Fitting Out Was Sign of Spring Fifty Years Ago
Fort or More Schooners Then Claimed Oswego Home Port
When the sun was daily mounting higher in the heavens, in the first weeks of March, 50 years ago, and down the Oswego river came scattered ice flows that indicated the winter locked streams inland were about to be freed, and a bright sun shone on the blue waters of Lake Ontario, opening to the northern horizons, hundreds of men commenced to feel the call of their profession, and along the waterfront, on the wharves and on the ships in winter quarters, first faint signs of renewed activity commenced.
For Oswego, in 1881, was essentially still a sea-going community, interested more in what schooners brought and took away; in the goings and comings along the Oswego canal, and in everything that pertained to ships and shipping than in the more prosaic routine of manufacture, unless that business happened to be grain, or in elevators, or in malthouses or starch factory, or some other plant or building that depended in its functions upon the traffic on lake and canal.
Oswego was the home and registry port of a number of ships in those years, not so long, perhaps, as history is reckoned, but sufficiently far back in the past, so that of the captains who sailed ships out of Oswego, not one is still living, and thee are but few men who followed the lake and canal activity even in those days, who are alive.
There are many residents whose childhood recollection returns to the Oswego waterfront of 50 years ago, or longer, and who well remember the hazardous occupation that following the lakers in Welland canal sized schooners entailed. It is to those times, Oswego residents look back and try to bring forward in anticipation that harbor improvements to be carried out this year, and in succeeding years, will bring again to the waterfront of the city and port, scenes that will bear comparison with those of the past.
But that is probably merely a hope, for the change in transportation methods never will see a return of the picturesque, old sailing ship days that have gone forever. Tonnage may return, shipping may be revised, elevators and flour mills may be just as busy, but the day of the harbor-thronged shipping, with a forest of masts against the sky, is gone.
Oswego, 50 or 60 years ago, had shipping and sailors, 40 or 60 schooners and the coming of steamers and tugs that puffed and raced for tows, flat bottomed boas propelled by expert scullers darting here and there along the river and in the harbor, not yet enlarged to the capacity of the present one, which was built for schooners and completed after the need had passed.
For although not cognizant of the passing of the old and the coming of the new, Oswego 50 years ago in 1881 was looking forward to the opening of navigation, and sailors were inspecting rigging and captains figuring on fitting out and preparing for the season to come. Sailors were casting about for ships, and the period of activity after the quiet winter was in the air.
In Oswego newspapers of 50 years ago, there appeared a list of the shipping in the harbor and the appointment of masters as announced by owners, and this list brings back names associated with the Oswego that is gone.
The late M.J. Cummings' fleet of schooners were named for stars just as later he followed the same nomenclature, when steam came to supercede sail. Many of the schooners had records, most of them, sooner or later, found their way ashore, their bones to repose in one or another of the graveyards of the lakes, on Long Point, or the far reaches of Superior. Many were named for well known men, some for states or cities with a patriotic name or name of wife or mother appearing in the list.
Schooners of 1881 and their masters were announced 50 years ago: M.J. Cummings, Capt. C.H. Tifft; West Side, Capt. John Quigley; Mary Copley, Capt. W.J. Vincent; Lem Ellsworth, Capt. Matt Kirwin; R.W. Sage, Capt. M. Holland; Trinidad, Capt. John Higgins; Rising Star, Captain William Preston; Mystic Star, Capt. P. Griffin; Blazing Star, Capt. J. Hurley; Guiding Star, Capt. W. Griffin; John T. Mott, Capt. Peter Cronley; Nassau, Capt. H. Ross; Pulaski, Capt. John Moulther; American, Capt. C. Becker; Senator Blood, Capt. John Preston; E.P. Dorr, Capt. Peter Dufresne; J. Maria Scott, Capt. W.A. Richardson; W.I. Preston, Capt. John ValAlstyne; Kate Kelly, Capt. William King; Leadville, Capt. Dan Hourigan; Hoboken, Capt. Matt Hourigan; Bolivia, Capt. Ben Chambers; Jamaica, Capt. James Glassford; Samana, Capt. A. Robertson; Belle M itchell, Capt. T.G. Rusho; Oliver Mitchell, Capt. Edeard Chatteau; Sam Cook, Capt. James Curran; John Magee, Capt. C. Ripson; Penokee, Capt. Frank McGuire; J.R. Noyes, Capt. Dan. Keeler; Hartford, Capt. William McCarthy; D.G. Fort, Capt. Richard Daniels; William Keller, Capt. Thomas Murray; O.M. Bond, Capt. Steven Lefevre; Comanche, Capt. William Becker; Bigler, Capt. J. Connell; Niagara, Capt. N.E. Hoover; steamer Fred Kelly, Cleveland, Capt. William Mack; Steamer T. Kingsford, Capt. Cole. No captains named for the schooners Delaware, Nevada, George B. Sloan.