Location: Oswego, New York
Webpage: New York State Park
General Description: Fort Ontario was one of a series of forts built by the British to protect the area around the eastern end of Lake Ontario, primarily from the French. The original fort was built in 1755 during the French and Indian War to support the defenses at Fort Oswego on the other side of the river, but this fort was destroyed by the French and rebuilt in 1759 by the British. During the American Revolution, a detachment of the 3rh New York regiment destroyed the fort in July, 1778 after the British abandoned it. The British then returned and rebuilt the fort in 1782 and continued to hold the fort after the Revolutionary War. It was finally turned over to the United States as part of Jay’s Treaty in 1796. During the War of 1812 the British bombarded the fort and captured it in 1814, but then abandoned it after burning it down. After a long period of disuse, the fort was rebuilt partly in answer to the smuggling operations from Canada to the US. During the Civil War the old wooden fort was replaced by a “modern” stone fort to protect the North from possible British actions from Canada in support of the South. This fort was never truly completed, as can be seen from the modern reconstruction and never had its full complement of cannons. Following the Civil War, the fort itself fell into disuse since it was now out of date of the artillery of the day, but the area around the fort continued to be used by the military. It served primarily as a hospital during World War I and from 1944-1946 it served as the only refugee camp for about 1000 Jewish survivors of Nazi Concentration Camps. In 1946, Fort Ontario was transferred to the state of New York and until 1953 was used to house World War II veterans and their families. Today Fort Ontario has been restored to its condition during the Civil War period with a self-guided tour of the facility.
1) As you enter Fort Ontario through the sally port on the landward side, you immediately see the casemates on the northern side of the fort across the small parade ground. On either side of the entrance there are guard posts with the small Visitor Center in the east guard post. After paying the nominal entrance fee you are provided with a guide book that provides a lot of information about the different structures rebuilt in the fort.
2) Throughout the fort they have restored period furniture and other artifacts, along with a number of mannequins placed to give citizens a sense of life in the fort. The main building is the Enlisted Man Barracks which a large kitchen, workshop, mess hall, and bunks for 50-70 enlisted men in two barracks on the second floor.
3) There are two officers quarters within the fort, both two story structures that would house four officers and their families. Since the fort was generally undermanned, one of the officers quarters was used for offices for the quartermaster and engineers. Each of these buildings also had an unattached privy for use by the officers. One of these is open to the public.
4) Also within the fort is a two story storehouse which contained storerooms and jail with four cells. The final small building is the bombproof for storing ammunition and gunpowder.
5) Visitors can also descend into all of the casemates, two designed as rifle galleries to protect the main gate and the others for cannon.