One Oswego County community has transformed from a rural village, to a prosperous mill town and is now a world-renowned fishing destination. In this week's edition of Your Hometown, our Candace Hopkins has a look at Pulaski's rich history.
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PULASKI, N.Y. -- In the late 1700s, most of Oswego County was a vast wilderness, inhabited only by Native Americans.
But in 1796, a surveyor named Benjamin Winch began exploring the area between the Salmon River and Mexico Point. What he found amazed him.
“The land was good, but the river was so important, because of the fish of course,” said Mary Lou Morrow, Pulaski Village Historian.
Winch quickly realized how good life could be by the water. The area was stocked with both fish and game. The river itself could become a powerful resource.
That’s why in 1804, Winch built a cabin here on this spot, overlooking the Salmon River. With a new home, he decided the area needed a name. He settled on something simple, but very appropriate: Fishville. And within a few years travel through Fishville skyrocketed. Soon settlers began moving west towards Central New York. Many were New England soldiers who fought during the Revolutionary War.
While researching this story I discovered one of the first men to bring his family here to Pulaski was actually from my hometown in New England. Jeremiah Mathewson was born in Scituate, Rhode Island in 1769 and settled here in 1806. He would go on to play an important role in developing Pulaski’s infrastructure.
Morrow said, “Jeremiah Mathewson did the first gristmill so that people didn’t have to travel to Rome or Oswego to have their oats or flour ground, they could do it right here in the village and that was early on.”
By the end of the 1820s the village had six gristmills and 17 sawmills and the population began to soar.
“The village itself began to grow, more homes, with the industries we had places for people to work, we had a good school system even then, we had churches, we had everything anyone could ask for,” said Morrow.
The name Fishville survived until 1830, when a soldier suggested naming the village after a Revolutionary War General, Casmir Pulaski.
“Today 17 other cities and towns go by the same name, with one difference. Each and every one of those communities call themselves Pulaski. Historians now say the soldier who suggested the name change probably pronounced the General’s last name wrong, and that’s how this village became Pulaski.
The next several decades were prosperous for Pulaski, but everything changed on the night of October 6, 1881. That’s when a massive fire started inside a bakery in the village’s business district. The flames spread quickly and by morning, nearly 46 businesses were destroyed. But residents were determined to rebuild after the disaster. In just two years, 15 new buildings were constructed and the village was once again a retail destination.
Today, Pulaski is no longer a center for commerce or shopping, but thousands still come to village every year to fish. Their business has become vital to the area’s economy.
“The fishing community is a huge part of everyone’s life styles here. All the spin off businesses are really what builds this community,” said Jim Dence, owner of All Seasons Sport.
And for the fishermen who come from throughout the country to fish here, the world class conditions can’t be beat.
“Outside of the Great Lakes, you’ve got to go to the West Coast to catch salmon. They have sea run salmon and trout out there but we have the lake runs and we get some nice ones in Jersey, five, six pound trout, but up here, you’re getting 20, 30 pound salmon,” said New Jersey resident Chris O’Donnell.
While fishing is big here in the warmer months, the winter is known for ice fishing, snowmobiling and cross country skiing. But no matter when you come, the close knit community and charm of Pulaski can be enjoyed all year long.