News & Events

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.