Fort Ontario, Safe Haven One Step Closer to Becoming National Park

Proceeds from the June 7 Fajita Grill fundraiser for Friends of Fort Ontario will support new exhibits and interpretive programming at Fort Ontario State Historic Site. This summer an AmeriCorps member, funded by Friends of Fort Ontario, will conduct youth programs featuring historic games and activities for children. (Photo by Kara Alheim, Oswego County Tourism Office.)

Proceeds from the June 7 Fajita Grill fundraiser for Friends of Fort Ontario will support new exhibits and interpretive programming at Fort Ontario State Historic Site. This summer an AmeriCorps member, funded by Friends of Fort Ontario, will conduct youth programs featuring historic games and activities for children. (Photo by Kara Alheim, Oswego County Tourism Office.)

SYRACUSE, NY – This evening (Sept. 6), H.R. 4204, the Fort Ontario Study Act, bipartisan legislation introduced by U.S. Congressman John Katko (NY-24) to advance the designation of Fort Ontario and the Safe Haven Holocaust Refugee Shelter Museum in Oswego to National Park status, unanimously passed the U.S House of Representatives.

U.S. Reps. Richard Hanna (NY-22) and Louise Slaughter (NY-25) joined Representative Katko as cosponsors of the bill.

The legislation commissions a special resource study of Fort Ontario to evaluate the site’s national significance and determine the suitability of its designation as a part of the National Park system.

This study is a prerequisite for receiving National Park designation.

Following the bill’s passage, Representative Katko said, “Fort Ontario is a historic gem in our community.  The fort has been involved in nearly every major American war from the French and Indian War to World War II. What’s more, it served as the nation’s only Emergency Refugee Camp, providing shelter to over 980 refugees fleeing the Holocaust.   Today, Fort Ontario and Safe Haven draw visitors from across the country. Like so many in our community, I am incredibly proud to have this piece of history in our backyard, and I’m grateful for the local champions who have worked tirelessly to preserve the site. I’m honored to have this bill pass the House and I urge my colleagues in the Senate to take up the bill that Senator Gillibrand has introduced so that we can get this important, bipartisan measure to the President’s desk.”

“I am pleased that the House has acted to authorize a study to determine if Fort Ontario could be added to our National Parks System,” U.S. Rep. Richard Hanna said. “It is important to recognize our historical assets and to do so in a way that promotes and encourages tourism for our region.  I look forward to the results of this comprehensive study to determine how to best preserve and protect Fort Ontario.”

“I would like to thank Congressman Katko for the extraordinary work that was put into making this bill a reality. The impact of this bill in the city of Oswego, Oswego County, and Central New York will be historical,” said Jeffrey Grimshaw, on behalf of the Fort Ontario National Landmark Committee. “The honor that this will bring to the long list of souls pre-dating the founding of the United States is immeasurable. The recognition of the value the refugee population contributed to the development of Oswego will be memorialized for generations to come. This is all in addition to the tremendous economic impact that is promised with the sharing of our story with the entire world and placing Oswego on a list of places that must be experienced to understand the fabric of the American story.”

Kevin Hill, president for Safe Haven Holocaust Refugee Shelter said, “From 1944 – 1946, nearly 1,000 refugees of World War II were housed at Fort Ontario in Oswego, New York as ‘guests’ of President Roosevelt. Their story is one that is unique to Oswego and unique within the context of the United States and World War II. The refugees were offered a safe haven from the atrocities of the Holocaust and their story must not be forgotten. Passage of Congressman Katko’s bill in the House brings us one step closer to preserving andprotecting this important historic site and the story of the Fort Ontario refugees for generations.”

“There are less than 50 former refugees left alive to tell the stories of their escape from war torn Europe to arrive at the only shelter in America for victims of the Holocaust. What better legacy for their families than for the people of the world to learn of those stories by Fort Ontario becoming a National Park,” said Judy Rappaport, past president for Safe Haven Holocaust Refugee Shelter.

“Congressman Katko has been a huge supporter of Fort Ontario even before his time in office,” said Oswego Mayor Billy Barlow. “To see all of his hard work and dedication come to fruition today is extremely exciting and a great day for all of Oswego. All those who work and volunteer at Fort Ontario should be exceptionally proud of the work we’ve all accomplishment and we are thankful to have a partner in Congressman Katko to help us with thisendeavor.”

“When John Katko first toured Oswego as a candidate, he said to me, ‘wouldn’t it be great if Fort Ontario became a National Landmark?’  Less than two years later, I am overjoyed that Rep. John Katko followed through on his word and delivered for Oswego. I applaud him for supporting our nation’s history and emphasizing this precious gem we hold so dear in Oswego County,” said Oswego County Clerk Mike Backus.

Over the course of the past year, individuals from across Oswego County have worked to organize local support for the designation of the 260-year-old Fort Ontario and the Safe Haven Holocaust Refugee Shelter Museum as a National Park.

As a part of these efforts, Rep. Katko has visited the Fort on several occasions, met individually with a cross-section of his constituents in the area surrounding the Fort, and took part in an information and rally event to raise community awareness for this project.

In addition to the swift passage of the bill through the House, this summer, Representative Katko announced that the National Park Service granted his request to begin a reconnaissance study to assess the best way to preserve the site.

The study will begin in 2017.

Katko has focused extensively on growing Central New York’s tourism-based economy, and, in addition to introducing this legislation, has worked with community members and stakeholders at the Tubman Home in Auburn, which is well on its way to becoming a National Park.

Congressman Katko represents the 24th Congressional District, which includes all of Onondaga, Cayuga, and Wayne counties and the western portion of Oswego County.

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  1. My Mom and her family were interned there from 1944 to February of 1946.
    Fort Ontario was part of their history, and of course a part of my history, my daughter ‘s history, as well as my grandson’s history.
    We are the descendants of Tina Korner and her family and we want their history preserved so all Americans can appreciate their freedom even more.

  2. Whatever, if people are determined to do it, fine. But there really is an injustice related to that facility, namely the presence of an Israeli flag flying overhead.

    Israel was established in 1948. That’s after the period in question. Jews fleeing Europe were not Israelis. So the Israeli flag isn’t appropriate for that location. It’s injecting a political element that Safe Haven/Fort Ontario would be better off without.

    For lots of people around the world the Israeli flag symbolizes the dispossession and displacement of the Palestinian people. Oswego’s role in providing a safe haven for Jewish refugees should not be conflated with support for, or endorsement of the policies of, the State of Israel. And if you’re going to have that flag flying there it seems that there should be an American flag flying right next to it. Oswego, last time I checked was in the United States, not in Israel.

    And even though both of our major political parties uncritically support Israel’s continued occupation and ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians, overwhelming international opinion sides with the legitimate grievances of Palestinians who were driven from their land and denied national rights to make way for the Jewish state and its settlements.

    Make it a National Park, there is a lot of history there obviously, but take down that Israeli flag. It distorts the entire morality of what Fort Ontario/Safe Haven should represent.


  3. The first of several steps that is long overdue. Thank you to those that have/are working on this. The positive outcomes are not only recognition, funding, tourism and more, but the pride we can take in this historical spot and getting to share it with so many others

  4. This will be amazing for the entire area of CNY. For those of you who don’t know the whole history, that flag was here at the Fort when the refugees were here. Before 1948! There are pictures to prove it!

  5. Even if the flag was flying during the 1944-46 period, it represents something very different today.

    It should be displayed in the museum, if it’s necessary to display it at all.

    The fact is today the flag represents the State of Israel, and what Palestinians call the ‘nakba,’ the catastrophe. It should not be flying alone overhead in a very prominent place at Fort Ontario … it’s simply not appropriate. It’s insulting to the millions of Palestinian refugees and to American citizens, citizens of Oswego particularly, in solidarity with them.

    “One in three refugees world wide is Palestinian. There are about 6.5 million Palestinian refugees worldwide. More than 3.8 million Palestinian refugees and their descendents displaced in 1948 are registered for humanitarian assistance with the United Nations.”

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