Formally initiated on April 14, 1923, the Oswego Harbor and Dock Commission (HDC) held its last meeting on July 1, 1955, five days before the new Oswego Port Authority held its first, formal meeting on July 6. During its 32 years, the HDC accomplished much and witnessed many changes on the Oswego waterfront (probable subjects of future stories).
Originally called the Oswego Port Authority, locally and in the state legislation, its birth was neither easy nor guaranteed. Many discussions, plans, negotiations, meetings, hearings, etc. were held before the new Authority was approved. During the years 1953 through 1955, the Oswego Palladium-Times (OPT) published scores of articles and editorials relevant to the process.
Formation of an Authority required input and support from local residents and groups, formal approval by Oswego City government, and substantial lobbying efforts before final approval in Albany.
That process was initiated in June, 1953, by Operation Oswego, a civic, non-profit, industrial promotion organization, itself formed in 1952 to promote business in the City of Oswego.
Operation Oswego’s president, F. Hosmer Culkin, appointed a Port Authority Committee, chaired by the Rev. Arthur W. Hergenhan. Its members were Alderman Thomas J. Christian, George Fitzgibbons, William Fleischman, Jr., Frederick J. Garahan, Clark Morrison, 3rd, the Rev. Thomas J. Murphy, David J. Read, and Peter J. Shortt. The new committee was charged to investigate the feasibility of organizing a port authority here. They scheduled the first meeting for June 10 (OPT, 6-3-53, p18).
It turns out that 1953 was a particularly eventful year in Oswego! Joint construction of the St. Lawrence Seaway was under serious consideration by the U.S. and Canada, and the Port of Oswego stood to gain in the process, but had to demonstrate local support. It was a spirited mayoral election year in Oswego. The Harbor and Dock Commission was receiving some negative comments in the newspaper. The City was negotiating with NY State for transfer of lands around FortOntario for recreational fields. And, the hotly debated issue of public housing in Oswego was commanding much attention in government and the media.
In that milieu, a new Port Authority committee was tasked with gauging the feasibility of a new way of doing port business, one that depended upon formal local support, and one that needed to have formal bills passed by the NYS Senate and Assembly and then signed into law by the governor.
St. Lawrence Seaway. The U.S. Commerce Department estimated that 50 million tons of cargo should travel through the Seaway annually once it was constructed (OPT, 5-28-53, p.11). In addition, to a navigational component, the Seaway also had a $500 million hydroelectric component shared by the Province of Ontario and New York State (OPT, 5-9-53, p.6). A resolution was passed by the Oswego Common Council on June 8, 1953 (OPT, 6-9-53, p.12) requesting the U.S. Congress “to enact necessary legislation so that the government of the United States may participate in the construction of the St. Lawrence Seaway.” Oswego’s Industrial and Commercial Development Commission also “went on record yesterday in favor of the St. Lawrence Seaway….”
Harbor and Dock Commission. One OPT editorial (5-9-53, p.6) said, regarding the Seaway development, “…one agency which should be interested has maintained virtual silence. It is the Harbor and Dock Commission, this city’s team of experts on shipping and associated subjects.” Also, “Commission members themselves are unsure just where the body stands on the St. Lawrence question. At least two are known to be in favor, but…as a group it supports the power phase…and is against the navigational phase.” One member said, “We haven’t talked much about it lately.” Another editorial, titled “Our Harbor and Dock Commission,” (OPT, 6-3-53, p.6) stated, “It is time…that the commission start explaining its activities—or lack of them—to the public. An explanation of its position on the St. Lawrence Seaway is woefully overdue.” Yet another editorial, titled “Harbor and Dock Debacle” (6-9-53, p.6) stated, “The Harbor and Dock Commission has in two and a half years…done nothing to further the chances of the St. Lawrence Seaway.”
Public Housing for Oswego. In 1953, the most contentious issue in Oswego was construction of public housing (Hamilton Homes). The issue was contentious as early as 1948 when, during Mayor Frank Gould’s first administration, a contract with the state was rescinded by action of the Oswego Common Council, costing the city more than $18,000 (OPT, 6-10-53, p.16). That council had been elected on a pro-housing platform, then agreed to be bound by a referendum in which housing was rejected by less than 20% of those eligible to vote. Public Housing Law, however, made no provision for any referendum.
News in 1953. Oswego was dominated by public housing issues. Dozens of stories appeared in OPT about the shenanigans of Mayor Gould, now in his third term. The Board of Directors of the Oswego Housing Authority consisted of Dorothy Mott (Chairman), Ruth Sayer and Marian Mackin. When Mrs. Sayer’s term expired, Mayor Gould replaced her with Sidney L. Davis, a known opponent of public housing (OPT, 6-10-53, p.16), prompting OPT to characterize him as “the only housing authority member in the state opposed to public housing” (OPT, 4-20-53, p.12). Gould’s refusal to sign a $1.5 million construction contract with the state prompted Misses Mott and Mackin to “sue” (i.e., bring an Article 78 proceeding against him). He promptly suspended them, based upon charges brought against them by the aforementioned George D. Foote (OPT, 5-21-53, p.8). Law suits and counter-suits were brought and adjudicated for weeks.
Ultimately, by court order, the Misses Mott and Mackin were reinstated and the construction contract was signed. When Mayor Gould’s lawyer declined to turn the signed contract over to the state, a new round of legal actions ensued.
In June, a petition was circulated demanding another housing referendum (OPT, 6-17-53, p.8), a request rejected by the Common Council in June (OPT, 6-20-53, p.4) and again in July, when a fight ensued after a spectator attempted to seize 3rd Ward Alderman Doris Allen, whose father, 70-year-old David Brown “let go with a clubbing right chop to the side of (his) head” (OPT, 7-14-53, p.14).
And so on it went as a prelude to the November election when the proposed Oswego Port Authority again came into focus.
Terrence M. Hammill
201 West 2nd Street, #302
Oswego, NY 13126