Central New York is an area that is rich in history.
One place that history can be seen firsthand is Oswego’s H. Lee White Maritime Museum.
The museum, which opened in June of 1982, is celebrating its 40th anniversary. It was started by Rosemary Nesbitt, a former theatre professor at SUNY Oswego and city historian.
“There was a group in town that really was trying to protect, preserve and highlight the history of the area,” said Mercedes Niess, executive director of the museum. “They had collected maritime artifacts, and said, ‘Ok, where are we going to put this stuff?’ So, they looked over here at this building, which was not being used quite as much. The Port Authority owns the building, and they had the machine shop, and repairs, and offices here (there also used to be a grain elevator about 25 feet from us that was taken down in 1998 because the grain industry at that time wasn’t really stopping in Oswego). So, she started the museum with the first three rooms upstairs and then just took over the whole building.”
Today, the museum includes a variety of indoor exhibits, covering topics such as the early days of shipping, the Civil War, shipwrecks, World War II, lighthouses, and the museum’s namesake, H. Lee White. Until September, visitors can also check out a special exhibit about Oswego Harborfest. There is a lot to see, and I learned a lot.
Afterwards, head outside to view the museum’s historic vessels: LT-5, a World War II tugboat (National Historic Landmark); Derrick Boat 8, a 1927 canal barge (National Register of Historic Places); and Eleanor D, which Niess said was “the last U.S. commercial fishing boat on Lake Ontario.” If you’re lucky, there may also be a cargo ship parked next to the museum (Oswego is still a working port). There was the day I visited!
Niess said there are a few things that make the museum unique.
“For one thing, we are the only maritime museum on the U.S. side of Lake Ontario,” she said. “And then the other part is we are located in the oldest freshwater port in the country. The history of this area, this region, connecting with how our country developed in the 1600s, 1700s and 1800s, a lot of it is based out of here. What makes us a little different from even the other Great Lakes is that we’re situated on the barge canal system, the Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor, so we’re the connecting point here. That’s pretty amazing, I think.
If You Go
H. Lee White Maritime Museum
Where: 1 W. First St., Oswego.
When: Daily, from 1-5 p.m. In July and August, the museum has extended hours (10 a.m.-5 p.m.).
More information: (315) 342-0480. hlwmm.org.