Oswego Council: We’re Going To Fight For Our Fort

OSWEGO, NY – The Port City’s existence has been tied to the military fortifications on the Oswego Harbor since the 1650s.

Local residents seek to save Fort Ontario
Local residents seek to save Fort Ontario

And, at Monday night’s Common Council meeting, city officials spoke with one voice: “We won’t give up our fort without a fight!”

Mayor Randy Bateman and the Common Council unanimously approved a resolution calling on all of the city’s New York State representatives to provide the funding to support and maintain Fort Ontario.

The council encourages every resident to call upon their representatives to sustain “the on-going support for the Fort Ontario State Historic Site as an important cultural and historical site for our region, our state and our country.”

A copy of the resolution will be forwarded to Governor David Paterson, State Senator Darrell Aubertine and Assemblyman Will Barclay.

The assemblyman has already vowed to do what he can to fight the proposal to close the historic site.

Barclay “hit the nail on the head in his statement regarding the proposed closure of Fort Ontario as part of reducing state spending and meeting upcoming budget goals,” said Second Ward Councilor Mike Myers.

As the Second Ward alderman, whose district includes Fort Ontario, Myers commended Barclay for taking a proactive approach to the “unacceptable proposal” and continuing to fight for the residents of Oswego.

“As you know, Fort Ontario is a fixture in our community that creates tourism revenue for the county, but more importantly is an educational tool that teaches our children about this important historic military site, our battle with Great Britain for our independence and the founding of this great city,” Myers continued. “Thousands of volunteers have worked tirelessly donating their time and money to ensure that Fort Ontario remains a treasure in our community.”

Myers urges all Oswego residents to join him and Barclay in their endeavor to save Fort Ontario.

Also speaking out in support of the fort Monday night were Allen Bjorkman of the Oswego Arts Collaboration and Mercedes Niess, director of the H. Lee White Marine Museum.

Part of the Oswego Arts Collaboration’s mission is to promote and support art and cultural tourism. The group has held several arts festivals at Fort Ontario.

“Our organization supports the continued operation of Fort Ontario,” he told the councilors. “Agriculture has been supplanted by tourism as Oswego County’s number one industry. The backbone of tourism is culture.”

Niess pointed out that a couple years ago the museum and the fort partnered with the Harley Davidson company to bring hundreds of motorcycle enthusiasts to the Port City.

“About 400 riders came to town. They stayed in the community all day, they shopped and ate in our restaurants,” she said. “So, there definitely is an economic impact.”

She also noted the fort’s large part each year during Harborfest and the various re-enactments that play out on the fort’s grounds.

“Although cultural institutions have been particularly hit hard over the last few decades, the museums in this community and Fort Ontario have done a wonderful job,” she added. “I say it is time to rally the troops around this important institution.”

Currently, the historic site provides interpretation of the history of this region and also provides much needed tourism revenues.

A military fortification was first located at the Fort Ontario site by the British in 1755 called the Fort of the Six Nations. The original wooden fort was destroyed and rebuilt several times.

The garrison fort was closed by the U.S. Army in 1949. The oldest part of Fort Ontario became a state historic site, listed on the State and National Register of Historic Places in 1970.

The fort was also used as the only emergency war refugee center in the United States to house 982 victims of the Nazi Holocaust in Europe.


  1. I Have sent a personal letter to the Governor. Fort Ontario is not just a State Park – it is a part of the community – the historical value alone is worth keeping it open…how else will our children learn about the sacrifices made by our ancestors and our military today. What about Safe Haven Museum- how many people dispute the Holocaust as it is—the people remembered there are suvivors of a terrible war that should not be forgotten. Paul Lear provides ongoing educational events that will be missed, Harborfest has events there, there are also weddings and the Elks Lodge has its Flag Day Ceremony at the Fort. It will be a tragedy if it closes.

  2. As the person who was in charge of Fort Ontario from 1960 until 1981, I want to earnestly commend Assemblyman Will Barclay, Mayor Randy Bateman, Councilor Mike Myers, each of the other members of the Common Council, and especially the people of Oswego, Oswego County, and elsewhere throughout the United States who are rallying to prevent the Fort from being closed, as has been proposed by Governor David Paterson in his budget for OPRHP operations during FY 2010-11. However, other OPRHP facilities across the state are targeted, too . . . the Governor proposes to close 41 state parks and 13 other state historic sites in addition to Fort Ontario, plus reduce services at 23 more parks and 1 more historic site. Among them, Sackets Harbor Battlefield would be closed and services curtailed at Selkirk Shores State Park by closing a bathing beach. We’re all in this together . . . the Museum Association of New York is sending a team of its members to Albany on Thursday to meet with key legislators. If you haven’t done so already, please write, e-mail, call, or talk with Assemblyman Barclay and Senator Darrel Aubertine without delay. This is a time when the direct opinion of the public can be all-important. Don’t let the door slam on history!

  3. While I no longer live in New York State, I did live and teach in the state for over 30 years. The idea of closing Fort Ontario is insane and makes me glad I no longer live in a state that would even sonsider closing such a great historic place. Over the decades I lived in the Empire State I took pride in that name. Close the fort, erase the idea of being the Empire state. Shame, Shame, Shame !!!

    guy abell

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