Museums in Oswego County where you can learn more in 2024
January 1, 2024
With the new year comes resolutions. Some people aim to be more organized, exercise more, or eat healthier. But I have some other ideas for you. Travel more. Shop local more often than not. Learn more. Explore your hometown as if you were a tourist. And there is no better place to start than in Upstate New York. Start your new year off right by visiting some of these museums in Oswego County. Learn about all the interesting local history and get to know your community better.
Children’s Museum Of Oswego
Since I first brought some of my “nieces” and “nephews” to the Children’s Museum Of Oswego (CMOO), it has become a hit among my friends with young kids. So many people I know have told me they have brought their little ones to the museum. And that their kids loved it. For good reason; it is the best museum I’ve ever visited that is catered to younger children.
It’s best for the littlest ones, from roughly 1-2 until 6-7 years old. Kids will start to age out of the exhibits once they are in school full time.
Admission to CMOO is affordable, too, at just $11 per kid and $10 per adult. CMOO also participates in Museums for All, so EBT card holders can get in for just $3 per person (up to 4 family members).
Interactive & Educational Exhibits
At the beginning of the museum is a truly epic water table. It is designed to model the Oswego Harbor and even has a small lighthouse in the middle. The table is big enough to have at least ten to fifteen kids playing there at the same time. And one of my favorite parts? There was a big (two-story tall) cloud over one corner of the table. When you go upstairs, the kids can climb through the cloud and simulate wind tunnels. Since Oswego is so affected by the weather, it’s a great learning opportunity for the kids.
Upstairs, the museum has a multitude of exhibits, many of which are sponsored by local businesses in Oswego. Throughout the exhibits, kids pretend to be firefighters, shop at a food market, cook meals, ride race cars, act as dentists, and so much more.
For the older kids, there is a treehouse to climb with a play area for toddlers only at the tree’s ground level. Since each exhibit is both interactive and educational, kids have a lot of fun AND learn quite a bit too.
Sensory-Friendly Visiting Hours
One of the things that impressed me the most about CMOO is that they offer monthly sensory-friendly hours. During that time, children who benefit from accommodations can enjoy the museum without the stress and anxiety they might typically experience. The number of visitors is limited, sounds are turned down, and flashing lights are turned off. Sound-canceling headphones are available to use (and are also available during regular hours). Each child can bring one guardian with them at no cost. Pre-registration for sensory-friendly hours is required.
Located on the southern shores of Lake Ontario, Fort Ontario carries both a legacy and proud history. Thousands of soldiers and refugees lived there, both when it was active and after. Having seen the front lines of several battles, the fort took a lot of damage over the years and was continuously rebuilt. Interestingly, both British and American troops held the fort over time. The fort even served as a refuge for victims during the Holocaust. So this year, make a point to take a trip to Fort Ontario in Oswego to learn about its incredible history.
Visitors to Fort Ontario can relive history while walking the grounds and stepping inside the historic buildings. Explore the barracks that the soldiers lived in. Visit the mess hall and envision what a meal for the troops would have been like in the 1800s. Go underground in the casemates and peek out the cannon windows. Step inside the officer headquarters. Look inside the gunpowder room that held the artillery. Discover artifacts from the fort’s history. But most importantly, learn about the incredible history that took place at Fort Ontario over multiple centuries.
Plus, one of the best parts about visiting the fort is the live reenactions and knowledgeable tour guides. Both staff and volunteer adorn period-appropriate clothing and love to answer questions you have during your visit. My favorite part? Asking one of the soldiers to shoot his musket. Just be warned – it’s quite loud!
Seeing that Oswego is located along the shores of Lake Ontario, it is no surprise that the water access was crucial to the development of the city. That history is honored at the H. Lee White Maritime Museum.
The museum is named after Oswego-native H. Lee White, a lawyer who studied at Hamilton College and Cornell University. During World War II, he joined the US Navy as a Lieutenant and was later discharged as a Commander. During the 1950s, White served as Assistant Secretary of the Air Force.
Today, the H. Lee White Maritime Museum holds over 4,000 artifacts relating to Oswego’s maritime history. One of the most interesting pieces is the original light from Oswego Lighthouse. When the lighthouse was first built, it contained a fourth order Fresnel Lens that could be seen for 17 miles. In 1968, the Fresnel Lens was replaced with LED light rings. At that point lighthouse keepers were no longer required to operate the station.
While the museum is open all year long, if you visit in the summer you can also do a tour of the Oswego Lighthouse. Admission to both is combined for one low price.
Pratt House Museum
Located in Fulton, the J. W. Pratt House Museum is one of the most historic buildings in town. Built in 1861, the house was recently restored to show what the facilities were like in the late 19th century. In 2000, the building was added to the state and national registers of historic places.
Now, the museum is run by the Friends of History in Fulton with a mission to preserve and showcase local history. Several events are held throughout the year. Most notably there is the Hunter Arms Homecoming Weekend in the summer and the Parade of Trees in the winter. Occasionally the museum also hosts living history tours where the past comes back to life.
Richardson-Bates House Museum
Like the Pratt House Museum, the Richard-Bates House Museum was once the home to a prominent Oswegoan and has since turned into a museum honoring local history. This Italian-style villa was built in the mid-1800s for Maxwell B. Richardson, two-time mayor of Oswego. The home was passed down through generations until it was donated to the Oswego County Historical Society along with 90% of its contents. This makes the Richardson-Bates House once of the most true-to-original house museums in the entire state.
The museum is host to several events throughout the year, and even has its own tales of hauntings. Visitors are welcome between April and December of each year and guided tours are available.
Tucked away in a corner of Fort Ontario in Oswego, New York, you’ll find the only World War 2 Refugee Shelter in the United States. The unassuming restored gate house is Safe Haven, a museum dedicated to the lives and history of the 982 refugees who were saved from persecution. While the initiative was started with the best intentions, the operation had a rocky journey through its history. But their lives and stories live on through the help of the local community. Learn all about the US’s efforts to aid refugees when you visit Safe Haven in Oswego.
Starr Clark Tin Shop & Underground Railroad Museum
Originally built in 1827 as the town mercantile, the tin shop saw a lot of change in its history of nearly 200 years. When Starr Clark and his wife Harriet came to town, the shop was transformed into a tin shop, where Starr was able to create goods that the town needed. In addition, it served as the post office, where townsfolk could send and receive their mail.
Starr Clark worked in the tin shop from 1832 until 1867. After his death, the building saw new life as a tavern and a boarding house before its eventual restoration. Starr Clark Tin Shop was added to the National Register of Historic Places in May 2002. In 2010, renovations began to restore the tin shop to its original grandeur.
The tin shop now stands as a museum dedicated to the Underground Railroad and its history in Mexico, New York. Visitors to the museum today can see the original wooden floors, plank walls, and ceiling beams. The artifacts that are on display have all been donated by the community. The second floor of the building showcases other history from the town, including a unique display honoring model Audrey Munson.