A Legislative Column by Assemblyman Will Barclay
There are few places in the world that can lay claim to the national and international history that has taken place at Fort Ontario.
The historical events which have occurred at the fort over the last three centuries are varied, significant and numerous. Surprisingly, the fort’s history and the role it has played in our American story is not widely known.
To change that, concerted efforts are being made to give the fort national and international status so that its history is celebrated and preserved for years to come.
Fort Ontario was originally built by the British in 1755 at the time of the French and Indian War for the purpose of bolstering British defenses on the eastern end of Lake Ontario.
One year later, in 1756, it was destroyed by French forces under the command of General Montcalm.
However, the fort, owing to its strategic location, was subsequently rebuilt by the British in 1759.
During that same year, the British at Fort Ontario survived an assault from a French and Indian force.
The following year, 1760, the fort was the site of a major staging area for a British offensive into Canada that resulted in the capture of Montreal.
During the Revolutionary War, the fort was destroyed by American troops in 1778 after the British abandoned it.
However, the British returned in 1782, rebuilt the fort and held it until 1796 when it was ceded to the Americans pursuant to the Jay Treaty.
The fort also played a role in the War of 1812.
The Americans turned away a British attack on the fort in 1813, but the fort fell to the British in 1814 at the Battle of Oswego.
Despite this loss, American forces were able to send artillery from the fort needed for outfitting two powerful war ships up the shore to Sackets Harbor following the attacks.
This action greatly assisted the U.S Navy efforts in the War of 1812.
Although the Battle of Oswego was the last time that the fort was involved in combat, it continued as a military base until 1940.
While the fort’s military history is impressive, its non-military history is as equally impressive.
During World War I, the fort served as a treatment center for military and civilian victims of the Spanish Flu.
At the end of World War II, the fort became home to the only holocaust refugee shelter in the United States.
From August 1944 until February 1946, Fort Ontario sheltered 982 mostly Jewish refugees escaping persecution in Europe.
This shelter was the only attempt by the United States to shelter Jewish refugees during World War II.
Currently, the fort is a state historic site and it is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
It is also home to the Safe Haven Holocaust Refugee Shelter Museum which is dedicated to, among other things, keeping alive the stories of the refugees who were sheltered at fort at the end of World War II.
I am pleased that in order to elevate the fort’s status, Congressman Katko and Congressman Hanna recently introduced federal legislation that, if passed, would among other things, direct the Secretary of the Interior to determine the suitability of Fort Ontario becoming a National Park.
Getting a National Park designation for Fort Ontario would give more people the opportunity to learn about the fort’s rich history.
In addition, a National Park designation would attract tourists to Oswego and enhance the community’s economic vitality.
I fully support efforts by our federal representatives and I look forward to working on the state level to assist in getting this designation.
In the meantime, I encourage central New Yorkers to learn all they can about the fort, to visit and support efforts to raise its national and international status.
Personal accounts of holocaust survivors that found refuge at Fort Ontario have been recorded and archived by SUNY Oswego and can be found at https://www.oswego.edu/library/safe-haven
More about Safe Haven can be found at the museum’s website at http://safehavenmuseum.com/
A post cemetery containing the graves of 77 officers, soldiers, women, and children who served at Fort Ontario in war and peace is located at Fort Ontario.
To read more about the fort and the battles, visit http://fortoswego.com/
On New Year’s Day, a First Day Hike will take place beginning at 10 a.m. at the fort.
To register for the dog-friendly Jan. 1 hike, call 315-343-4711, visit the fort’s facebook page, or email [email protected]
If you have any questions or comments regarding this or any other state issue, please contact me.
My office can be reached by mail at 200 N. Second St., Fulton, NY 13069, by e-mail at [email protected] or by calling (315) 598-5185.
You can also friend me, Assemblyman Barclay, on Facebook.