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NSG Visit August 4, 2007

Fort Ontario and Richardson-Bates House

Oswego New York


Donovan A. Shilling

Our trek to Oswego was taken on Saturday, August 4, 2007. A small, but enthusiastic group of members of the New Society of the Genesee were warmly welcomed to the two historic sites in this colorful lake port city. Through the diligent planning and direction of Gerry Muhl, little difficulty was had in locating Fort Oswego at the end of East Fourth Street. There Jennie Amens, one of the Fort Ontario State Historic Site's guides, led us through the restored buildings. Built in 1783 on a bluff overlooking and fortifying the mouth of the Oswego River, the fort has served both English and American military forces for several centuries.

Fort Ontario

We learned that Oswego gained its name from the Iroquois Indian word, "Osh-we-geh, meaning "pouring out place." The British maintained control of Fort Ontario until 1796, well after the American Revolution was won. A fifteen star flag was raised when the Americans finally took possession of the fort.

Most notable today are the restored buildings representing the era from 1868-1872 following the Civil War. During his period Captain Kirkpatrick commanded the fort garrisoned by the fifty-nine men of Company F, 42nd Infantry Regiment, Veterans Reserve Corps. Jeanne Amens provided our group with an extensive explanation of the furnishings and life within the Officers' and Enlisted Men's quarters. We also toured around the powder magazine and then were led into the great stone-lined interior of one five bastions built to defend the fort. For those interested in our early military heritage Fort Ontario is well worth the experience.

Lunch was greatly enjoyed at Coleman's Irish Pub on the banks of the Oswego River, Lake Ontario's entrance to the Erie Canal. The fare was both traditional and satisfying. Following lunch we traveled to 135 East Third Street, site of the Richardson-Bates House Museum. This remarkable Tuscan Villa Style mansion, built between 1872 and 1890, was the home of Maxwell Richardson a real estate attorney and twice mayor of Oswego. What's so amazing about its interior is that ninety-five percent of its original Victorian furnishings can still be seen as well as classic paintings and photos of its former owners.

Led by its sole care-taker and interpreter, Terry Prior, we were given a most rewarding tour of the home with an in depth history of Max and Naomi Richardson's life and heirs. Terry also went into detail discussing the lives of the mansion's second owners, Harriet, Norman and cousin Sally Bates. Most notable in the mansion's entry hall is the 1100 lb, fifteen foot high hallstand and grooming mirror. Upstairs the home holds a research library, a billiard room and showcases holding many of Oswego County's historical treasures. (30,000 artifacts, photographs and documents) Some of these are neatly exhibited in three history galleries that occupy former bedrooms.

This is but a brief account of this opulent home. It can only be truly appreciated by a visit to die home where history, art, education and Victorian splendor are to be seen together under its roof. We thank Jeanne Amens, Terry Prior and Gerry Muhl for making this another well spent Saturday immersed in local history.

© 2007, Donovan A. Shilling
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