OSWEGO, NY – Nearly 80 people showed up Saturday afternoon in Leotta Park along East First Street to officially dedicate Oswego’s Peace Garden.
A huge American Flag, with 15 stripes, fluttered in the breeze.
“This is the only (US) flag with 15 stripes,” Tony Leotta pointed out. “The 14th and 15th stripes represent Vermont and Kentucky. This flag was used until, I think, 1822. When the other states were added, they realized they couldn’t add a stripe for every new state. So, they returned to the 13 stripes and added stars instead.”
The garden was originally developed in 2003 by Leotta, the city engineer, and the Jay Saternow family, and several volunteers from the community.
“It was named a ‘Peace Garden’ by the late Frank Clavelli Sr., former member of the Oswego Common Council,” Leotta pointed out.
He and the city’s Department of Public Works along with a group of volunteers have cared for and maintained the garden for the past several years.
The oval-shaped garden was recently expanded and planted with a colorful assortment of marigolds, zinnias, cannis and geraniums.
The 15-star and 15-stripe, 1812 flag has been ordered to fly over the garden.
New signage will be installed to identify the garden as an official site of the War of 1812 Bicentennial Peace Garden Trail.
The garden route covers more than 600 miles in the U.S. and Canada and includes 17 peace gardens in communities where events took place during the War of 1812.
Joyce Lorraine, USA project manager of the International Peace Garden Foundation, said the first gardens were in recognition of sharing the longest undefended border in the world since the War of 1812.
“Since then, these peace gardens have been going around the world, from country to country,” she said.
Paula Savage, president of the organization added it was originally “only going to be three or four gardens along the Niagara River on the Canadian and on the American side.”
But, she said, there is a lot more to the War of 1812 than just the Niagara River. And so, it became a much larger project.
“We want to embrace all the historic areas,” she told Oswego County Today. “So that is when we started calling all the tourism directors together across the state. The war really had a big impact on the whole eastern part of the country.”
“We’re celebrating 200 years of peace between the United States and Canada,” Savage noted.
The program has been honored by the United Nations “for fostering world peace.”
Mayor Tom Gillen said he was honored to have the Peace Garden in the Port City. He praised all of the dozens of volunteers who made it a reality; especially Leotta, one of the driving forces behind the creation of the garden.
“There’s a lot of Tony in this garden,” the mayor said. “It celebrates our relationship with Canada.”
The garden is actually situated within the confines of Leotta Park. The plaque designating the park area is still in the mayor’s office, Leotta pointed out. It will be erected “at the proper time,” he said modestly.
Paul Lear, superintendent of Fort Ontario State Historic Site, said Oswego was an important military site during the War of 1812, sometimes referred to as the second war for independence.
He provided the large crowd with a brief look at Oswego’s significance during the war.
There were two battles here, one in 1813 and the other in 1814.
“On May 5 -7, 1814, British land and naval forces conducted an amphibious assault on Fort Ontario and the village of Oswego. Lt. Col. George Mitchell, commanding 290 men of the 3rd U.S. Artillery Regiment and a Light Artillery company, 20 sailors from the USS Growler and local militia, fought off one landing attempt and stubbornly resisted a second and final successful British attack before retreating to Oswego Falls,” he said.
Although Fort Ontario was ultimately destroyed and Oswego captured, the British soon left. Mitchell’s delaying tactics had provided time to remove vital naval stores and supplies upriver to Oswego Falls (now Fulton).
Within a few weeks, ropes, rigging, sails, cannon, powder, and other supplies began flowing again through Oswego to Sackets Harbor. The U.S. Navy was able to maintain pace with British shipbuilders in Kingston, Ontario, in the struggle for naval control of Lake Ontario because of Mitchell’s defense of Oswego.
Legislator Louella LeClair presented the city with a flag to fly over the park and garden site.
“May God grant our county and country peace,” she said.
Savage gave the crowd an overview of the International Peace Garden Foundation.
“The garden is a tangible part of this friendship (between nations). Annually, a new country is nominated by the previous recipient country,” she explained. “We are completely volunteer.”
The Peace Garden idea was expanded to involve all areas that had an historic significance relating to the war.
Today there are 18 bicentennial Peace Gardens along the trail in New York alone. Four more are currently being developed.
These gardens are a place to enjoy the fragrance of the flowers, Savage said, “But, also they have a much greater meaning.”
They also foster partnerships, promote community pride and volunteerism and more, she said.
She encouraged people to “enjoy them, visit them, help maintain them and brag to your out-of-town family and friends about them.”
Beverly Sterling-Affinati, chair of the US Daughters of 1812 Bicentennial, said by dedicating the garden “we are passing our heritage on to future generations.”
“If you do only one thing when you leave here to day, please remember – remember there was a War of 1812, that it was significant and it was significant because that war cost men their lives! Mothers lost sons, wives lost husbands, girlfriends lost boyfriends,” she said. “As time passes and new generations take the place of older generations, it is easy to forget that they, like you and I, were once real people with real loved ones and real families. It’s easy to forget that any time our lives and communities are disrupted by a war; it costs all of us something. Some kind of sacrifice has to be made and generally that sacrifice is paid for in the way of lives.”
Mercedes Niess, director of the H. Lee White Marine Museum, represented the Great Lakes Seaway Trail.
“Later this year, the H. Lee White Marine Museum will host the new Great Lakes Seaway Trail War of 1812 traveling exhibit,” she said.
“We part of this network, the international peace gardens,” Mary Vanouse, community development director, noted. “The significance of this park is that it is such a key battle area.”
There have been many donations that have helped make the park and the garden a reality, she said.