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September 23, 2018

History Dictates Use Of Public Space Near Fort Ontario


OSWEGO, NY – At its meeting this week, the Physical Services Committee approved use of public space at Fort Ontario. The sites, however, had to make room for history.

Doc Nelson requested use of public space for a local lacrosse organization to install a 104’ x 68’ lacrosse box at Fort Ontario. The specific location is on a portion of the former tennis courts and traffic lot.

2007 photograph of the deployment ceremony to Iraq for the 444th Engineer Company, USAR, on the parade ground at Fort Ontario. The 444th carries on a 260-year-old tradition of military occupation of the Fort Ontario Military Reservation National Register District. Military ceremonies are still held on the old parade ground inside the fort and candlelight vigils for soldiers lost in action in Afghanistan as well.

2007 photograph of the deployment ceremony to Iraq for the 444th Engineer Company, USAR, on the parade ground at Fort Ontario. The 444th carries on a 260-year-old tradition of military occupation of the Fort Ontario Military Reservation National Register District. Military ceremonies are still held on the old parade ground inside the fort and candlelight vigils for soldiers lost in action in Afghanistan as well.

Also, Oswego Little League received approval from the Common Council on March 24, 2014, for use of public space to construct a 24’x80’ pole barn batting cage facility at the Little League Complex at Fort Ontario.

There is currently a community effort to elevate the Fort Ontario area to a National Historic Landmark.

The NYS Historic Preservation Office strongly recommended that the batting cage be located off of the parade ground; so an alternate location for the batting cages is on a portion of the former tennis courts and traffic lot.

Both requests were sent to the full council for consideration.

“The new district encompasses nearly all of the old 75 acre Fort Ontario Military Reservation dating back to 1755,” Fort Supervisor Paul Lear told Oswego County Today. “It covers the entire history and grounds use of the fort, from the French and Indian War to the ongoing War in Afghanistan as reflected by the 444th Engineer Company, United States Army Reserve.”

The 1970 nomination reflected the philosophy of the time and only included the stone fortification, he explained, adding that National Register districts now can emphasize the whole historical and physical context of the nominated property and usually include archeological resources, support buildings, fences, grounds, etc.

“This enlarged district includes the old army buildings now owned by the  city of Oswego under a Letters Patent Agreement with NYS (used only for recreational, historical and transportation purposes); many of which are in need of repair, and ensures that they are qualified for preservation and other grants for rehabilitation and adaptive reuse,”Lear said. “Additionally, this new district, which is the largest recreational area in the city of Oswego, with many buildings needing repair, is an important step towards making it easier to obtain funding to link it to the existing linear park trail system and develop it as an economic resource.

Currently, residents, day trippers, recreational boaters and tourists staying in Oswego’s waterfront hotels and attending events in the state of the art conference facility cannot easily access the old Fort Ontario Military Reservation National Register District, he said.

“Hopefully, in the future, a plan and funding for a switchback and ramp to bridge the East Linear Park where it ends at the marina to the fort will be developed, especially if Zelko Kirincich, executive director and CEO of the Port of Oswego Authority, succeeds in bringing tour boats to Oswego,” Lear said.

Travis Bowman, recently of the State Historic Preservation Office, and Lear worked on the new district for at least the past year, and Bowman authored the formal submission.

The Fort Ontario National Register update was Bowman’s last assignment with the SHPO. He is now the curator of the NYS Bureau of Historic Sites and is leading a team with Lear to develop new exhibits for the fort.

“We are planning to open the exhibits next summer and utilize space-saving touch screen computer technology to make room for more artifacts in the small room available,” Lear said. “Instead of large panels heavy with script, touch-screen computer technology will allow us to put lots of information in the computer and boost the number of artifacts in the exhibit from the current 50 to 215.”

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