News & Events

3/30/2017 – GILLIBRAND AND SCHUMER ANNOUNCE FORT ONTARIO LEGISLATION PASSES SENATE COMMITTEE ON ENERGY AND NATURAL RESOURCES

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senators Kirsten Gillibrand and Charles E. Schumer today announced that legislation that would authorize the National Park Service (NPS) to conduct a study on whether Fort Ontario and the Safe Haven Holocaust Refugee Shelter Museum in Oswego should become a unit of the National Park system has passed the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. This legislation is the first step in an effort that would provide significant resources to Central New York, including increased federal funding for conservation and economic development programs, and would increase tourism to the area.

“I am pleased my bill today beginning the process of making Fort Ontario and the Safe Haven Museum a part of the National Park Service passed out of committee today and is one step closer to becoming law,” said Senator Kirsten Gillibrand. “This site is one of Central New York’s gems, and it has had outsized importance throughout New York State’s long and rich history, including most recently as a shelter for Jewish refugees of the Holocaust. This legislation would give Americans from all around the country the opportunity to learn about this important place. I am proud to fight for this legislation in the Senate, and I will urge my colleagues to move quickly to pass it.”

“It’s only fitting to preserve the rich history of the Fort Ontario and Safe Haven Holocaust Refuge Shelter Museum by officially designating this location as part of the National Park System. I will continue to work side by side with Senator Gillibrand until her legislation passes Congress,” said U.S. Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer.  “This legislation will finally allow the National Park Service to take the first step towards giving this site the recognition it deserves and protecting it for future generations. Achieving this designation will allow people to learn about the history of this site and attract new visitors to the area.”

Senator Gillibrand introduced the Fort Ontario Study legislation in 2016. The Fort Ontario Military Complex dates back to the early 1840s and is built on the ruins of three earlier fortifications from the French & Indian War, Revolutionary War, and War of 1812. Fort Ontario is now a part of the NYS Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation.

The Safe Haven Holocaust Refugee Shelter Museum commemorates the 982 European refugees who called Fort Ontario home in 1944 after President Franklin D. Roosevelt invited them as his “special guests,” creating an emergency shelter to maneuver around the difficult immigration policies of the time.

1/30/2017 – REP. KATKO DELIVERS EARLY IN 115TH CONGRESS ON DISTRICT PRIORITIES: FORT ONTARIO & SAVE HAVEN LEGISLATION PASSES HOUSE

Fort Ontario Study Act

Washington, D.C. – This evening, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the bipartisan Fort Ontario Study Act, legislation introduced by U.S. Rep John Katko (NY-24) which would put Fort Ontario and Safe Haven National Refugee Shelter in Oswego on the path towards becoming a National Park.  Rep. Katko was joined by Reps. Claudia Tenney (NY-22) and Louise Slaughter (NY-25) in introducing this legislation.  Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand has introduced the measure in the Senate.

The Fort Ontario Study Act commissions a special resource study of Fort Ontario and Safe Haven in Oswego County to evaluate the site’s national significance and determine the suitability of its designation as a part of the National Park system.  This study is a prerequisite for receiving National Park designation.  The legislation passed the House during Rep. Katko’s first term, and was on the brink of passage in the U.S. Senate.  It was the first bill that he reintroduced during the 115th Congress.

“This site stands as a testament to the important role Central New York has played in our nation’s history,” stated Rep. Katko, “I’m proud to be a champion for this effort, and I’m especially grateful for the tireless work of countless Oswego County residents, advocates, and leaders who have worked to raise the profile of historic Fort Ontario and Safe Haven.  With today’s passage of this bill in the House, I am hopeful that it will move quickly though the Senate and become law so that Fort Ontario and Safe Haven receive the national recognition deserved.”

“I would like to thank Congressman Katko for his continued dedication to both Fort Ontario and Oswego County. I am honored to join him as an original co-sponsor of the Fort Ontario Study Act, one of the first bills I co-sponsored as a member of Congress,” said Rep. Claudia Tenney. “This important piece of legislation will begin the process of advancing this local landmark to National Park status and further develop the unique and rich history of Fort Ontario. It is vital that we work closely alongside our community to protect and preserve Fort Ontario, which we are honored to have in our backyard.”

“We are grateful to Congressman Katko for his unwavering support of the efforts to advance the designation of Safe Haven and Fort Ontario to National Park Status and we look forward to working with the Congressman and his colleagues in the Senate to bring this legislation to fruition,” said Kevin Hill, President for Safe Haven Holocaust Refugee Shelter.  “As the only shelter in the United States for European refugees of the Holocaust, it is imperative that we do everything in our power to keep alive the story of the Fort Ontario refugees and to preserve this important piece of history for future generations.”

David Turner, Director of Oswego County Community Development, Tourism & Planning, stated, “Oswego County is blessed with a rich history of people and places that have significantly contributed to the development of our country.  Fort Ontario and the Safe Haven story are two of the most unique among a long list that are related to many of our nations internal and external struggles to form and maintain a government of and for the people. We already receive visitors from around the world as a result of our many natural, historic and cultural assets, so recognition of these two by the federal government is a fitting tribute.  We look forward to working closer with our partners at the National Park Service as this project moves forward.

“The foundation of the ideals that the United States was created from are centered in the history of Fort Ontario and the Safe Haven Museum. The sacrifices and the passion for the truths we hold true have been part of the experiences and events that have taken place here at this location. We owe it to generations to come to preserve what happened here for all Americans and the world to know the essence of the American experience. We encourage the passage of this legislation to raise the standing of Fort Ontario and the Safe Haven Museum to that of a US National Park,” said Jeffrey Grimshaw, Chair of the Fort Ontario National Landmark Committee.

“On behalf of the Oswego Fort Ontario refugees and their families, I want to extend our deepest thanks to Congressman Katko and the House of Representatives for their recognition of these brave people who suffered horribly under the Nazi regime during the Holocaust before they arrived to the safety of our shores and a life in America,” said Judy Coe Rapaport, Past President and Board Member for Safe Haven Holocaust Refugee Shelter.

“Approving this Bill will not only honor Oswego and the State of New York but will affirm the principles of humanity which the United States and those who came before us have always stood for; which we must continue.  A reason why we all came to this country, a reason why we live in and love this Country,” said Chris Mensah, Secretary to the Governing Council at UNHABITAT.

Oswego County Clerk Mike Backus stated, “Fort Ontario and Safe Haven are so deserving of recognition and I am thrilled to see the hard work of Rep. Katko and so many others beginning to pay off.”

“Congressman Katko has consistently been a huge supporter of Fort Ontario,” said Oswego Mayor Billy Barlow. “To see all of his hard work and dedication come to fruition today is extremely exciting and a great day for all of Oswego.  All those who work and volunteer at Fort Ontario and Safe Haven should be exceptionally proud of the work we’ve all accomplishment and we are thankful to have a partner in Congressman Katko to help us with this endeavor.”

Congressman John Katko represents the 24th Congressional District, which includes all of Onondaga, Cayuga, and Wayne Counties and the western portion of Oswego County.  For more information, please visit https://katko.house.gov or www.facebook.com/RepJohnKatko.

6/15/2016 – Katko Legislation to Advance Designation of Fort Ontario, Safe Haven to National Park Status Heads to House Floor for Vote

WASHINGTON, D.C. – This morning, legislation introduced by U.S. Representative JohnKatko (NY-24), H.R. 4202, the Fort Ontario Study Act, was unanimously approved by the House Committee on Natural Resources.  The bill advances the designation of Fort Ontario and the Safe Haven Holocaust Refugee Shelter Museum in Oswego towards National Park status.

Today’s full committee approval comes less than a month after Representative Katko delivered testimony in support of his legislation before the Committee on Natural Resources Subcommittee on Federal Lands.  The bill now advances to the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives for a vote.

“This legislation takes the first step in preserving the legacy of a historic gem in our community.  Fort Ontario has been involved in nearly every war from the French and Indian War through WWII, with Safe Haven providing shelter to over 980 refugees during World War II,” said Representative Katko.  “This historic site already draws visitors from across the nation and its designation as a National Park would preserve the history of this site and continue to boost our region’s growing tourism-based economy.”

Katko’s legislation would commission a special resource study of Fort Ontario to evaluate the site’s national significance and determine the suitability of its designation as a part of the National Park system.  This study is a prerequisite for receiving National Park designation.

Over the course of the past several months, individuals from across Oswego County have worked to organize local support for the designation of the 260 year old Fort Ontario and the Safe Haven Holocaust Refugee Shelter Museum as a National Park.  As a part of these efforts, Rep. Katko has visited the Fort on several occasions, met individually with a cross-section of his constituents in the area surrounding the Fort, and took part in an information and rally event to raise community awareness for this project.

Congressman John Katko represents the 24th Congressional District, which includes all of Onondaga, Cayuga, and Wayne Counties and the western portion of Oswego County.  For more information, please visit https://katko.house.gov or www.facebook.com/RepJohnKatko.

6/3/2016 – Safe Haven Holocaust Refugee Shelter Museum Hosts Open House

OSWEGO, NY- Safe Haven Holocaust Refugee Shelter Museum will host an Open House on Sunday, June 19, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.  In recognition of World Refugee Day, June 20, we will honor the spirit and courage of the millions of refugees around the world.

The Safe Haven Museum is dedicated to keeping alive the stories of 982 refugees that survived Hitler’s tyranny during World War II. This was the only refugee shelter on American soil for victims of the Holocaust. The museum highlights their journey to Oswego, their life at the shelter, and the choice of many of them to remain in the United States after the war.

The second annual “Ralph M. Faust Humanitarian Award” will be presented that day at a ceremony at 1 p.m. Laurence “Sparky” Rector, recipient, is a retired teacher, coach and athletic director from Mexico Academy and Central School district. Serving in the United States Army in World War II, Rector participated in the operation to liberate the Dachau concentration camp in Germany in April 1945.

The award will also be given to Dr. Sandra Bargainner of DeWitt, the chairman of SUNY Oswego’s Department of Health Promotion and Wellness. Bargainner and her family have hosted a Congolese refugee, a student at Fowler High School. She became a mentor and advocate for that student and several other African refugees in the Syracuse area who are friends of the student.

These recipients represent advocates for the plight of refugees past and present.

The Safe Haven Holocaust Refugee Shelter Museum is located at 2 East Seventh Street, Oswego. Admission is free both Saturday and Sunday, June 18 and 19. For more information contact George DeMass at 420-0000.

5/24/2016 – KATKO ELEVATES DISCUSSION IN WASHINGTON ON FORT ONTARIO, SAFE HAVEN

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Representative John Katko (NY-24) today delivered testimony at a legislative hearing held by the House Committee on Natural Resources Subcommittee on Federal Lands in support of legislation that he has introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives which would advance the designation of Fort Ontario and the Safe Haven Holocaust Refugee Shelter Museum in Oswego to National Park status.

Video of Representative Katko’s testimony can be found here.  His remarks, as prepared for delivery, are below:

I want to thank the Chairman for putting this hearing together and allowing me to speak on my bill, H.R. 4202, the Fort Ontario Study Act.

Overlooking the beautiful shores of Lake Ontario, Fort Ontario stands as a testament to the great history of Central New York and the important role the region has played in our nation’s history from the French and Indian War through World War II. 

Serving first as a military installation during the French and Indian War, the Revolutionary War, and the War of 1812, Fort Ontario went on to be strengthened during the Civil War and utilized as a hospital camp during World War I.

In 1944, President Franklin D. Roosevelt declared Fort Ontario as an Emergency Refugee Camp.  From 1944 to 1946, Fort Ontario served as the nation’s only Emergency Refugee Camp, providing shelter to over 980 refugees during World War II. In recognition of the Fort’s use as a refugee shelter, primarily for Jews fleeing Hitler’s Europe, the site also hosts the Safe Haven Holocaust Refugee Shelter Museum. 

Following World War II, the Fort was transferred to the State of New York to house war veterans and their families until 1953.  Fort Ontario, now a New York Historic Site and listed on the National Register of Historic Places, draws residents of New York and visitors from across the nation to experience the rich history of the Fort and the Safe Haven Holocaust Refugee Shelter Museum.

After visiting Fort Ontario and the Safe Haven Holocaust Refugee Shelter Museum, meeting with the community of Oswego, New York which has rallied behind the 260 year old Fort, and witnessing the tremendous history being preserved and passed on, I introduced H.R. 4202, the Fort Ontario Study Act.  This legislation would commission a special resource study of Fort Ontario to evaluate the site’s national significance and determine the suitability of its designation as a part of the National Park system.  Preserving this historic location as a National Park will not only preserve the rich history but has the potential to grow tourism and boost the regional economy of Central New York. 

I appreciate the opportunity to speak today to advocate for the preservation of Fort Ontario and the Safe Haven Holocaust Refugee Shelter Museum, irreplaceable and unparalleled pieces of our nation’s history and the fabric of Central New York.

Over the course of the past several months, individuals from across Oswego County have worked to organize local support for the designation of the 260 year old Fort Ontario and the Safe Haven Holocaust Refugee Shelter Museum as a National Park.  As part of these efforts, Rep. Katko has visited the Fort on several occasions, met individually with a cross-section of his constituents in the area surrounding the Fort, and took part in an information and rally event to raise community awareness for this project.

 Congressman John Katko represents the 24th Congressional District, which includes all of Onondaga, Cayuga, and Wayne Counties and the western portion of Oswego County.  For more information, please visit  https://katko.house.gov or www.facebook.com/RepJohnKatko.


12/7/2015 – First Day Hike at Fort Ontario: Friends of Fort Ontario will host a First Day Hike around the Fort Ontario National Register District on Friday, January 1, beginning at 10:00 AM.  The event is part of a nationwide initiative to encourage all to begin the New Year by rejuvenating and connecting with the outdoors.  Historic Site Manager Paul Lear will lead the 2.5 mile family and dog friendly hike which will proceed at a moderate pace.  The free public hike will begin inside the old stone fortification.

A hike highlight will be a lap in the footsteps of history around the fort’s historic cinder track where 1936 Berlin Olympics half-mile Gold medalist John Woodruff ran while serving in the all black 369th Anti-Aircraft-Artillery Regiment (“Harlem Hellfighters”).  During Woodruff’s service at Fort Ontario, fellow 1936 Berlin Olympics gold medalist Jesse Owens visited and ran with him on the track.  The 1940-41 conversion and training of the 369th from an infantry regiment to a more technologically sophisticated Anti-Aircraft Artillery regiment at Fort Ontario is considered a milestone in the Civil Rights movement; the change marked the beginning of the end of limiting African-American troops to unskilled labor roles and racial segregation of the U.S. Army.

Hikers, including well-mannered dogs on leashes, are advised to dress appropriately for conditions more “invigorating” than inland locations.  Fort Ontario State Historic Site is located at the north end of East 4th Street in the City of Oswego, New York.  For more information on Fort Ontario contact Paul Lear at [Paul.Lear@parks.ny.gov], or visit [www.fortontario.com].

Hike in the footsteps of history and the 1937 Headquarters Company, 212th Coast Artillery Anti-Aircraft at Fort Ontario on January 1st during the 10 AM 2016 First Day Hike at Fort Ontario State Historic Site. While the 2nd Battalion, 28th U.S. Infantry Regiment was away on summer maneuvers and training, National Guard Coast and Anti-Aircraft Artillery units occupied Fort Ontario and trained nearby along the shore of Lake Ontario.
Hike in the footsteps of history and the 1937 Headquarters Company, 212th Coast Artillery Anti-Aircraft at Fort Ontario on January 1st during the 10 AM 2016 First Day Hike at Fort Ontario State Historic Site. While the 2nd Battalion, 28th U.S. Infantry Regiment was away on summer maneuvers and training, National Guard Coast and Anti-Aircraft Artillery units occupied Fort Ontario and trained nearby along the shore of Lake Ontario.
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The 444th Engineer Company, 479th Engineer Battalion, USAR, occupies a Reserve Center and carries on a 260 year old history of military occupation of the 75 acre Fort Ontario National Register District. Military ceremonies and memorial services for fallen unit members of the 444th are still conducted on the parade ground of the historic stone fortification.

12/10/2015 – FOLLOWING COMMUNITY RALLY, REP. JOHN KATKO INTRODUCES LEGISLATION TO ELEVATE FORT ONTARIO, SAFE HAVEN TO NATIONAL PARK STATUS – Katko, Hanna: Designation Has Potential to Boost Tourism, Grow Regional Economy

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Representative John Katko (NY-24) today introduced legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives which will advance the designation of Fort Ontario and the Safe Haven Holocaust Refugee Shelter Museum in Oswego to National Park status.  U.S. Representative Richard Hanna (NY-22), whose district also includes a portion of Oswego County, joined Rep. Katko as an original co-sponsor in the introduction of this legislation today.

Fort Ontario is one of our state’s — and our nation’s — greatest and most unique historical assets.  In fact, it is the only Fort that has been involved in every war since the French and Indian war,” said U.S. Rep. John Katko.  “Preserving this historic location as a National Park has the potential to grow tourism and boost the regional economy of not only Oswego County, but all of Central New York.”

“I am pleased to cosponsor this bill to promote our proud upstate New York history,” U.S. Rep. Richard Hanna said.“It is important to recognize our historical assets and to do so in a way that promotes and encourages tourism for our region.  I look forward to the results of this comprehensive study to determine how to best preserve and protect Fort Ontario.”

Over the course of the past several months, individuals from across Oswego County have worked to organize local support for the designation of the 260 year old Fort Ontario and the Safe Haven Holocaust Refugee Shelter Museum as a National Park.  As a part of these efforts, Rep. Katko has visited the Fort on several occasions, met individually with a cross-section of his constituents in the area surrounding the Fort, and took part in an information and rally event to raise community awareness for this project.

Judy Rapaport, Advisory Board Member for Safe Haven and Past President said, “Ever since its inception, Safe Haven Museum has been struggling to tell the story as the only refugee shelter for victims of the Holocaust during WWII.  The initiative to begin the study for National Park status will help achieve that goal. I want to thank Congressman Katko for his critical role in this process.”

“Fort Ontario and the Fort Ontario Refugee Shelter have been the sites of significant national and international events,” saidNew York State Assemblyman Will Barclay (120th District).  “I am pleased to support this effort that would give the Fort and Oswego the recognition it deserves for having been home to many important battles, treatment centers for military and civilian victims of the Spanish Influenza and, of course, the only refugee shelter in the U.S. for victims of the Holocaust.  This site is of local, state, federal, and international significance and deserves to be recognized as such and I commend Congressman Katko for his efforts in this regard.”

“Protecting and preserving our history is a central function of my job as Oswego County Clerk.  I am thrilled that Congressman Katko has introduced legislation to make Fort Ontario a National Park.  We know locally the treasure that is Fort Ontario and this designation will help boost our recreational tourism so that we can share Fort Ontario with the rest of the nation,” said Oswego County Clerk Mike Backus.

“I want to thank Congressman Katko for all his efforts and commitment to the City of Oswego and spearheading the movement to make Fort Ontario a National Park,” stated Oswego Mayor Thomas Gillen. “His successful leadership will create a major economic engine for the growth of the entire Central New York Community.”

Oswego Mayor-elect Billy Barlow said, “Fort Ontario is undoubtedly one of our greatest assets in the City of Oswego and I am ecstatic with Congressman Katko’s ambitious effort to promote Fort Ontario as not only a regional attraction but a National Attraction, so that Fort Ontario and all of the City of Oswego can be recognized and marketed as a desirable destination.”

Congressman John Katko represents the 24th Congressional District, which includes all of Onondaga, Cayuga, and Wayne Counties and the western portion of Oswego County.  For more information, please visit https://katko.house.gov or www.facebook.com/RepJohnKatko.