1902: When Fulton Came To Be

FULTON, NY – It was not until 1902 that the City of Fulton came to fruition.

Prior to, what is now known as the City of Fulton, was separated into two villages: Oswego Falls on the west side of the Oswego River belonging to the Town of Granby and the Village of Fulton on the east side of the Oswego River belonging to the Town of Volney.

“In 1902, they incorporated to become the City of Fulton and the rest is history,” Fulton Mayor Ronald Woodward Sr. said.

Before the merger, the populous villages were split on whether they believed the combination would be beneficial.

According to “A City Is Born” by Grace Lynch, a late Fulton resident, former teacher, and writer, the opportunity to unite remained a burning question right up until a decision had been reached with the official announcement posted in the March 5, 1902 edition of the Fulton Patriot.

A special telegram from Assemblyman Thomas D. Lewis brought the editor the news.

Prior to, Lynch said several opposition arguments were derived from women.

Lynch cited Dr. Harriet M. Doane’s argument in her article. As a dedicated suffragist, Doane said a survey showed roughly one-third of the village taxpayers were women who owned property at a total of $404,410 yet did not hold the right to vote.

Doane and women taxpayers vowed to fight any city charter that did not grant women the right to vote.

Ultimately, their efforts in opposition were not enough.

Still, others feared the governing body, specifically the Mayor, would hold too much power as Lynch described in “When A City Was Born” from The Way It Used To Be, Volume 2.

The charter provided for eight elected positions – the Mayor, the city judge, and six aldermen.

In his position, the Mayor held the power to appoint officials throughout the city that would garner, at the time, rather high salaries.

Lynch included examples like the City Chamberlain at $1,000 a year, a city attorney at $800 a year, a City Clerk at $720 a year, and a Board of Education appointed by the Mayor of which would hire a Superintendent at $2,000 a year.

On the opposite side of the argument, a committee appointed to study the merging of the villages provided a report based on the experiences of other recently incorporated cities such as Geneva, Olean, Oneida, and Cortland.

The report showed costs to operate the city would remain consistent with village costs. Additionally, other cities studied showed tax rates and valuation reduced as well as significant improvements made such as pavements, water works, sewer systems, and schools, Lynch said.

The report was signed by nine of the ten committee members.

The proposed charter incorporating the City of Fulton was enacted into law on February 27, 1902.

Both political parties were active and moved quickly to have candidates prepared for an April election.

James A. Foster, a Republican, ousted John Sharp, Democrat, to become the first Mayor of Fulton.

Before uniting, the villages of Fulton and Oswego Falls were bustling with people active in the community. Recreational activities were aplenty and industry was booming.

Residents of the Village of Oswego Falls centered around Lake Neatahwanta for activities like swimming and utilized Recreation Park for horse races.

Residents of the Village of Fulton focused on utilizing the Oswego River, harvesting eels was a hot commodity in the 1800s.

However, after the merger to form the City of Fulton, recreational activities stayed in the forefront.

Lynch’s “When A City Was Born” cited an advertisement for the first week after the city had formed, promoting tickets to two plays to be presented at Stephens Opera House. Tickets were 25, 50, or 75 cents.

Two basketball games were held at Town Hall in the first week of incorporation.

The first baby born in the City of Fulton came on the very same day the city formed, west siders boasting they were the first to contribute to the increasing population of the city by the birth of the city’s first child – a boy.

Through hardships and many changes, the City of Fulton remains 117 years later as marked by the anniversary of incorporation later this month, a city with great pride in its rich history.