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History Comes Alive At Fort Ontario

By Nick Wojton, contributing writer
OSWEGO, NY – Sitting on the mouth of the Oswego River on Oswego’s east side Fort Ontario sees visitors and activities all summer long. The peak of the fort’s summer happenings was this past Harborfest Weekend.

The fort went back in time for the weekend with men and women volunteers dressed in their blue Union Army uniforms and old fashion white blouses, respectively.

A re-enactor gives a weapons demonstration at Fort Ontario during Harborfest Weekend
A re-enactor, Patrick Gorton, gives a weapons demonstration at Fort Ontario during Harborfest Weekend

Even former President Abraham Lincoln made an appearance.

Inside the fort was an encampment set up with several different types of tents displaying different mementos such as a Civil War era blacksmith’s tent and others.

Today, the fort is restored to its Civil War era appearance in each of its buildings, which is why the volunteers also followed suit.

“(Fort Ontario) played an important role in the Civil War as a recruiting center,” according to Fort Ontario Historic Site manager Paul Lear.

Many of the buildings inside the fort were constructed between the 1840s and late 1860s due to the threat of war with Great Britain prior to and during the Civil War.

Re-enactors spoke to visitors all weekend about the fort’s history and its importance during the time period it’s restored to.

Along with explaining the history, volunteers at the fort shot off old guns and gave tours for crowds of visitors.

According to Lear, the number of visitors at the fort during Harborfest at least doubles compared to other weekends.

“Harborfest brings a lot more people, a lot of people who might not have visited the fort,” Lear said. “But a lot of the people are pleasantly surprised and enjoy it.”

Along with its rich display of Civil War history, the original fort dates back to 1755 and includes history of involvement in the French and Indian War, Revolutionary War, War of 1812, and even the Second World War for visitors to enjoy.

As Harborfest weekend rolled on, the fort stayed open later then its usual business hours for Friends of Fort Ontario members to come inside the fort and enjoy the fireworks on Saturday evening.

Visitors in and around the fort Saturday night were treated to some weapons training prior to the fireworks
Visitors in and around the fort Saturday night were treated to some weapons training prior to the fireworks

Many come several hours before the start of the event to claim a spot for themselves to watch the fireworks later.

The fort does the same for other holidays and events in Oswego such as the Fourth of July fireworks.

Fort Ontario is open daily throughout the rest of the summer and into the fall from 10 a.m. until 4:30 p.m.

For more information on Fort Ontario or how to become a friend of the fort, visit fortontario.com

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