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Lake Ontario Shore Railroad and Henry L. Davis Papers

An inventory of the collection at Syracuse University

Finding aid created by: MRC
Date: 23 Apr 1981

Biographical History

The Lake Ontario Shore Railroad was part of a scheme to link Portland, Maine and Boston with the west, without dependence on the New York Central Railroad. The project was discussed as early as 1854 by Boston businessmen and was revived after the Civil War by promoters in Oswego, New York. In March 1868, the Lake Ontario Shore Railroad Company was chartered with Gerrit Smith as its president. It was to build westward from Oswego to Lewiston, with the expectation that other promoters would develop the remainder of the intended transcontinental linkages.

The railroad was originally to be funded by private investors but when that proved impossible towns were induced to buy bonds. In 1870 the company began to lay track and the first train ran on them in 1872. The road was intended to be about 155 miles, but by 1873 only 51 miles had been laid. Four trains daily ran on this stretch, between Oswego and Ontario Village in Wayne County. The remainder of the route was still under construction.

The Panic of 1873 forced the mortgage bonds of the railroad to be foreclosed and in 1874 the Lake Ontario Shore Railroad went into receivership. it was soon reorganized, but continuing financial problems forced it to combine with the Rome, Watertown and Ogdenxsburgh Railroad in February of 1875. That railroad, under the name of the Rome, Watertown and Oswego Railroad, was in turn merged with the New York Central in 1891.

Henry L. Davis was the secretary of the Lake Ontario Shore Railroad from its founding until 1874. He was also the city clerk of Oswego for six years.

Scope and Contents of the Collection

The Lake Ontario Shore Railroad and Henry L. Davis Papers consists of subject files containing legal records, financial records, correspondence, and some printed material relating to the regional New York railroad and to its long-time secretary, Henry L. Davis. It is probable that the company's papers were in the possession of Davis and were saved with his personal papers. In the collection is a note written on one of the company's envelopes which supports this theory: "These papers are probably of no further use, but are saved for fear they may be wanted. July 1875."

The papers contain little information on day-to-day operations, concentrating as they do on financial aspects. As such, they do present a fairly detailed picture of how a small regional railroad such as the Lake Ontario Shore was funded in the 1860s and 1870s.

Arrangement of the Collection

The collection is divided into six sections, reflecting the major topics of the material. Within this, material is divided into the types of papers included, which are then arranged chronologically.

Other Related Finding Aids

A bibliography is available in the finding aids folder. This document covers other sources of information on the Lake Ontario Shore Railroad that are located either at the Syracuse University Library or at the Onondaga Community Public Library in Syracuse, New York.


Access Restrictions:

The majority of our archival and manuscript collections are housed offsite and require advanced notice for retrieval. Researchers are encouraged to contact us in advance concerning the collection material they wish to access for their research.

Use Restrictions:

Written permission must be obtained from SCRC and all relevant rights holders before publishing quotations, excerpts or images from any materials in this collection.

Related Material

Special Collections Research Center has extensive holdings relating to regional railroads in New York and other northeastern states. Please refer to the SCRC Subject Index for a complete listing.

Subject Headings


Davis, Henry L.
Smith, Gerrit, 1797-1874.

Corporate Bodies

Lake Ontario Shore Railroad Company.


Railroads -- New York (State)

Genres and Forms

Financial records.
Legal documents.

Administrative Information

Preferred Citation

Preferred citation for this material is as follows:

Lake Ontario Shore Railroad and Henry L. Davis Papers,
Special Collections Research Center,
Syracuse University Libraries

Acquisition Information

Gift of Yale University, 1969.

Table of Contents

Subject files