Celebration in works for a year of milestone Oswego anniversaries

The Richardson-Bates House Museum, seen above at left in 1890 and above right in 2019, is one of several local institutions celebrating milestone anniversaries in 2021. Local history experts are partnering with the city later this year to host an event showcasing various relics, artifacts and photos of the Port City’s past.

OSWEGO — For the local community, 2021 is a year with significant milestones.

Among the list of things to note this year, Oswego’s City Hall, the Oswego County Historical Society and the Richardson-Bates House Museum, celebrate their 150th, 125th, and 75th anniversaries, respectively, and several experts of local history are calling for a celebration.

“We have been pretty excited about 2021 because of the anniversaries coming this year. This is an extraordinary year,” Oswego County Historian Justin White said.

He said local historians are partnering with the city of Oswego to hold an event later this year showcasing artifacts, relics and photos from a time long forgotten.

But what is the story behind these historical places and groups? Recently, local historians took The Palladium-Times along with them on a trip looking back through time.

According to Oswego City Historian Mark Slosek, city hall opened to the public in 1871. It was conceptualized after city officials outgrew the original government center, the Market House, or, as it is known today, Old City Hall on Water Street.

“Shortly after, Oswego became a city, they were looking to improve and decided a new city hall would be in order,” Slosek said.

White said city hall was commissioned in the late 1860s by former Syracuse-based Architect Horatio Nelson White in his signature “second empire style” — a “desirable style of the time.”

However, a critical point to consider when designing a structure is the location. White said the architect and city officials already had a place in mind.

“The building across from (the current) city hall was built in 1858, as the original post and customs office. They decided to pick that location because the post office was already there,” White said. “They wanted that area to be sort of the center of commerce.”

 White said the builders used locally mined limestone from Onondaga County quarries as the main component for the building. The reason was to send a message to anyone who took notice of the building.

“What they were doing was incorporating a lot of the ancient history of architecture that also shows strength. Like ‘we are strong and lasting, we make a mark on the community, and this will be a landmark for eternity,’” White said. “They were building this for generations to enjoy.”

In recognition, Slosek attained a William G. Pomeroy Foundation plaque for the anniversary. The Pomeroy Foundation is a Syracuse-based group that produces plaques for display denoting the space’s historical significance. The plaques can be found in places on the National Registry of Historic Places.

Since 1973, city hall has been on the list for its “architecture and engineering significance,” according to the National Registry of Historic Places.

“City hall is a gorgeous, historical building that has played a critical role in our community for many years,” Oswego Mayor Billy Barlow said.

Officials from the Oswego County Historical Society and the Richardson-Bates House Museum are recognizing their milestones as well.  

White said the historical society started in 1896 following a celebration a century in the making.

“The infancy of the society started with a group of people that had the same ideas and thoughts. The group was very large and they were able to collect a lot of documents, maps and artifacts,” White said. “They specifically wanted to celebrate the evacuation of the British in 1796 from their holdings at Fort Ontario.”

According to White, the group was celebrating by throwing a large community festival in the late 19th century and wanted to “keep the story alive” and incorporated the Oswego County Historical Society (OCHS) soon after.

However, the historical society excluded women, not accepting them as members until nearly three decades later.

Meanwhile, White said, women had a different historical organization called the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR), which would prove very useful to the historical society.

The DAR is a national historical society that was established based on family connections to members of the American Revolution.

However in 1923, something unexpected changed the way the OCHS functioned. That year, Secretary Norman Bates of the historical society passed away and following his death, his wife, Florence Bates, took over Norman’s previous role and paved the way for women in the historical society.

For this, White said the society lifted women’s restriction and started allowing women to join. However, the DAR and OCHS still were working together because the OCHS had yet to secure a location. In the meantime, White said the DAR allowed the OCHS to work out of their newly attained house.

“The DAR bought a Victorian mansion on West Sixth and Oneida streets named the Tanner Memorial. It made sense for the OCHS and the DAR to share the Tanner Memorial house and they maintained it as a venue for like-minded groups,” White said.  

He noted the mansion is not present today because in 1948, the DAR sold the property to the Oswego Hospital to make room for expansion.

The two organizations worked out of the mansion until the mid-1940s until an opportunity for the OCHS presented itself.

“The last permanent resident of the Richardson-Bates House, Florence Bates, passed away in 1945 and the Bates’ children had moved away. The kids decided to gift the house to the historical society, which was looking for a permanent location,” OCHS Trustee Mary Kay Stone said.  

Since then, the Richardson-Bates House Museum has served as the headquarters for the OCHS. According to Stone, the building dates back to 1867.

“It was originally called the OCHS Clubhouse. They quickly turned it into a museum and it took several decades before it was fully converted into the look it has now,” Stone said.

She said the house has been through many renovations. The first addition, the north wing, was designed by late Rochester architect Andrew Jackson Warner in 1867 and the second section, the south wing, was designed by late Oswego architect John Seeber in 1887.

Stone said galleries have been swapped out and aspects of the house have been changed and updated. Currently on display are relics from noteworthy residents and galleries showcasing Oswego’s rich background.

White said the OCHS, the Richardson-Bates House Museum, and the city of Oswego will work together to put on a ceremony in the summer to celebrate the three milestone anniversaries.

“We are working together on putting a small event together,” Barlow said. “I’m proud to be wrapping up a $3.5 million restoration project on the building now and, considering the few concurrent important anniversaries, it makes sense to host an event to mark the occasion.”

No date is set for the celebration, but Barlow said event organizers are looking to have the collaborative event in July.

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