Notes from the Port of Oswego Authority. 13. The Port Arrives in ’55!

State Senator Henry A. Wise, (Watertown), shockingly blocked the original Oswego Port Authority Bill from being voted on in 1954, greatly arousing the ire of Oswegonians.  He was chastised widely in the local press and during the fall election.  After being convinced that the bill was not a ruse to empower Hosmer Culkin as a senatorial opponent, and after his own re-election was assured, Senator Wise again became a strong proponent of the Oswego bill, and re-introduced it to the newly seated 1955 NYS Legislature.

As described in the Oswego Palladium-Times (OPT, 1-7-55, p. 4), re-introduction involved considerable work. Some revision was needed to deal with some local objections from waterfront property owners, including the D. L. & W. railroad.  Word was expected from a New York City bond house regarding the marketability of Oswego Port Authority bonds.  The Common Council would need to consider the bill as soon as it was available to meet the need for supportive local legislation.  Senator Wise would be asked to co-sponsor the bill, along with his original co-sponsor, Assemblyman Henry D. Coville (Central Square), whose Assembly colleagues had unanimously passed the Oswego bill in 1954.

A strong editorial, “The Port Bill” (OPT, 1-13-55) noted that the Buffalo Port Board urged an Authority be created to cover the area around Buffalo, the state’s second largest city, as necessary to “meet the challenge of the St. Lawrence Seaway, the Thruway and the Niagara Power redevelopment.”

OPT stated that Buffalo was “an example of the way progressive people are looking at the Authority principle.  All along the Great Lakes foresighted men and women are urging the establishment of port authorities, and in time, we presume, most will have them.”  With “keen competition” for the traffic that will result from the opening of the Seaway, the editorial continued, “…can Oswego afford to miss any opportunity to improve our present economic situation?”  (Note:  The St. Lawrence Seaway opened in 1959.)

The OPT editorial noted further that there was still some local opposition to an Oswego Authority, partly based on the “old wheeze” that “we never had one before so why should we have one now?”  Other local objections were noted:  “An authority would have too much power.”  “Oswego is never going to amount to anything anyway, so why bother”?

OPT concluded “If a Port Authority is deemed necessary in Buffalo, in Cleveland and in virtually every other port along the lake, that in itself should convince critics that it is worthy of consideration here.”

Two weeks later, OPT published another editorial, “The Port Authority and Cleveland” (OPT, 1-27-55, p. 6), citing a “Buckley survey” designed to assess the impact of the Seaway on Cleveland.  Mr. Buckley said the Seaway “will be more important to Cleveland as an attraction to new industry than as a shipping route.”  He also said that “taking advantage of the Seaway will involve a 25% build-up in port facilities and a 75% increase in the effort to sell Cleveland to shippers.”  OPT commented, compared to Cleveland, “a great deal more than 25% of Oswego’s build-up must be physical, i.e., port facilities.”  OPT said that would “present an even greater financing challenge in some ways than even Cleveland will encounter,” making passage of the Oswego Port Authority bill “ever more necessary.

The OPT editorial called it “noteworthy” that in the Cleveland Plain Dealer account of the Buckley Report, it was mentioned that studies similar to the one “conducted for Cleveland are underway or completed at Oswego, N. Y., Buffalo, Toledo, Chicago, and Detroit.”  “In other words,” it continued, “the major ports are fully aware of what Oswego is trying to do, and will do everything in their power to compete.”

Given that promise of potential business competition, the OPT opined (1-27-55, p.6), “By making it possible to have facilities that fit Oswego as a Seaway port, a Port Authority will directly influence the location of new industries here, following Mr. Buckley’s premise.  Oswego must have this financial tool if it is going to be in a position to take advantage of its assets….” In discussing the revised Oswego Port Authority bill, the OPT editorial concluded, “If it can be passed at this session this city will be well on its way to realizing the hopes so many of us hold for it.”

At its meeting on 2-14-55, for the second time in two years, the Oswego Common Council gave its required home rule approval to the Oswego Port Authority bill, and formally requested Senator Wise and Assemblyman Coville to introduce the bill into their respective state legislative bodies (OPT, 2-15-55, p.7).  In an unrelated matter, Alderman Anthony J. Crisafulli (after whom the Crisafulli Rink is named) urged the appointment of Roy (Mike) McCrobie (after whom the McCrobie Building is named) to be named the city’s Recreation Director; the appointment was approved as well.

On Friday, OPT (3-11-55, p.12) The headline read, “Passage of Port Authority Bill Likely Monday.”  The subtitle followed, “Buffalo Eyes Progress of Oswego Measure While Debating Own.”  An article in the Buffalo Evening News is quoted, “While Buffalo’s Common Council is bickering over a proposed port authority, legislative representatives of Oswego are quietly pushing through the Legislature a bill creating a port authority for the Lake Ontario City.”

Reverend Arthur Hergenhan, Chairman of Operation Oswego’s Port Authority Committee received a wire on Tuesday morning from Senator Wise, telling him that the Oswego Bill had passed unanimously during the Monday night session, and was now on its way to the NYS Assembly where its likelihood of passage was good (OPT, 3-15-55, p.4).

The Oswego Port Authority bill once again was passed unanimously by the Assembly nine days later.  The headline read, “Port Authority Bill Now Going to Gov. Harriman” (OPT, 3-24-55, p. 9).  Oswego Mayor Robert G. Iles lauded the two legislators (Wise and Coville) for their efforts, and said he would make an appointment with Gov. Harriman to urge him to sign the bill.

If the governor signed the bill, the Port Authority would come into existence on July 1, 1955, and it would supplant the Harbor and Dock Commission, in existence since 1923.  The new Authority would have five members, appointed by the mayor.  Oswego would be only the third port in New YorkState with an Authority, following New York and Albany, and it would be the first port upstream from the Seaway.

OPT wrote a very informative and supportive letter to Governor Harriman (3-25-55, p.6), advocating that he sign the Oswego Port Authority bill sitting on his desk.  In it, OPT announced that on May 4, 1955, the Oswego Chamber of Commerce would be holding a day-long program launching Oswego as the “Port of  Central New York,” featuring the governor’s Commerce secretary as principal speaker.  OPT also said, “We in Oswego regard the OswegoPort as an invaluable tool in our campaign of economic development.”

On May 31, 1955, Governor W. Averell Harriman, surrounded by a delegation of seven from Oswego and Fulton, signed the Oswego Port Authority bill.  At long last, it became law.


Terrence M. Hammill

201 West 2nd Street, #302

Oswego, NY  13126


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