AUBURN - Some came to Tuesday's auction looking for parts, but others came to bid farewell to a 125-year-old company they say was known for high-quality guns not often found anymore.
It was a sad day for many gun enthusiasts as the venerable Ithaca Gun Co. sold off equipment in its going-out-of-business liquidation auction.
“I just love Ithaca Gun. There's a lot of history,” said Louis Proulx of Auburn. “It's too bad. It shouldn't have went down. I came to look and to see it go and say goodbye.”
The company, which was founded in 1880 in Ithaca, moved to King Ferry in the 1980s. In April, it moved to Allen Street in Auburn, in anticipation of a sale to a Rhode Island investor. When that sale fell through around Memorial Day, Ithaca Gun closed its doors.
At the time, the company owed several hundred thousand dollars to various creditors, including Cayuga County. Cayuga County planning and economic development director David Miller said the company has since paid off its roughly $150,000 debt to the county.
On Tuesday, people picked through the remains of the long-standing company.
“People who grew up here own these guns and hunted with them as did their fathers before them,” said Gerard Marco, an area gunsmith. “Ithaca Gun provided high-quality, inexpensive shotguns for the masses.”
Ithaca Gun moved to King Ferry under new ownership in the 1980s, after encountering fiscal trouble and an expensive environmental cleanup in Ithaca. It went bankrupt and was bought by a group of investors in 1995.
This is the company's third failure.
It was diffficult for Robert Neill, who owned the company between 1986 and 1995, to watch the remainders of the company being auctioned off so cheaply.
“It's terrible,” Neill said. “Ithaca was a wonderful gun company.”
Neill, a World War II veteran, said the company was one of two firms making revolvers for WWII officers. As a soldier, Neill wasn't given an Ithaca Gun firearm during the war, but he was an avid hunter and used the guns for hunting at home.
Marco called the company historic. Among its patrons were John Philip Sousa and Annie Oakley. But Ithaca Gun, he said, was a one-gun company. Part of its problem was that it couldn't compete with the larger national and foreign markets.
“They had to struggle so hard just to survive in a different market,” he said.
Others also believe the company was mishandled as it changed hands.
Norm Wightman, who worked as the sales manager at the company in 2003, said it was a shame to see the company in the position it's in, but he wasn't yet ready to rule out a comeback.
“Ithaca Gun is one tough name,” Wightman said. “I'm a firm believer in the company, and it's not over till it's over. It has experienced some bad luck in the past and seemed to weather it.”
Wightman said the company made an “all-purpose shotgun” like no other gun.
The guns were lightweight and had high-level accuracy, he said.
“The Ithaca Gun name certainly deserves to be re-established,” he said. “It has a real knack of getting into your blood and that shows in the quality of their firearms.”
Don Thornton, a gunsmith from Liverpool who attended the auction Tuesday, said virtually all the hunters in his family owned Ithaca Gun firearms.
Thornton said he was glad his father wasn't there to see the going-out-of-business auction.
“He'd cry,” Thornton said.
Staff writer Anne Gleason can be reached at 253-5311 ext. 248 or at email@example.com