Port of Call
Michael Davis Photo
Oswego’s attractions include historic boats, a fort and a bookstore
By Eileen Gilligan
If you’re looking for a new spot to take the kids on a summer day trip, consider Oswego, our own port city, just an hour from Syracuse on Lake Ontario. Combined with a special event like a historic re-enactment at Fort Ontario or just for fun, a visit to Oswego can be designed by mixing and matching hanging out at the lake, touring an old Navy boat, bicycling through town or stopping for ice cream (OK, that’s a must-do).
I had no idea a fort could be fun until my two kids begged to climb up the side walls of Fort Ontario and walk around the path, just as soldiers patrolled a century ago. Running down the grassy walls was just as entertaining. To cool off, we entered the interior rooms, climbing down, seemingly into the walls, to peer through barred windows where soldiers had pointed their guns at the enemy.
We saw the prison room, started to get scared and headed back out into the sunshine of the courtyard, where soldiers dressed in period garb fired a few fake shots from authentic-sounding guns. We toured the officers’ quarters, a storehouse and more. We wandered outside the fort’s walls to the adjacent cemetery where gravestones date back more than 150 years, all of it overlooking the lake. Admission is free for children age 12 and under; $4 for adults.
Fort Ontario became an emergency shelter for refugees from Europe during World War II. By order of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, nearly 1,000 refugees, mostly Jewish, were invited to Fort Ontario where the people of Oswego welcomed them. Older kids may appreciate a stop at the Safe Haven Museum and Education Center, located across from the fort at 2 East Seventh St. The museum is dedicated to telling the stories of the 982 people who fled Europe for the safety of the United States.
Turning to naval history, cross to the west side of the city and drive as far as one can toward Lake Ontario via First Street. This will lead to the H. Lee White Marine Museum, located on the West First Street Pier. Open daily throughout summer from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., the museum offers tours of its vessels, including the USAT LT-5 Major Elisha K. Henson, a large tugboat named a national historic landmark. Artwork and other maritime artifacts are on display throughout the museum, which also features child-friendly items from ships to touch and examine.
Landlubbers may want to stop at the nearby Oswego Railroad Museum, which boasts a swimming-pool-size (24-by-36 feet) model train layout of southern Oswego County in the 1950s. The museum, also on West First Street, is open from noon to 5 p.m. weekends in the summer through Labor Day.
At lunchtime, head a few miles west to Rudy’s Lakeside Drive-In on County Route 89, where the kids can run down to the lake and toss rocks into the waves while someone else gets the hot dogs, fish and fries to devour at outside picnic tables—or inside, if it’s raining. Save room for ice cream at Bev’s Dairy Treat, just a few hundred feet from Rudy’s, also located on the lakeshore. Both prefer cash.
Continue the sightseeing break with a drive back downtown and a visit to the River’s End Bookstore, on the corner of Bridge (Route 104) and West First streets. The locally owned shop offers a cute kids’ corner where they can peruse books and plan their next adventure. Pizza, bagel and other styles of eateries are nearby if you didn’t stop for a bite at Rudy’s.
Another potential outing is Rice Creek Field Station, part of the State University of New York at Oswego. Just drop by to stroll through the woods, gardens or fields. Families may sign up for walks, called “rambles,” led by a naturalist on most Saturdays in July and August.
Oswego is known as a top fishing destination. Try dropping a line from either side of the river in the city of Oswego. Or check out numerous locations, accessible by foot or boat, throughout the county: visitoswegocounty.com/fishing-hunting/fishing/where-to-fish/. Some even fish at Fair Haven Beach State Park, located about 15 miles southwest of Oswego. There’s great swimming in the lake, a playground and some bluffs to explore.
If you’re not ready to go home yet, pull into the Midway Drive-In on Route 48, just south of Minetto, about 7 miles outside Oswego, and catch a double or even triple feature. Showings usually begin with a G-rated or family-oriented movie, followed by a movie or two aimed at teenagers and up. Sunday-night movies have open captions when available. Kids age 6 and under are free; it’s $3 for children under 12; and age 12 and up cost $8. Make sure you get some of the freshly popped popcorn and other treats from the concession stand. Hold onto your ticket stub for the free pizza drawing between films. The small-town, family atmosphere at reasonable prices makes for a pleasant night. Change into pajamas in case anyone falls asleep during the show or on the way home.
For live-action excitement, head east to the Oswego Speedway for racecar competition each weekend through the summer and into the fall.
If you can’t get it all done in one visit, try again in the fall when changing leaf colors and a pumpkin farm can be added to the attractions.
1 East Fourth St., Oswego. 343-4711. nys
Safe Haven Museum and Education Center
2 E. Seventh St., Oswego. 342-3003.
H. Lee White Marine Museum
1 W. First St., Oswego. 342-0480.
Oswego Railroad Museum
56 W. First St., Oswego. 343-2253.
museum.html. $2, age 12 and up; $1,
ages 6-12; free, age 5 and under.
Rudy’s Lakeside Drive-In
78 County Route 89 at Fred Haynes
Boulevard, Oswego. 343-2671.
Bev’s Dairy Treat
43 County Route 89, Oswego. 343-0839.
The River’s End Bookstore
19 W. Bridge St., Oswego. 342-0077.
Rice Creek Field Station
193 Thompson Road, Oswego. 312-6677. oswego.edu/academics/opportunities/
Fair Haven Beach State Park
14985 State Park Road, Fair Haven.
Midway Drive-In Theatre
2475 Route 48, Fulton. 343-0211.
300 E. Albany St., Oswego. 342-0646.
Eileen Gilligan, an award-winning writer and mother of two, lives in Baldwinsville.