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Honor, Family, Country, and Community

Updated: May 6

By Ellen Bouchard • Photos by Jessica McCafferty

I had the privilege of interviewing Bill Owens, Esq., local attorney and a former

U.S. Representative for New York’s 21st Congressional District about his interesting office at

One Cumberland Avenue in Plattsburgh recently.

Owens dove right into interesting facts as we walked through the building. Originally the home and office of Smith Mead Weed, a Democratic lawyer and local businessman who represented our district in the New York State Assembly from 1865 to 1867, 1871, 1873, and 1874. When you enter the building, you see a stained-glass piece that depicts Smith Mead Weed. The Smith Weed Bridge, Weed Street and the Weed Street Extension are all named for him.

The building was the American Legion for many years and even had a bowling alley. After it sustained three separate fires, the Legion sold the building. Then, in the 1980’s, Ron Stafford (our NY State Senator for 36 years), Owens, Tom Murnane, and other law partners purchased the boarded-up building and began to refurbish. What remained intact was beautiful woodwork from the original design. The updates and restorative work were completed by local contractors. The grandeur of the 20 plus foot ceilings add to the impressive authentic features.

When you enter Owen’s office, the first thing that comes to mind is Honor and Pride. You immediately see awards and plaques lining the walls. His patriotism shines through until a bright pink Minnie Mouse chair catches your eye from the corner. You begin to notice, showcased just as importantly, several handmade drawings and collected mementoes from his children and grandchildren mixed in among the impressive accolades...honor and pride in both.

As we circled the room, I started to understand the depth of the unusual and special pieces it holds. An initial cabinet was full of awards, some k-rations and a set of Challenge coins. There were also some small metal horses that were given to him by the Daughters of the American Revolution.

On the walls are several framed posters and awards. One is the Good Scout Award from the Twin Rivers Council given to those who exemplify in their daily lives the ideals of the Boy Scouts as expressed in the Scout Oath and Law.

Another that caught my eye was a framed poster of the Irish/American League. “I belonged to the Irish Caucus when I was in Congress,” Owens explained. “That was a large group of people who were all of Irish descent.” That meant Owens was able to attend dinners at the Irish Ambassador’s home periodically. He may never have seen a piece of corned beef there, but he did sit next to Joe Kennedy III once. He recounted the moment, “When we finished our dinner, he turned to me and said, ‘Having dinner with you is like having dinner with my uncles. I thought it was an extraordinary compliment.’

Also displayed is a picture of Gerry Adams, an Irish republican politician who would come to visit Congress on St. Patrick’s Day. Hanging below all of the plaques and photos is a hand drawn picture wishing Grandpa Happy St. Patrick’s Day.

On another wall is one of SB publisher Herb Carpenter’s images taken from his observatory on Cumberland Head, a place Owens thinks would be interesting to visit.

As you scan across the walls of plaques and acknowledgments, you come across a picture of President Obama taken as he was signing the legislation authorizing what we now call Obamacare.

Next, Owens explained, “That is a picture of Ebbets Field in Brooklyn where I’m from. I grew up around the street. I was six or seven when we moved from there.”

Another picture makes Owens chuckles. “That’s a hot dog guy in Washington Square Park. When I worked in New York City I would go out to the hot dog guys, not because I was a connoisseur, but because it was the cheapest lunch I could buy.”

We then came to a large framed picture of a KC-135 that flew out of Fort Drum, along with a picture of Owens’ legislative district.

Among his vast collection of memories is a photo of the 2010 Congressional Baseball team. Owens proudly explained, “It was all members of Congress and we played at Nats Park. It was the first time for all of us to play on a professional field.” You can tell Owens is a baseball fan.

The final wall features a beautiful portrait of Owens’ family taken in California with his wife, children and grandchildren.

In contrast to the historical moments captured in frames, a small table is filled with wonderful little trinkets and homemade items. Each piece is from one of his children and are displayed on what he calls “the table of honor”.

Leaning nearby are three baseball bats. With a curious look on my face, I asked what was special about them. He smiled and explained, “The first bat, with the tape, was my father’s when he was a kid. The other two came from bat making companies in Hamilton and Fulton Counties. I went down to visit them and they each gave me a bat.”

After our lap around the room, absorbing every detail, we took a seat at Owens’ desk. There, prominently displayed, sat a Canadian flag in its case, a gift for all of his years working hand in hand with our Canadian neighbors.

Owens and I ended our interview chatting about the building and its significance to the community. It is interesting how it has been primarily occupied by lawyers and politicians over the years, while maintaining its original architecture, as if passed down through a lineage of like minds. It adds to the feeling of immense power and honor when you sit in Bill Owens office. Not only the honor he holds for his country and community, but also for his family, displayed through the collections that fill every inch of the room.

William Owens, Esq

1 Cumberland Avenue

Plattsburgh, NY 12901

418 561-4400

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