1895 LANDMARKS OF OSWEGO COUNTY, NY Railroad History  


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 Tolls.

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. 
     It was 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 Fulton. 

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 place.
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 30, 1866.
  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 January, 1895.

Jan’y 1, 1895

Towns Amount issued Amount unpaid
Constantia  $ 87,500.00 $ 12,000.00
Hannibal $ 60,000.00 $ 6,000.00
Hannibal Village $ 6,000.00 
Hastings  $ 105,000.00 $ 56,000.00
Oswego (Town) $ 30,000.00  $ 3,000.00
Oswego (City) $ 1,100,000.00 $ 704,000.00
Parish $ 35,000.00 $ 31,000.00
Richland  $ 80,000.00 $ 68,000.00
Sandy Creek $ 80,006.00  $ 68,000.00
Scriba  $ 20,000.00  $ 4,666.67
Schroeppel $ 50,000.00 $ 40,500.00
Phoenix (Village) $ 20,000.00 $ 20,000.00
Volney $ 300,000.00  $ 190,000.00
West Monroe $ 40,000.00
Total $ 2,013,506.00 $ 1,203,166.67

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 loss.
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, was lost.

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, 1895. 

Back to Oswego County History Page

Back to Oswego County NYGenWeb

Copyright © July 2005Ada Louise Heinlein, Transcriber 
    Copyright © March 2005LauraPerkins 
All Rights Reserved