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A Piece Of Oswego’s History To Be Restored To Its Rightful Place

OSWEGO, NY – A small segment of part of the Port City’s big history will return thanks to the efforts of the Oswego Sunrise Rotary Club.

At its meeting Monday night, the Physical Services Committee granted permission of the Rotarians to place a restored railroad watchman’s shanty in the Seaway Trail Gateway Interpretative Park, fronting on East First Street.

About 70 years ago, these shanties were installed at several key intersections and switching points around the city, explained Charlie Young, a Rotarian and historian.

Charlie Young and Sharon Baker display a painting by Frank Kraft depicting what the building might look like on a hill near Lake Ontario.
Charlie Young and Sharon Baker display a painting by Frank Kraft depicting what the building might look like on a hill near Lake Ontario.

“There were up to 12 pre-fab, concrete watchman shanties. They were used for, as the name implies, for watchmen to direct train traffic,” he told the committee. “We know definitely that there were three – one at the corner of West Fifth and Utica streets, one at the Fitzgibbons plant at the shore of Lake Ontario and another at East Third and Bridge. We’re not quite sure where the others were and not exactly sure if there were as many as 12.”

At the end of World War II the railroad offered, at auction, the shanties.

Local businessman Jack Fitzgibbons bought six or eight of them, Young said. He then sold them for around $75 – $90, he added.

“To the north of the railroad track, between the track and the lake, there is an area we call ‘Rotary Trail’ and through the years we’ve endeavored to keep that clear, to make it a good safe place for people to walk,” Young said.

A few years back, while they were clearing the area, they looked over the bank and saw a railroad shanty, Young said.

“The Oswego Sunrise Rotary Club has been working on developing a walking trail along the shore of Lake Ontario behind Fort Ontario for the past five years. During our first year, we found a concrete structure that had been pushed off the bluff and was resting on its side,” said Rotarian George Reed. “Charlie Young determined that it was a watchman’s house and convinced the club to have it restored. The technology club at Oswego High School, under the direction of Warren Shaw, are restoring the artifact.”

Young showed the committee photos of how the dilapidated structure looked then.

With the cooperation of the DPW, it was lifted off the embankment. It was taken to the DPW garage on West First Street and is in the process of being restored.

It has been an on-going process of bringing it back and repairing it. Fellow Rotarian Shaw, aided by a cadre of his OHS technology students, has labored to bring the shanty back to life.

“This is almost 90 percent complete now,” Young said. “The question now is in fact, where can we put it? We are requesting the use of public space in Leotta Park on East First Street.

“This location would be suitable because it was on the rail line which served the Ames and Cyclotherm plants, which produced war materials in World War II,” Sharon Baker, Oswego Sunrise Rotary Club President pointed out. “Since this is a humble relic from World War II, in essence, it could be a memorial to all – military and civilian – who contributed to our victory in that conflict.”

The 65th anniversary of VE Day will be celebrated in 2010 and it would be fitting to dedicate the shanty then, Young said.

The Rotarians would like the city to provide a concrete resting place for the shanty as well as topsoil for landscaping, which will be provided by the Rotary club.

“Possibly, the pad could be elevated, eight-sided to match the lock smith’s shanty and large enough for people to walk around, including those in wheelchairs,” Young said. “Sunrise Rotary is willing to commit to maintaining that area around the shanty.”

The shanties were heated by a small stove in the center; the pipe went up through the roof. In the one being restored, you can see the soot on the roof, Young noted.

“It did have doors and it did have windows. We are willing to commit to trying to replace those,” he added.

Councilor Bill Sharkey wondered how much the padding would cost.

It would be in the neighborhood of $400 to $500, DPW Commissioner Mike Smith estimated.

“This is a beautiful idea,” said Councilor Shawn Walker. “This is going to bring the past back into the future now. A lot of the younger kids have never seen one of these.”

He said he is old enough to remember the (wooden) one at the tunnel, coming out at Third Street.

There will be a plaque installed explaining the history of railroads in the Port City.

It’s possible the shanty will also have electricity at some point so it can be used as an informational point for tourists.

The committee sent the request to the full council for consideration.

1 Comment

  1. There is one of those buried in the rocks on the shore (eastside) We used to play in it as kids — discovering lol. I havent been ther ein years but it should still be visible — approx 50 yards east of bigrock or flat rock

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