At the southwestern end of the region, just north of the Finger Lakes, lies the small city of Oswego (pop. 19,195). Straddling the mouth of the Oswego River, overlooking Lake Ontario, Oswego operated as an important fort and trading post throughout the 1700s. During the American Revolution, Oswego served as a haven for Loyalists fleeing the Mohawk Valley, and remained in British hands until 1796. Named the first freshwater port in the United States in 1799, Oswego protected the supply route to the naval base at nearby Sackets Harbor during the War of 1812.
Today, Oswego continues to function as a Great Lakes port and is a major sportfishing center.
Fort Ontario State Historic Site
Presiding over Lake Ontario is Fort Ontario (1 E. 4th St., 315/343-4711, 10 a.m.–4:30 p.m. Tues.–Sat. and 1–4:30 p.m. Sun. May–Oct., adults $4, children under 12 $2). Originally built by the British in 1755, the site was attacked and rebuilt four times, with the present-day fort constructed between 1839 and 1844.
During World War II, Fort Ontario served as a sort of emergency refugee center/internment camp for victims of the Nazi Holocaust. The only one of its kind for European refugees in the country, the center invited 874 Jews and 73 Catholics to relocate here, but upon arrival, the refugees were placed in a fenced-in compound and told not to leave. The shocked refugees were interned for a total of 18 months.
Today, Fort Ontario has been restored to its 1867–72 appearance. Costumed guides interpret the lives of the men and civilians who once lived here.
H. Lee White Marine Museum
Oswego’s most delightful tourist attraction is the White Marine Museum (foot of W. 1st St., 315/342-0480, www.hleewhitemarinemuseum.com, 1–5 p.m. daily Sept.–June, 10 a.m.–5 p.m. daily July–Aug., adults $7, children 5–12 $3, children under 5 free), a sprawling, hodgepodge affair filled with everything from archaeological artifacts to mounted fish. One exhibit focuses on Lake Ontario shipwrecks, another on the city’s once-thriving shipbuilding industry, a third on the legendary “monsters” of the lake, a fourth on the region’s strong abolitionist history. Most everything in the museum has been donated, which gives it a folksy appeal. Outside, a World War II tugboat and a derrick barge invite exploration.
Built in the late 1860s, the Richardson-Bates house (135 E. 3rd St., 315/343-1342, 10 a.m.–5 p.m. Tues.–Fri., 1–5 p.m. Sat., adults $4, seniors and children over 12 $2) is a regal Italianate mansion still equipped with 95 percent of its original furnishings. The five plush period rooms downstairs are arranged according to photographs taken around 1890, while upstairs, succinct exhibits explain the history of Oswego County. The museum is run by the Oswego County Historical Society.
On the lakeshore about 15 miles northeast of Oswego lies Selkirk Shores State Park (Rte. 3, 315/298-5737), equipped with a beach, hiking trails, and 148-site campground. For reservations, call 800/456-CAMP.
The ever popular Rudy’s (Washington Blvd. on the lakeshore, 315/343-2671), a quarter-mile west of the State University of New York (SUNY) College at Oswego, specializes in fish and chips, and fried scallops and clams.
© Avalon Travel and Sascha Zuger from Moon New York State, 5th Edition