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Dozens Take Historic ‘Walk’ Through Oswego’s Streets

OSWEGO, NY – Centuries ago, Montcalm marched into the Port City and destroyed its fort.

Today, people walk all over Montcalm (Street).

Doris Allen shares some tales of Oswego's history with a large crowd at the H. Lee White Marine Museum.
Doris Allen shares some tales of Oswego's history with a large crowd at the H. Lee White Marine Museum.

Doris Allen, a long-time resident of Oswego, took people on an historic walk through city streets uncovering clues about Oswego’s past on Saturday afternoon.

The more than six dozen crowded into the H. Lee White Marine Museum didn’t have to step outside, as Allen invited them to let their imaginations do the walking

When she started teaching third grade one of her first questions to the students was “What two bodies of water do you see every day in Oswego?”

The children would always reply, “Lake Ontario! And, the river.”

“The river? In 19 years I never had a kid tell me the name of the river. Not once. So, I started walking with them,” she explained.

They would walk all around the city. After a while, many parents joined in the walks, she noted.

The walks helped educated many children, and adults, of the city’s history, she said.

Even today, not enough people know about the rich history of the city, she added.

She urged everyone to begin a grassroots effort to get signs erected at various locations around “the” river so everyone would know it is the Oswego River.

“I hope all of you will use your clout to see that this comes true. I never saw a sign that said ‘Oswego River.’ No wonder the children never knew its name,” she said.

“What a great place to start our ‘walks.’ It sits right on the bank of the site of the source of all the stories I am going to tell you,” she said of the marine museum’s location in Oswego’s “Historic Maritime District.”

The Indians gave Oswego its name (which means “pouring out place” where the river pours into the lake), she said.

The Indian name for the lake translates into English as “Lake Beautiful,” Allen said, adding, “What a loss that we can’t call it that today.”

Many street names today honor the members of the Iroquois Nation.

The tribes are recognized with street names such as: Cayuga, Seneca, Mohawk, Oneida, Erie, and Niagara.

She pointed out that there used to be “Huron” on the big cement silo at the port. That was an Indian nation in Canada, which at many times fought against the Iroquois.

After the Revolutionary War, some soldiers were paid with land, because Washington didn’t have a lot of money at the time; and there isn’t a lot there today, either, Allen quipped.

When one solider went to Oswego to take possession of the land that was promised him, he discovered it wasn’t there. So he hired a lawyer to sue the state. The lawyer, Martin VanBuren, won the case. But the soldier didn’t have any money to pay him. So he took some land instead.

And a few years later, when Oswego was in a land boom, he made himself a bundle, Allen noted.

When Oswego was fighting to get the canal to come through, VanBuren was in the state legislature.

“They needed his vote and thought because he had land here that he’d vote in favor of Oswego,” Allen said. “But, you know what that rascal politician did? He voted against it. Because he had his eye on the presidency! He didn’t want people to think he voted for it because he would make money on his land.”

The King of France sent the great general Marquis De Montcalm to the Port City, and with his Indian allies raided Oswego in the French and Indian War and “they burned everything that was here, And right down here at the port, they built a great big wooden cross as a sign of victory,” Allen said.

“Back in France, the king was so delighted, he had a medal struck in honor of this victory,” Allen said. “Today, if you want to see that medal, all you have to do is go over to the historical society at the Richardson-Bates House.”

An Oswego businessman bought the medal and gave it to the city of Oswego many years ago, she explained.

“So, we have Montcalm Park and Montcalm Street named for the man who burned the place. At the park there is a plaque with the names of the two English commanders who lost the battle. One was Lt. Col. Mercer. We have Mercer Street on the east side. The other was Lt. Col. Schuyler. We have streets for him on both sides of the city.”

She said there should be another street in connection with the battle; named in honor of Francis Lewis.

The New York businessman happened to be in Oswego during the battle and was among the many taken as prisoners of war. Lewis survived, became a member of the Continental Congress and was a signer of the Declaration of Independence.

“Now just think, right outside this door we had a signer of the Declaration. I think we ought to have a sign that says one of the founding fathers of America walked here in Oswego. There ought to be a Lewis Lane somewhere!” Allen said.

Allen has traveled extensively. She was a teacher in Oswego for 25 years and served as principal of School No. 2. She has degrees from Oswego State and Columbia universities. She is the author of several professional publications, and has been a contributing editor to a variety of education publications.

She was the first woman alderman of Oswego, serving from 1952-54. During her term she was involved in the building of Hamilton Homes and helped start the first city planning commission where she served as the first secretary. She also worked on the committee to revise the city charter in 1976.

For more information about activities and events at the museum, call 342-0480 or visit  [email protected]