The Maritime History of the Great Lakes
Oswego Palladium (Oswego, NY), Oct. 20, 1888

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Ship-Building in Oswego
The Past and Present - Collector Interviewed on the Subject - He Gives Some Interesting Reminiscences - Attributes the Decline of the Industry Large to High Tariff

The noticeable decrease which the ship-building industry has suffered in recent years and the comparatively few workmen who are at present engaged in that occupation is often a cause of comment in Oswego. To ascertain some facts on the subject, a Palladium reporter called yesterday upon Mr. Clark Cooley, the Canal Collector, who probably possesses a more extensive knowledge upon the subject than anyone now living.

Commencing in the year 1835, during which the large hill extending from the foot of Third street to the river on the East, was leveled and occupied by numerous ship yards, he stated that shortly after the commencement of these, between six and seven hundred workmen were employed as ship carpenters, caulkers, joiners, sail makers and ship smiths.

The industry supported between 1,500 and 2,000 persons. The wages were good and commodities cheap, and a general prosperity was the result, many comfortable fortunes being accumulated. Among the early shipbuilders were George S. Weeks, who built steamboats, propellers and vessels; Doolittle & Mollison, who leased the dry dock between Second and Third street, Thomas Collins, Henry Doville, Peter Lamoree, John E. Lee and others.

At a later date there followed George Goble, James. Navagh, Peter Dufrane, William Wilmott, Brower Morgan, and P. Gallagher. Owners of vessels and canal boats were Truman Wyman, Fitzhugh & Littlejohn, Courtland C. Cooper, Bart Lynch, Daniel Lyons, Morgan M. Wheeler, Dunn & Cummings, E. & O. Metcalf, A.G. Cook, Thomas Martin, McCarthy & Marsh as well as others. During the winter from 150 to 200 men were employed repairing ships and canal boats, thus forming a separate industry in itself.

The reciprocity enjoyed with Canada formed a great aid and the navigation in the navigation interest was at its height. Said Mr. Cooley during the interview: "I have seen the river so closely packed with vessels that I could cross it by walking from deck to deck and have known steamers to be obliged to run alongside schooners to land their passengers who then reached the shore by the novel method mentioned above.

Vessels brought immense quantities of grain which was partially "and at the mills and shipped inland by canal. Now, however, the industry of building is practically extinguished and only about 15 to 25 persons fine employment at an industry which formerly gave work to hundreds.

"What are the reasons for this decline?" asked the reporter.

"The railroads and free canals are in a measure responsible, but I consider the chief cause to lie in the huge tariff which followed in 1845 the low one under these industries had flourished. Immediately after that period is about when shipbuilding began to shrink, the expense of shipbuilding being so great that construction ceased to be profitable. Canada not being cursed in this manner soon proved herself more acceptable of the duties. The duties placed upon lumber, iron, cordage and other materials were very high and were more than we could stand and worked against us.

"I remember the case of Captain John Joyce whose vessel was badly damaged in the Welland Canal and it was rebuilt in Canada, but before being allowed to return to the United States was taxed by the Custom House officers a duty of $4,000 in gold, which was then bringing so high a premium that he was forced to pay in the end almost the original value of the ship. This is one instance showing the disastrous effect of a high tariff upon vessels built at this port. It is decidedly my opinion that the high tariff has operated detrimentally to Oswego's interests and without it we should stand upon a much more prosperous basis today, particularly as regards to the industry we have discussed."

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Oct. 20, 1888
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Richard Palmer
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Public domain: Copyright has expired according to the applicable Canadian or American laws. No restrictions on use.
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Oswego Palladium (Oswego, NY), Oct. 20, 1888