LANDMARKS OF OSWEGO COUNTY, NY
Many thanks and appreciation
to Ada Louise Heinlein for
her time and efforts in transcribing this Railroad Section onOswego Co.,
from the 1895 Landmarks of Oswego County, NY.
After the War–A New
Era of Prosperity–Local Improvements–Construction of Railroads–Oswego and
Rome Railroad–Midland Railroad–Syracuse and Northern Railroad–lake Ontario
Shore Railroad–Rome, Watertown and Ogdensburg System–Oswego Harbor Improvements–Bonding
of the Towns–Decline of the Commerce and Milling Interests of Oswego–Canal
Source: Landmarks of Oswego
County New York, edited by John C. Churchill, L.L.D., assisted by H. Perry
Smith & W. Stanley Child, Syracuse, N.Y., D. Mason & Company Publishers,
The general history of Oswego county
since the close of the war, so far as it is not embraced in succeeding
chapters of the volume, can be briefly written. During the war period
public improvements and important public acts almost wholly ceased in all
Northern cities, while in villages and rural districts, the frequent calls
to arms, the great sacrifices demanded in men and money, the pitiful news
that came up from scores of bloody battlefields, all served to distract
public attention from the ordinary affairs of life. With the coming of
peace all this was changed. The welcome event was properly celebrated
in all communities, and the people, so long oppressed by the terrors of
civil war, turned joyfully and full of hope to the energetic prosecution
of public improvements and private business. In spite of the enormous
cost of the war–a financial drain that reached every hamlet in the land–there
was seeming prosperity throughout the North during several years after
the close of the conflict. The great demands of the government for
war materials, which had for five years promoted many industries and afforded
various avenues for speculation and wealth-making , and the abundance of
many which had poured from the national treasury by way of payments for
supplies, and to the vast armies whose rank and file seldom hoarded it,
with the high prices ruling for all products incident to the inflated currency,
were all causes of an era of prosperity such as the country had not before
experienced. The five years succeeding the memorable surrender at Appomattox
were prolific in new private business undertakings and the inauguration
of public improvements. In these Oswego county had its proportionate
share. Lake commerce and the great milling industry of Oswego city
did not materially suffer from the war, and during the succeeding years
attained a magnitude that is not now readily realized. Building operations
were extensive, mercantile business was greatly extended, and banks were
multiplied. The agricultural interests of the county shared, also,
in the general prosperity; farmers realized high prices for their products,
and many were led to purchase farms at prices which a few years later would
have proved ruinous.
inevitable that such a state of affairs could not long continue.
With the gradual contraction of currency, the decreasing demand for many
kinds of products, with contemporaneous over-production, and the fear of
disaster through anticipated return to specie payment, there came a reaction
which culminated in 1872-3, causing much financial distress and many business
failures. But the same conditions that operated to sustain Oswego
county in former periods of monetary stringency, and enabled it to promptly
overcome its effects, were in existence now and contributed to a similar
result. While there were some failures in the county, and many new undertakings
were abandoned or checked, there was less distress than in many other localities.
The improvements made in the harbor
by the government during the ten years succeeding the close of the war
consisted of repairs upon the lighthouse, which was substantially rebuilt
in 1867 at an expense of $45,000, and repairs on the piers carried out
with an appropriation of $45, 000 made in 1854, with $25, 000 appropriated
in 1865, which continued through two years. The next appropriation
was $60,000, made in 1867, which sum was devoted to further repairs on
the piers. In 1868 $20,000 was appropriated, and in 1869 $22,275.
These sums, with $50,000 allotted in 1870, finished the extension of the
lighthouse pier and thoroughly repaired the west pier. In the same
year Major Bowen presented a plan for improving the outer harbor, which
was approved by the Board of Engineers. It comprised the construction of
a breakwater 5,800 feet long, nearly parallel with the west pier and 1,100
feet in front of it, affording a safe harbor of 100 acres area. The
estimated cost of this work was $1,162,682. This plan was adopted
by the Forty-first Congress in 1870, and an appropriation of $50,000 was
made to begin work upon it. In 1871 Maj. J. M. Wilson assumed charge
of the undertaking and began work July 5, with an additional appropriation
of $100,000 and finished 646 feet that season. A like sum was appropriated
in 1872, which completed 1,700 feet of the pier and 1,100 feet of superstructure.
The following winter damaged the work considerably. The appropriation
of 1873 was $100,000, with which 2,215 feet was finished. In 1874
the appropriation was $75,000, which was nearly all expended on repairs.
Work was continued in 1875 with an appropriation of $90,000. The
work was completed in July, 1882, at a cost of about $1,000,000.
Under act of the Legislature, dated
May 23, 1871, the State made an appropriation of $22,000 to rebuild the
high dam, Oswego city; $5,500 for removing the Horseshoe dam and cribs
above, and $15,000 to raise low banks on river levels. These appropriations
were supplemented in the following year by one of $88,000 to complete the
high dam, and $2,500 to extend the east wing of the Oswego Falls dam at
During the period under consideration,
and in response to the demands for extended transportation facilities,
other railroads were built which have had a direct influence upon Oswego
county. The Oswego and Rome Railroad Company, which had filed articles
of incorporation in April, 1863, was built from Richland Station, through
the village of Pulaski and towns of Mexico, New Haven and Scriba to Oswego,
to which point it was finished in the autumn of 1865. Before the
line was completed it was leased in perpetuity to the Tome, Watertown and
Ogdensburg Railroad Company, and still remains part of that system, which
is now under lease to the New York Central.
A still more important railroad
undertaking, was the construction of a line from Oswego to Jersey City,
a distance of 325 miles. The organization was effected January 11,
1866, under the name of the New York and Oswego Midland Railroad Company.
DeWitt C. Littlejohn, of Oswego, was the chief moving spirit in the enterprise,
and Oswego county capital was liberally employed in building the road.
In the county it passes through the towns of Constantia, West Monroe, Hastings,
Schroeppel, Volney and Scriba. It was opened to Central Square in
October, 1869 and to Oswego in the following month. The line was
finished to New York in 1872. It is now known as the New York, Ontario
and Western Railway Company.
Contemporaneous with the building
of the Midland Railroad, the Syracuse Northern Railroad Company was organized.
The project of a railroad through the territory reached by this line had
been discussed at intervals for twenty years previous to its organization.
The company was finally chartered in 1870, the survey promptly followed,
and on the 18th of May of that year the work of construction began.
The road was opened on the 9th of November, 1871. Leaving Syracuse
the line crosses Oneida River at Brewerton and passes through the towns
of Hastings, Parish, Mexico and Richland, connection with the Rome, Watertown
and Ogdensburg at Pulaski in the town of Richland. The road was operated
by the original company until 1875, when it was sold on foreclosure to
the R.W.& O. Company.
Articles of incorporation were filed
March 17, 1868, for the Lake Ontario Shore Railroad, the line to extend
westward from Oswego, through the towns of Oswego and Hannibal and thence
to Lewiston. This road was begun in 1871. In 1874 the mortgage
bonds of the company were foreclosed and road sold. The property
was bid off by a new company, organized under the name of the Lake Ontario
Railroad Company, in February, 1875. This company was consolidated
with the Rome, Watertown and Ogdensburg R. R. Company. A branch road,
extending from Woodards, a station on the Syracuse Northern line a few
miles north of Liverpool in Onondaga county, was built through Oswego county
to Fulton on the east side of the river, where it connects with the N.
Y., O. & W. R. R., and over that road gains an entrance into Oswego
city. Previously, in march, 1869, the Oswego and Syracuse Railroad
was leased to the D. L. & W. R. R. Company. The various lines
operated by the Rome, Watertown and Ogdensburg Company were leased in March,
1891, to the New York Central and H. R. R. R. Company.
Before the War of 1861, citizens
of Oswego and the city authorities on several occasions made subscriptions
or public appropriations to advance work on the harbor, which the dilatory
or parsimonious action of the government had neglected, that commercial
interests might not suffer. Extensive blasting and dredging in connection
with pier and breakwater work has been prosecuted in the river and harbor
from early years to the present time. Contracting firms, many of which
have included leading citizens of Oswego, have generally had charge of
this work. In 1852 the east side of the river, at the mouth, was
blasted out by private enterprise, to admit vessels of twelve feet draft
to the then existing warehouse elevators.
On the 20th of March, 1857, the
Oswego Dock and Pier company was incorporated, with Delos De Wolf,¹
Hamilton Murray,² Cheney Ames, Orville Robinson,³ and Alonzo
H. Failing, as corporators. The company was given authority to charge
for the use of piers built and land purchased by it.
In 1857 was also incorporated the
Oswego Harbor Company of F. T. Carrington, A. P. Grant, E. B. Talcott,
S. H. Lathrop and Luther Wright. These companies in later years were
instrumental in the completion of the present harbor facilities of the
In harmony with the general measures
of the State for the preservation of fish, a law was passed May 11, 1880,
which authorized the State Superintendent of Public Works to build fishways
in all the State dams in the Oswego, Oneida and Seneca Rivers. Five
thousand dollars were appropriated for this purpose. The fishways
were built but have not proved a marked success.
¹Delos De Wolf was a native
of Herkimer county, born February 16, 1811; came to Oswego in 1850 and
with associates organized the City Bank of Oswego, of which he was the
first cashier and later president. He became interested in the elevator
and grain business; was one of the gounders of the city water works; was
a trustee of the City Savings Bank and otherwise identified with the industrial
affairs fo the city. He died December 30, 1882.
Hamilton Murray was
born in New York city in 1804, and was a graduate of Yale College.
After following mercantile pursuits some years, he came to Oswego in 1846,
where he was already a large owner of real property, and became active
and efficient in promoting the material intersts of the city. He
aided in founding the City Bank and was president until 1865; was president
of the county Agricultural Society; a director of the Syracuse and Binghamton
Railroad company; and held other positions of trust. He died December
For sketch of Orville
Robinson see Oswego city Chapter.
From 1866 to 1870 various acts were
passed by the Legislature intended to facilitate the action of cities and
towns which desired to aid in the construction of railroads, by subscribing
for stock and issuing their bonds therefor. Under these acts, in
the six years following 1868 bonds to the amount $2,013,500 were issued
by Oswego county organizations to pay for stock of the New York and Oswego
Midland Railroad Company, the Syracuse Northern Railroad Company, the Lake
Ontario Shore Railroad Company, and the Syracuse, Phoenix and Oswego Railroad
Company, which had been subscribed for by them. The following table
shows the towns which issued the bonds, and the amounts issued by each,
and also the amount which remained unpaid in each case on the 1st day of
Jan’y 1, 1895
Each of the companies above named
became bankrupt in less than five years from its organization, and its
road passed upon foreclosure to other parties, the stock proving a total
The burden, which fell so unexpectedly
upon the towns of the county, has been most honorably borne. The
original bonds in all cases drew interest at seven per cent., and much
the larger part ran twenty years before any part of the principal became
due. The organizations above named have paid, as appears from the
above table, $810,333.33 of principal, and have paid in addition interest
to the amount of nearly three millions of dollars.
Oswego county may well feel proud
of the manner in which her citizens have met their obligations, and of
the credit they have established, which has enabled them to refund the
above debts on the most favorable terms, much the larger part of it at
three and one half per cent., or a better rate than that obtained by the
United States government on its last issue (February, 1895) of bonds.
Upon the question of the wisdom of
municipalities taking stock in railroad enterprises which private capital
will not build, it may be well to remember that the three companies, which
had previously built railroads in or through Oswego county (the Oswego
and Syracuse, the Oswego and Rome, and Rome, Watertown and Ogdensburg)
had been financially successful from the start.
Within the past half dozen years
there have been evidences of better business conditions throughout the
county. The farmers are reasonably prosperous; the dairying industry
becomes annually more extensive and generally gives profitable returns;
the growing of small fruits, the introduction of improved methods of land
cultivation, and better grades of stock, are producing good results.
At the same time the population of the county has declined in recent years.
From 75,985 in 1860, the number of inhabitants increased to 77,941 in 1870;
and in 1875 was 78,574. In 1880 it was 77,911, showing a slight decrease.
The census of 1890 gives the population as 71,883, a decrease in the preceding
ten years of 6,028. The population by the enumerations of 1892 was
70,970. Since 1892 the population is believed to have increased.
In Oswego city enterprising men have determined that the great advantages
possessed by the place for the establishment of manufactures shall be made
known to the world, and have adopted means to effect that object.
The result already has amply repaid their labor, and several large industries
have been permanently and successfully inaugurated.
The most noteworthy feature of the
history of Oswego county for the last twenty years is the decline of the
commerce, milling and elevator business of Oswego city. In 1874 twelve
large flouring mills, with a productive capacity of five thousand barrels
a day, with elevators capable of storing one and a half million bushels
of grain, and a fleet of over one hundred steam, and sailing vessels, either
owned in Oswego, or which had their principal employment in its commerce,
were in active and profitable operation. Now but two flouring mills
and a single elevator remain, and the commerce of Oswego has shrunk to
but a small part of its former volume. While other causes have operated
to some extent, the principal reason for this decline is not far to find.
It is essential to the success of
each of the above interests that Oswego should be able to share in the
upper lake trade, and that can only be through the Welland Canal.
While the State of New York collected tolls for the use of its canals,
Buffalo paid tolls upon 165 miles more than Oswego, which offset the Welland
Canal tolls paid by the latter. Under an amendment to the Constitution
adopted in November, 1874, tolls upon the New York State canals were reduced
in amount about two-thirds. Under another amendment, adopted in November,
1882, they were removed altogether. This left nothing, in the competition
with Buffalo for the upper lake trade, to offset the burden of the Welland
Canal tolls. The effect was immediately apparent. Before 1874,
about 10,000,000 bushels of western grain destined to New York for eastern
and foreign markets, was received annually at Oswego, by way of the Welland
Canal. From 1874 to 1882, the amount annually grew less. From
1882 to 1894 not a single cargo was received. The Welland Canal tolls
were absolutely prohibitive.
In 1893 tolls were imposed upon Canadian
vessels, passing through the Sault St. Marie Canal, unless the use of the
Welland Canal, which had been made free of toll to vessels passing through
with cargoes destined to Montreal or points on the St. Lawrence farther
east, should be given to our citizens on terms equally favorable.
As a consequence, the Welland Canal tolls on east bound cargoes were reduced
one-half, the other half to be collected equally from cargoes destined
to American or Canadian ports. Under this reduction, during the season
of navigation of 1894, a few cargoes (aggregating about 300,000 bushels)
of western grain, destined for New York, the first for twelve years, were
received at Oswego. With a free Welland Canal it is believed that the interests
above referred to might regain and exceed their old proportions.
But until a Niagara ship canal, or a free Welland Canal connects Lake Ontario
with the upper lakes, such a result cannot be regarded as probable.
Before 1882 all Canadian produce
which passed through the New York canals paid tolls. The tolls collected
annually on such produce, which entered the State at the port of Oswego
alone, exceeded the whole amount of tolls from every source received by
the Welland Canal. To induce the Canadian government to allow the
free use of the Welland Canal in exchange for the free use of the New York
canals the Constitutional Convention of 1894 was asked to adopt the following
as a part of the Canal Article of the constitution it was engaged in framing:
“During the time that the
Dominion of Canada continues to impose tolls on American products passing
through the Welland Canal, but not after such imposition of tolls shall
cease, the Legislature may provide for the levying tolls on the products
of said Dominion of Canada passing through any canal in this State.”
The proposition received the unanimous
approval of the Canal Committee of the Convention; was adopted by the Convention
in Committee of the Whole; and would undoubtedly have been made a part
of the Constitution; but at the last moment, upon remonstrances from parties
who feared some personal interest might suffer should such tolls be imposed,
the proposition was withdrawn by the member who had introduced it and had
it in charge, and so a most promising opportunity for benefitting the interests
above referred to, and for regaining for Oswego its former commercial importance,
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Copyright © July 2005Ada Louise Heinlein, Transcriber
Copyright © March 2005LauraPerkins
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