Fort Ontario and the Fort Ontario Refugee Shelter

National Register of Historic Places, National Historic Landmark,

National Park, and UNESCO World Heritage Site Initiatives

The 260- year old Fort Ontario complex, with its rich history, is among our nation’s greatest assets. We believe the history of Fort Ontario and the Fort Ontario Emergency Refugee Shelter/ Safe Haven are unique and deserve to be elevated to national and international awareness.

The fourth and current Fort Ontario is built on the ruins of three earlier fortifications dating to the French and Indian and Revolutionary Wars; it was the site of three French and Indian War and two War of 1812 battles.

During the Revolutionary War, over 5,000 African Americans served in the Continental Army and many participated in the last campaign ordered by Washington against Fort Ontario in February 1783.

In 1903 President Theodore Roosevelt realizing its strategic importance, modernized Fort Ontario into an infantry battalion post. It was occupied by the U.S. Army until the end of World War II. 

From1908 to 1911, the 24th  U.S  Infantry, famed “Buffalo Soldiers,” garrisoned the post and were welcomed in Oswego despite resistance from other cities across the  U.S.

During WWI, the post was converted to the largest General Hospital (#5) in the U.S. which served as a treatment center for military and civilian victims of the Spanish Influenza.

In 1941, the 369th Anti-Aircraft Artillery Regiment (15th NYNG), known as the “Harlem Hellfighters,” was federalized and converted from infantry to AAA and trained at the post. A milestone in the movement to eventually desegregate the Army and proof that African-Americans were capable of performing technical duties.

During WWII – (1944 to 1946) the Fort served as the only refugee shelter in the United States for 982 victims of the Nazi Holocaust under an Executive Order from President Franklin D. Roosevelt, 89% were Jewish.   They were allowed to remain in the United States under an Executive Order from President Harry S. Truman.

We are requesting Governor Cuomo support the initiative for Fort Ontario to become listed on the National Register of Historic Places, become a National Historic Landmark, become a National Park, and potentially a UNESCO World Heritage Site. These designations would elevate the remarkable history of

Fort Ontario reservation to national and international awareness, allow federal/state tax credits and state grants to be utilized for historic preservation, and would enhance the economic vitality of the City of Oswego and the Central New York region.

Congressman John Katko supports the National Park designation and has offered to prepare a Bill to submit to Congress that would initiate the study required by the National Park Service to consider Fort Ontario and the Fort Ontario Refugee Shelter as a National Park. 

Currently, the committee is working to gain comprehensive support so that the U.S. Dept. of Interior National Park Service study of Fort Ontario and the Fort Ontario Refugee Shelter can begin. We look forward to Governor Cuomo’s support so that we can move forward with this opportunity that will bring International and economic promise to the Oswego community and State of New York!

We realize the Governor has been focusing on many different priorities for the State of New York but this initiative is crucial for the future of Fort Ontario State Historic Site and Oswego.

Please email the Syracuse office for Governor Cuomo at:

Or mail the attached letter to:

The Honorable Andrew M. Cuomo

Governor of New York State

NYS State Capitol Building

Albany, NY 12224​

Or phone: Syracuse office of Governor Cuomo (315)428-4120

The above is for information only. When you contact Governor Cuomo’s office, you can use the points above as to why he should send a letter of support to Congressman Katko to initiate the study.