Where the Water Never Ends


Oswego Winter Festival

Oswego Hospice Cup Regatta &
Walk/Run for Hope


French & Indian War Encampment

Kids’ Pirate Day at
H. Lee White Marine Museum

Oswego Harborfest

Oswego County Paddlefest

Oswego Dragon Boat Festival

Arts, Crafts and Kites Festival

CNY Great Pumpkin Festival

Fort Ontario Ghost Reveal

Toy Trains and Christmas


Where the Water Never Ends

by Margaret Steiss
Whether you’re planning a trip through the Erie Canal or cruising Lake Ontario, Oswego, New York is worth the trip. Known as “The Port City of Central New York,” this small town is big on things to see and do. Rich on both military and nautical history, Oswego is a water and history lovers’ dream.
As you cruise into Oswego, you pass by the historic West Pierhead Lighthouse. Looking down the Oswego River offers views of a mix of old and new, industrial buildings still in use or repurposed for current needs. It’s readily apparent that this town has history. 

When you want to stand on solid ground and explore, there are several docking options. On the east side of the river, the Oswego Marina and Port Authority can accommodate both commercial vessels and recreational boaters. If you’re in a sailboat and wish to travel through to the Erie Canal, you will have to remove your mast; the marina can do this for you at a reasonable cost. The Oswego Marina and Port Authority is a U.S. Point of Entry, and on the west side of the canal, Wrights Landing has been recently added as a point of entry.

The Oswego Yacht Club is a very sociable member-run club, offering reciprocal club members a night’s stay. They have an active racing schedule and host several regattas each year. In June, the Yacht Club hosts the Oswego County Hospice Regatta. The club’s SAIL Oswego Regatta is held in late July and coincides with Harborfest, one of Oswego’s best-known festivals. Approximately 100,000 people attend this four-day event of music, art and fun. End the day with a spectacular fireworks show or head into town to one of the many pubs offering entertainment. 

A new docking option is at The Best Western Hotel. Located on the river, it offers transient dockage with both electrical and water. For a small fee you can use the fitness and spa facilities. Make sure to try Alex’s on the Water restaurant. Sit on the patio and enjoy fresh seafood while watching passing boats. You never know what you might see: A powerboat cruising by, vibrant fall leaves, or even a pirate party boat. 

No matter where you choose to dock, you’re within easy walking distance to many great attractions, restaurants and shopping. Just don’t forget comfortable shoes. 

Stroll along Main Street. Among the shops is the Riverside Artisans, featuring artwork from local artists in a variety of mediums. The hardest part will be deciding which pieces to buy. 

For more art, wander along the waterfront trail; take your time and don’t expect to keep a brisk pace. Started in 2009 as a way to combat graffiti, the Springboard Mural Project is an initiative of the Oswego County Youth Bureau. Each year, more than a dozen children ages eight and up design and paint murals on the concrete walls of West Linear Park. The work ranges from depictions of local scenes to animals.

Other cultural endeavours are the Art Association of Oswego and the Oswego Players, both housed in the former Fort Ontario Quartermaster’s Building, now known as the Oswego Civic Arts Center.

Illustrious history

No matter where you go in Oswego you cannot escape the sense of the history, from industrial to military to maritime. 

In 1615, Samuel de Champlain was the first European to see Oswego. Following the French explorers’ visit, fur trade became important to the area; the British also established an outpost here. 
After the Revolutionary War, the new Congress decided that Oswego was to be the first port of entry to the U.S. on Lake Ontario. 

Salt became the next important commodity in Oswego, followed by lumber and shipbuilding. The first ship was built in 1804. By the 1870s, Oswego was the largest lumber port in the nation. Grain also became a major commodity; by the 1870s there were 20 mills. Railways were plentiful, carrying goods to and from the city. The Oswego Railroad Museum honors those memories. 
To this day, Oswego remains one of the most important ports in the U.S., with ships coming from around the world. 

Fort Ontario is a national historic site on the east side of Oswego. Built in the 1840s — the fourth fort to be built on the site — Fort Ontario was in use until after World War II. Earlier forts were used in the French-Indian War, Revolutionary War and War of 1812. From August 1944 to February 1946, the fort was used to house survivors of the Holocaust. More can be learned about these survivors at the Safe Haven Museum. While visiting the restored fort, climb the ramparts for a magnificent 360-degree view of Oswego and Lake Ontario. 

There are many historic buildings in Oswego on both sides of the river. On the east side, check out the Richardson-Bates House. Built for a prominent local lawyer it was donated by his family for a museum with almost all its original Victorian furnishings, making it one of the most complete, restored houses in the country. Displays tell the tale of the town’s early years. 

Oswego also has one of the countries oldest libraries still occupying its original building. Founded by Gerrit Smith and opened in 1857, the “Castle on the Hill” library is famous for supporting the abolitionists and the Underground Railway. The whole area of Oswego County is well known for its anti-slavery support, and was a major stop on the Freedom Trail. 

The buildings are not the only part of Oswego’s history; it’s also the birthplace to many notable people. One such person is Dr. Mary Walker. A civil war surgeon and champion of women’s rights, Walker is the only woman to have received the Medal of Honor. There is now a statue of her in front of the town hall. 

Oswego’s rich maritime history can be explored at the H. Lee Maritime Museum. Founded in 1982 by local historian and theater educator Rosemary Sinnett Nesbit, the museum is in the former administration offices of the grain elevator. The museum also includes three vessels than can be toured: The USAT LT-5 Major Elisha K Henderson is a World War II tug built to serve in Britain and was present in Normandy where it came under fire; Derrick Boat 8 was built in 1927 and used for maintenance along the canal; and the Eleanor D commercial fishing vessel was in use by the Cahill Family from 1948 to 1979. The museum exhibits are plentiful and cover the maritime history of the area from the native Americans through the wars and to the present. When visiting the museum, you can sign up for a tour of the West Pierhead Lighthouse. Built in 1934 and automated in 1968, the lighthouse later fell into disrepair. In 2009, the city acquired the lighthouse from the Coast Guard and a dedicated group of volunteers, The Friends of the Lighthouse, commenced restoration. The volunteers now run weekend tours. 

The sporting life

Enjoying the sports and outdoors is easy in Oswego. Steps from the marinas are hiking trails, including Breitbeck Park just above Wrights Marina. Walk the trail, picnic or rest your feet on one of the many benches overlooking the harbor to watch the boats sail by as the you listen to the lap of the waves.

Oswego is known for some of the best salmon fishing in the world. Bass and steelhead are also plentiful. Whether you fish from your own boat, take a tour, including Broad Horizons Guide and Charter Service, or set up a chair along the river paths, you’re likely to get a few bites.

Oswego has some of the best diving sites in Lake Ontario. Unfortunately, a strong maritime history also brings tragedy, and there are a number of sunken ships to explore in the area. The David Mills Submerged Cultural Preserve and Dive Site features a mooring buoy marking the wreck of the David Mills commercial freighter. The Mary Kay tug is another well-known wreck. A more recent wreck is the “Harborfest Houseboat Wreck,” which sank is 1993 and claimed no victims.

For motorsport enthusiasts, the Oswego Speedway is known as the “Indy of the East.” Many famous racers have raced on its track, and the biggest event of the year is the Budweiser Classic during Labor Day weekend. 


Food and fun

After walking, shopping and exploring Oswego, it’s time for a drink with dinner. For those who like a good craft beer check out the US Beer Brewers at The Cellar Door in the historic Woodruff building. The brewery features its own beers brewed right on site, as well as offerings from other New York breweries and distilleries. Food is simple pub fare. 

Other must-visits are Lombardo’s Bridie Manor, located in the only remaining mill building; the Red Sun Fire Roasting Company; Bistro 197; La Parrilla Grill & Wine Bar; Rudy’s Lakeside Drive-In; The Old City Hall and Water St. Café; The Office; and Gibby’s Irish Pub. These are all along the West Side of the canal and are within easy walking distance of Wright’s Landing and the Yacht Club. On the east side, along with the aforementioned Alex’s on the Water, you can dine at Azteca Mexican Grill, the Press Box and Woodchucks. 

For Oswego’s nightlife, try Spencer’s Ali, The Ferris Wheel, Alley Cat or the Gaslight Pub. One thing to keep in mind is that it’s a college town; that means lots of students, especially at the beginning of the school year. But that doesn’t mean older folks can’t have a great time, too. 

Oswego is stately and historic, friendly, vibrant and fun. No matter what your reason is for visiting this town, know that you’re in for a good time.

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