, all of whom grew to adulthood. The 1870 national census recorded Ira’s occupation as “schoolteacher”. He later took a break from that profession, as the 1875 New York census listed him as a “druggist”.

By 1877, Ira Lawton was the Superintendent of the public schools of Ellenville, New York. His earliest known microscope slides were made during his time in Ellenville (Figure 2). Ira was still in that town in 1890, as that year’s Report of the State Superintendent included, “A summer school, under the management of Professor Lawton, was held at Ellenville during the past summer, and was a success in quality of work done and in attendance”. The honorific “Professor” was regularly ascribed to Lawton, presumably because of his status as a superintendent of schools, not because of affiliation with a university.

The 1892 census of New York shows that the Lawtons had moved to Rockland County, New York, near to Nyack-on-Hudson.

They had likely moved there in 1890 or 1891. The 1892 Naturalists’ Directory reported that the Nyack Society of Microscopists had been organized on June 3, 1891, and that Ira Lawton was the society’s President.

Later in 1892, The American monthly Microscopical Journal wrote of the Nyack society, “The society has just entered upon its second year with growing interest in its pleasant and instructive work. Its new officers are: President, Dr. G.F. Blauvelt; Vice-President, Mr. F.G. Provost; Recording Secretary, Miss Whittaker; Corresponding Secretary, J.C. Gregory; Treasurer, A.M. Voorhis; Curator, Prof. I. Lawton. Meetings are held on the first Wednesday evening of each month. The work done by this society is educational as well as interesting, and affords the members many hours of research and recreation. May 6,1892: The annual exhibition was given at the residence of J.C. Gregory. Eleven microscopes were used in the exhibition. These were arranged on tables scattered through several rooms, occasioning frequent tours from one to another to witness the changes of the subjects. While all were of interest, perhaps the most fascinating was an exhibition of the circulation of blood in a live frog's foot, given by Dr. G.F. Blauvelt, who gave a number of exhibitions in the line of histology. Mr. Gregory exhibited some mineral crystals, shown by reflected light, and Miss Gregory's line was vegetable sections exhibited by polarized light. Mr. F.G. Provost's selections for the evening were botanical, and Mrs. Provost's were entomological, shown with condensed light. Prof I. Lawton showed some interesting specimens in entomology. Dr. Coltrin embraced entomological and botanical subjects in his list of exhibits, shown by transmitted light. Miss Whittaker's line of exhibits was botany and entomology; Miss Stillwell's was entomology, and Miss Partridge's was the same. Edgar E. Blauvelt gave, among other things, an interesting exhibition of animalculae in water obtained from a small pond in Tillou's woods. Dr. Meeker interested many with specimens in crystallography, showing specimens of chemical salts under polarized light”. (note: illustrated biographies of J.C. and Ida Gregory are presented elsewhere on this site).

A February, 1892 issue of The Rockland County Journal reported that “Dr. Meeker, the druggist, and Prof. Lawton, Principal of the Nyack public school, are eminent microscopists and are giving instruction to the younger members of the Nyack Microscopic Society”.

The 1894 edition of The Naturalists’ Directory stated that Ira Lawton was interested in microscopy and entomology, and was interested in exchanging items from his collection. Other than entries in this annual publication, I have not located other exchange offers from Lawton. Evidently, The Naturalists’ Directory and personal contacts were adequate to supply Ira’s needs for microscopical specimens. The 1905 edition of The Naturalists’ Directory included a notation that Lawton had recently contacted the publisher to continue his listing. I have not located a later edition, so am unsure how much longer Ira Lawton continued with his microscopy hobby.

The 1910 US census shows that Ira had changed professions; the 65 year-old was now an automobile dealer.

Ira Lawton died on May 19, 1917.

Figure 3. “Mouth-parts Grasshopper”, mounted ca. 1890s by Ira Lawton (see Figure 1). Photographed with a C-mounted digital SLR camera and a 3.5x objective lens.


Figure 4. “Anolis principalis skin” (now Anolis carolinensis, the green anole lizard), mounted ca. 1890s by Ira Lawton (see Figure 1). Photographed with a C-mounted digital SLR camera and a 3.5x objective lens.



American College and Public School Directory (1877) “City Superintendents, New York … Ellenville, Ira E. Lawton”, page 197

The American Monthly Microscopical Journal (1892) Nyack Association, Vol. 13, page 199

The Microscope (1893) Nyack Society of Microscopists, Vol. 1, new series, pages 37-38

The Naturalists’ Directory (1892) Nyack Society of Microscopists, Cassino, Boston, page 257

The Naturalists’ Directory (1892) “Lawton, Ira H.. Supt. of Schools, Nyack-on-Hudson, N.Y. Bot. Mic., Photog., Zool., Histol., Ent. C. Ex.”, Cassino, Boston, page 126

The Naturalists’ Directory (1905) “Lawton, Ira H.. Supt. of Schools, Nyack-on-Hudson, N.Y. Mic., Ent. C. Ex.”, Cassino, Boston, page 146

Report of the State Superintendent (1890) Vol. 36, page 253

Rockland County Journal (1892) February 27 issue, page 4

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