Click on each photo to view larger image
Information was obtained from the Historical & Statistical Gazetteer of New York State, R. P. Smith, Publisher, Syr., 1860, by J. H. French.
OSWEGO CITY----formed from Oswego and Scriba, was incorp. as a village March 14, 1828, and was enlarged and organized as a city March 24, 18488. It is situated on Lake Ontario, at the mouth of Oswego River,9 that stream dividing the city into two nearly equal parts. The river is bordered upon each side by a ridge, which rises in gradual slopes to a height of about 100 feet, and ends in bluffs on the lake shore 40 to 60 feet high. The summits of these ridges are about 1 mi. apart, and descend from the river in the same gradual slopes as toward it. One mile W. is a valley opening through the ridge into the river above the falls, through which the Oswego must have once flowed into the lake. The S. border of the city is skirted by a bluff or escarpment about 160 feet above the lake, indicating an ancient lake or sea beach. Here commences the deep ravine excavated by the river through strata of red sandstone of the Medina group and underlying shale. From this the geological induction is made that, at the last great physical change which elevated the country from the bed of an ancient ocean and brought the river into existence, it fell directly into Lake Ontario, at the escarpment, by a fall of moderate height, the upward movement being gradual and intermittent. The pauses by which it was interrupted are marked by ancient beach lines, ridges, and terraces found at different heights above the lakes.
8. At the first village meeting, held May 13, 1828, Hon. Alvan BRONSON was elected President, and Daniel HUGUNIN, Jr., George FISHER, Nathaniel VILAS, Jr., David P. BREWSTER, Theophilus S. MORGAN, Joseph TURNER, and Orlo STEELE, Trustees. The first city officers, elected in April, 1848, were as follows: Mayor, James PLATT; Alderman: Hunter CRANE, Gilbert MOLLISON, Stephen H. LATHROP, Robert OLIVER, Geo. S. ALVORD, John BOIGEOL, Samuel S. TAYLOR, and William S. MALCOLM. The council appointed by J. M. CASEY, City Clerk.
9. By the river and canal it is 38 mi., by R.R. 35 mi., N.N. W. of Syracuse; by the Oswego and Erie Canals 208 mi., by the Oswego and Central line of R.R. 138 mi., and by the surveyed route of the Oswego & Troy R.R. 170 Mi., W.N.W. of Albany.
The Oswego Falls are now 11 feet high; and, as they have receded S. 12 mi., to the village of Fulton, with an ascending average grade of about 9 feet per mi. in the excavated bed of the river, they must have diminished in height and grandeur from age to age during the whole period of recession. This hypothesis is sustained by geographical and geological analogy with the Falls of the Genesee and the Niagara. The aggregate fall of the river within the 12 mi. is 110 feet, of which 34 feet are within the limits of the city; and the whole fall is so distributed by 6 successive dams, built by the State for canal and slackwater navigation, that the water of the river may be used by raceways nearly the whole distance, affording one of the finest water-powers in the world. The river forms the outlet to the 11 lakes which cluster in the basin of Central New York, and drains a wide extent of territory. These lakes form natural reservoirs which prevent floods or undue exhaustion, the extreme elevation and depression of the river not exceeding 3 feet, so that destructive freshets, so common to great water-power rivers, never occur. The mouth of the river admits vessels of the largest class navigating the lakes; and the erection of piers and a lighthouse by the U.S. Government renders it one of the safest and most accessible harbors on the lakes, susceptible of indefinite enlargement, and combining canal and R.R. transportation with the advantages of position as the nearest lake port to tidewater. A hydraulic canal extending along both sides of the river is studded with mills, elevating warehouses, and other manufacturing establishments.
The city is handsomely laid out, with streets 100 feet wide, intersecting each other at right angles. The E. and W. banks of the river are connected by two bridges, built by the city, __the lower one, an iron bridge with a draw for the passage of vessels, on Bridge St., the upper on Utica St., at the terminus of the Oswego & Syracuse R.R. The principal public buildings are an edifice recently erected by the U. S. Government, containing a custom house, post-office, and U.S. courtroom,1a city hall,2 jail, orphan asylum, city hospital, city library, and 12 churches.3
The Orphan Asylum is situated upon the elevated ground in the southern part of the city, commanding a fine view of the city, harbor, and lake. It was founded in 1853, mainly through the influence of the ladies of Oswego, and continues to be principally supported by them. Orphans and children of destitute parents, from earliest infancy to 8 years of age, are admitted and cared for and afterward placed out in respectible families. A primary and Sabbath school are connected with the institution. The number of inmates ranges from 50 to 100.
The City Library was founded by a donation of $25,000 from Hon. Gerrett SMITH. The edifice is finely located upon the E. side of the river; and the library at present contains 9,000 volumes.4
The Public Schools are graded and free; they are under the care of a Board of Education and Superintendent. The system embraces the primary, junior, senior, and high school departments; and pupils can receive instruction from the primary branches to an extended academic course. In 1857 there were in the city 23 school districts, in which were employed 47 teachers,___8 males and 39 females. The number of children between 4 and 21 was 5,516, of which 4,175, or 75 per cent, attended school during some portion of the year. The total receipts and expenses during the year was $26,341.14; the number of volumes in the district libraries, about 3,000.
The commerce of Oswego is very extensive, and is increasing much more rapidly than the population,5 Being situated near the foot of the lake navigation, and nearer to N.Y. than any other lake port, it has commercial facilities superior to those of most of the Western cities. A considerable share of the produce of the West flows through this port on its way to the seaboard markets; and it is the principal entrepot of the agricultural products of Canada West. The salt of Onondaga is mostly distributed through the Great West from this place; and vast quantities of the manufactured goods of the East are sent through the same channel. The official report of the value of the lake and canal trade, derived from the Custom House and Canal Collector's Office, for 1845, was $7, 951,409, and for 1856 was $50,612,603, showing an annual average increase of nearly 20 per cent. The amount of registered tonnage in 1846 was 15,513 tons, and in 1856 it was 46,467 tons.6
1. This edifice is constructed of Cleveland sandstone and iron, and is entirely fireproof. It costs about $120,000.
2. This building contains the rooms of the Common Council and Board of Education, and the offices of the City Clerk, Recorder, and other city officers.
3. 2 Prot. E., 2 Presb., 2 Bap, 2 M.E., 2 R.C., Univ., and Af. Meth.
4. This edifice, erected in 1856, is built of brick, and is 92 by 52 feet, with a vestibule 15 by 16 feet, a basement 9 feet high, with 2 stories above, having an aggregate height of wall of 36 feet above the basement.
5. Pop. in 1855, 15,816. Estimated in 1858, - 18,000.
6. The operation of the late Reciprocity Treaty with England has proved, as was anticipated, most favorable to Oswego. The importation of grain at the port in 1856 was 13,504,074 bushels; and the peculiar manufacturing and commercial advantages of the place have made it the great flour and grain market of Central New York and Northern England.
The manufacturing interests of the city have attained to considerable magnitude, although the vast water-power of Oswego River is occupied but to a limited extent. Flour made from the wheat of Canada and the Western States forms the leading article manufactured. The Oswego mills, 18 in number, with an aggregate of 100 run of stone, are capable of grinding and packing 10,000 barrels of flour per day, __a greater amount than is manufactured at any other place on the continent.1
Shipyards and 2 marine railways rank among the important manufacturing establishments of the city, and give large employment to labor. The Oswego Starch Factory, erected in 1848, upon the hydraulic canal, on the W. bank of the river, is one of the most prosperous and extensive establishments of the kind in the world.2 Lumber is extensively dressed in the city for the Western markets, from Canadian sawed lumber entered free under the Reciprocity Treaty. The Oswego Cotton Mills is a very well managed and productive establishment, operating 83 looms, 2,664 spindles, and giving employment to 65 operators. A little above, on the same canal, is an extensive tannery. The Ontario Foundery, Steam Engine and Machine Works, is one of the most extensive and prosperous establishments of the kind in the State. Many other branches of manufactures are carried on in the city.
The early history of Oswego has already been noticed in the general history of the co. Its distinctive and modern history dates from its surrender by the British in 1796. The withdrawal of the British garrison took away from the place all that had ever been established of civilized society, and left it as new as though man had never resided there. During the year following the evacuation, Neil McMULLIN, a merchant of Kingston,3 moved thither, bringing with him a house framed at Kingston. In 1802 but 2 or 3 vessels were owned on the American side of the lake, trade being principally carried on by vessels belonging to the Northwest Fur Company. During this year Benajah BOYINGTON built a warehouse on the W. side of the river, and Arch. FAIRFIELD became a forwarding merchant. Salt from the Onondaga Springs was at that time the most important item in the commerce of Oswego. In 1803, Mathew McNAIR engaged in the forwarding business and purchased a schooner. In 1804 he built another, and, in connection with other gentlemen, purchased a number of Canadian vessels.4 From this period shipbuilding was carried on briskly, and it formed a leading interest until the breaking out of the War of 1812.
The war put an end to commercial transactions; but the place became the scene of stirring military events. The fort was garrisoned and commanded by Col. MITCHELL. On the 5th of Mar, 1814, the British fleet under Sir James YEO appeared off the harbor and opened a heavy fire upon the place. The fire was returned by the 4 small guns which constituted the only armament of Fort Ontario, and by a small battery on the W. side of the River. The next morning the British took position still nearer the shore, and under the cover of a heavy fire 2 columns of the enemy effected a landing. After a gallant but vain defense, Col. MITCHELL retreated, leaving the fort and town in possession of the enemy.5 The principal object of the attack was to secure the naval stores destined for the new vessels building at Sackets Harbor; but a large share of these were at Oswego Falls, 12 mi. above, and were not taken. Several cannon and other heavy articles lying upon the wharf were sunk in the river, at the command of Col. Mitchell; these were afterward recovered. On the morning of the 7th the British retired, and the fleet preceeded N. to blockade Sackets Harbor. Lieut. WOOLSEY, who charge of the stores, immediately dropped down the river, and, with 19 boats laden with stores, set out on the lake under cover of night, and supported by a body of riflemen and Indians, under Major APPLING, on shore. The boats were pursused, and took refuge in Sandy Creek, where an action took place, resulting in the capture of the entire attacking party.
Oswego recovered slowly frrom the effects of the war, and its commercial transactions were comparatively unimportant until the opening of the Oswego and Welland Canals.6 In the mean time shipbuilding became a leading pursuit of the people. In 1816, steam navigation was first introduced on Lake Ontario, and its great progress since has been of immense importance to Oswego. In 1829-30, Alvin BRONSON and T.S. MORGAN erected the first flouring mill. In 1828 the Oswego Canal was finished, and in 1830 the Welland Canal was opened, giving a new impulse to trade and opening to the place an almost boundless commerce in the future. With the advantages of natural position and the stimulus of the lines of internal improvement, both the commerce and manufactures of Oswego have increased in an almost unprecedented manner; and there is every reason to believe that this increase is to continue for many years to come.
1. Five of these mills are located on the harbor, and elevate their grain from lake vessels and discharge flour and grain into canal boats. Six grain warehouses on the harbor elevate and discharge in the same way. The other mills, located above, elevate from and discharge into canal boats. The elevating capacity on the harbor is 37,500 bushels per hour, and the storage room over 2,000,000 bushels of grain, ---rendering Oswego the best receiving port on the lakes.
2. This factory was founded by a stock company, with a capital of $50,000; and, under the supervision of Thos. Kingsford & Sons, its capital has been increased to $450,000, and its main block of buildings have grown to the enormous dimensions of 510 feet front by 250 feet deep, with numerous detached buildings and an extensive box factory. The main establishment works up 500,000 bushels of grain (mostly corn) and makes 12,000,000 pounds of starch per annum. Large quantities of the article are sold and used in London, Liverpool, and the principal cities on the continent of Europe. It gives employment to 200 men.
3. When Mr. McMULLIN and his family landed at Oswego they found two American residents, ----John LOVE and Ziba PHILLIPS. They were traders, and left soon after. Capt. Edward O'CONNER, of the Revolutionary Army, came in during the same year. Mathew McNAIR and Bradner BURT and his father came in 1802; Henry EAGLE in 1808; Alvin BRONSON in 1810; and Wm. DOLLOWAY in 1811.
In 1810 the population numbered 300.
Rankin McMullin, son of Neil McMULLIN, born in 1800, was the first child born within the present limits of the city.
4. In 1804 all commercial transactions were carried on with unrestricted freedom. No ship papers, licenses, reports, or oaths were required, the keen-scented custom house officers not having yet smelt out the commerce of the lakes.
5. The British loss in the action was about 200, and the American 60. The British carried off several of the prominent citizens, and kept them prisoners until they were duly discharged. Among the prisoners were Alvan BRONSON, Abraham HUGUNIN, and Eli STEVENS.
6. In 1818, 10 years before
the Oswego Canal was completed, 36,000 barrels of Onondaga salt were received
at Oswego, of which 26,000 barrels went to Western States by the portages
round Niagara Falls. At that period the price of salt at Oswego was
$2.50 per barrel, and the cost of transportation from Salina, by Oswego,
to Black Rock $1.41 per barrel. In 1856 there were received at Oswego
700,000 barrels, of which over 500,000 went to upper lake ports through
the Welland Canal, at a cost of transportation ranging from 10 to 20 cents
per barrel from Salina to Chicago. This price for freight is much
less than it is from St. Clair River to Chicago, less than half the distance,
illustrating the fact that the demand for up freights is at the great receiving
point of down freights.