OSWEGO – As Oswego County’s bicentennial year winds to a close, Legislator Shawn Doyle recapped some of the events of the past 12 months.
It was 200 years ago, this spring that Oswego County was formed.
At the start of 2016, Kevin Gardner, chair of the legislature, set up a committee regarding the county’s bicentennial year observance.
“For the longest time, it wasn’t really a big priority,” Doyle, committee chair, said. “We were facing some tough choices last January. Our nuclear plants were in jeopardy, one ready to close. This was the last thing on our minds, how we’d get through a bicentennial.”
But, as the year went on, “we got some momentum going and it’s really been a good year,” he pointed out.
The culmination of the whole year’s effort is the publication of t he “Oswego County History” book, Doyle said.
The book was put together by a committee of every town historian, village historian and city historian.
Several county staffers were also instrumental in the book’s creation.
“Our own (legislator) Roy Reehil, an experienced writer and publisher, put together one heck of a book. You’re all going to enjoy it,” Doyle said.
“So, how did we go through our year? We all were sworn in; at least initially,” he quipped, referring to the imbroglio involving a few legislators. “We talked that day about showing everybody, despite looking like a very uniform culture up here, we really are all different.”
For the swearing in ceremony, legislators brought in their own family bibles.
There were some old French bibles, a Dutch bible, as well as people of German, Irish and English heritages represented.
“There is some diversity in the county,” Doyle said. “That was the exercise I wanted to put forth.”
The county celebrated Black History Month. Oswego County played a big part in Black history, Doyle noted.
“We were one of the last points of departure on this long, informal ‘Underground Railroad’ that brought escaped African slaves from the South up. We were the place that they left from to go to Canada and freedom,” he explained.
There are great stories about it in the book, he added.
The mayor of Cleveland was the first African-American mayor in New York State.
In March, they honored the actual founding of the county.
The original founders, who met in a tavern in Mexico, were recognized.
“We were founded with a great degree of positivity in March of 1816. There was talk in Albany about the Erie Canal ending here. (They decided to go all the way to Western New York). So it took a while to make the Oswego River part of the canal system,” Doyle said.
They had a bad year in 1816. They didn’t get the canal. And, 1816 was “the year without a summer.” A volcanic eruption in the Dutch East Indies spread a massive amount of ash into the atmosphere and created a winter in summer.
“It snowed here in July, not only in Redfield but everywhere,” Doyle said. “Crops failed. Local settlers had to go to the cities to work to support their families. So, at the end of 1816 when they were putting their budget together for 1817 – they had nothing. The county was really in rough shape.”
It was kind of like this year, a lot of anxiety to start, he added.
In April, discussion about the canal and how it became an economic driver continued. May brought Student Government Day. Students from around the legislators’ districts took part in the meeting and shared what they liked and disliked about the county as well predicting where it would be in the future. The students’ responses will be included in the county’s time capsule.
June highlighted the significant part that women played in the county’s history. The next month the focus was on the agriculture, which is still very important today, Doyle said. Then they met at Pulaski, the Half-shire’s other county seat. A representative from Jefferson County visited to help honor Oswego County’s birthday.
In September, transportation, from plank roads to highways, was the topic. The country’s first plank road was built from North Syracuse into Central Square. Railroads crisscrossed the county. Only Palermo didn’t have a railroad go through it.
In October, the diversity of the county was celebrated. “There was a great diversity, particularly here in the city of Oswego,” Doyle said.
The county’s contribution to the defense of the nation was highlighted.
“From the Revolutionary War soldiers who lay at rest in most all of our town to the War of 1812 – of which, we were the front lines – on through today, the county has defended the country. Oswego County gave such a large percent of its population to the Civil War. And a large part of our budget went to paying people to go or paying for substitutes,” Doyle said.
“So, here we are. We are at the end. Where has all this taken us? We’ve had a flurry of historical activity,” he said at the county’s December meeting. “It’s been a good exercise in education. We worked with a lot of school children.”
The county is donating its bicentennial history books to every school library and public libraries as well as its state officials.
“We hope the kids start reading (the books) a little bit, and see what rich history we have,” Doyle said. “Every historian participated and did a terrific job interpreting history.”
Many events this year, including the Oswego July 4th Parade followed by a community picnic at Fort Ontario, and the Oswego County Fair, had a big historic element.
“We started out with a cloud over us, that we had terrible financial pitfalls facing us as a county this year. We came forth with a cost-effective bicentennial celebration,” Doyle said, adding the sales of the book will help defray the county’s costs. “We’ve generated some more public pride. We all learned a little bit throughout the year. And, we’ve done right by our heritage.”
“A great bipartisan coalition helped save the nuclear plants. The tax base is secure for a while. There have been some terrific CFA awards (Consolidated Funding Awards) – the city of Oswego especially. The federal government is actually looking at us and helping us whether it be Fort Ontario (as a national park) or the possibility of a National Marine Sanctuary,” he continued
Doyle thanked everyone who worked on a committee or volunteered to help the county in 2016.
“I appreciate the interest you’ve shown in history this year,” he said.
Kevin Gardner, chair of the legislature, congratulated Doyle on a job well done.
“I went to these activities that Shawn put on, they were top notch,” he said. “He made the county look excellent through all this.”
Doyle, in turn, praised Reehil’s involvement.
“I especially want to thank Roy. We couldn’t have done this book without him. Roy’s editing skills and negotiating skills are amazing,” Doyle said.
There is a 90-day window for non-profits to sell the books. Sales at bookstores will start after that.
The 192-page book contains histories of SUNY Oswego, Fort Ontario State Historic Site and the Safe Haven Holocaust Refugee Shelter and Museum. Also included are biographies of the founding fathers, black history and the Underground Railroad and chronicles of the county’s shipping industry and maritime history.
Hardcover books are bound in black cloth with a gold embossed title and county seal and covered with a color dust jacket. They are available for $20.
Paperback books also feature this colorful cover and sell for $10.
The books will available from the following:
• Central Square Community Historical Society: Village Office, 3125 East Ave., Central Square, N.Y. 13036; 315-676-2682
• Cleveland Historical Society: 123 NYS Route. 49, Cleveland, N.Y. 13042; 315-675-8688
• Fort Ontario State Historic Site (Friends of Fort Ontario): 1 E. Fourth St., Oswego, N.Y. 13126; 315-343-4711 (Tuesday through Thursday)
• Half-Shire Historical Society: P.O. Box 73, 1100 County Route 48, Richland, N.Y. 13142; 315-298-3620 or 315-298-2986
• Hannibal Historical Society: Oswego St., Hannibal, N.Y. 13074; 315-564-5650
• John Wells Pratt House Museum (Friends of Fulton History, N.Y.): 177 S. First St., Fulton, N.Y. 13069; 315-598-4616
• Mexico Historical Society: 3250 Main St., Mexico, N.Y. 13114; 315-963-7853
• New Haven Town Clerk or Historian: P.O. Box 141, New Haven, N.Y. 13121; 315-963-3900
• Palermo Town Historian: 53 County Route 35, Fulton, N.Y. 13069; 315-593-2333
• Parish Town Historian: P.O. Box 195, 2894 W. Main St., Parish, N.Y. 13131; 315-625-7833
• Pulaski Historical Society Museum: 3428 Maple Ave., Pulaski, N.Y. 13142; 315-298-4650
• Richardson-Bates House Museum (Oswego County Historical Society): 135 E. Third St., Oswego, N.Y. 13126; 315-343-1342
• Sandy Creek and Lacona Town and Village Historian: P.O. Box 52, Sandy Creek, N.Y. 13145; 315-387-5456 x7 or 315-695-2820
• Schroeppel Historical Society Museum: 486 Main St., Phoenix, N.Y. 13136; 315-695-6880 or 315-695-6641
• Scriba Historical Society: 42 Creamery Road, Oswego, N.Y. 13126; 315-342-6420
• Volney Town Historian: 1445 County Route 6, Fulton, N.Y. 13069-4857; 315-598-3817
• West Monroe Historical Society: 2355 NYS Route 49, West Monroe, N.Y. 13167; 315-676-7414
“The bicentennial committee felt it was important that the historians and historical societies should have the first opportunity for fundraising, not only because they all contributed to the book, but also to support the vital work that they do to preserve the history of their communities,” Doyle said recently. “Therefore, they will have 90 days to conduct sales to raise money for their group or events. After that, the books will be released to retail stores for sale.”
To learn more about Oswego County’s rich history, go to www.visitoswegocounty.com.
For more information about the Oswego County History book, call 315-349-8322.