An Adventure through New York’s 1000 Islands, Part 2: Oswego and Harborfest

Ontario Orchards, family-owned and run for 50 years

Ontario Orchards, family-owned and run for 50 years

This is the second part in Laura Pedrick’s series exploring New York’s 1000 Islands region. Check out part 1 here, part 3 here, part 4 here, and part 5 here.

To Oswego and Oswego Orchards
We begin our 1000 Island tour by exploring some notable places in Oswego, a city overlooking Lake Ontario. First stop is Ontario Orchards, a 45-minute drive from Syracuse. Celebrating their 50th year as owners of this farm and market, the Oulette family offers four seasons worth of locally grown produce, home-baked goods from their on-site bakery, a cider mill, 90 acres of U-pick apples, and 30 acres of Christmas trees.

Celebrating their 50th year as a family-owned farm and farm market, the Oulette family offers four seasons of locally grown produce, home-baked goods from their on-site bakery, a cider mill, 90 acres of U-pick apples, and 30 acres of Christmas trees; owner Dennis Oulette, shown here, was six-years-old when his parents opened the operation

Owner Dennis Oulette of Ontario Orchards

Open 12 months a year and seven days a week, and closed only on Christmas—it’s almost impossible to walk out of there with less than a full bag of goodies any time of year.

Tunnel leading to five-pointed-star-shaped encampment that dates to the 1840s

Tunnel leading to five-pointed-star-shaped encampment that dates to the 1840s

Fort Ontario
Our next stop, not more than 15 minutes away, is Fort Ontario. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, it’s perched above Lake Ontario and it sits on the east side of the Oswego River. Originally erected by the British in 1755, the fort features walls built and torn down several times (French and Indian War, Revolutionary War and War of 1812), but as it stands now, it’s a five-pointed-star-shaped fort encampment that dates to the 1840s. On this particular Friday morning, there are but a couple families touring the neatly kept, 30-acre site, making it easy to envision Civil War soldiers strolling about the place. Thirteen-year-old volunteer Joshua Evans, dressed as a Union soldier, helps that vision come alive.

The Safe Haven Holocaust Refugee Shelter Museum was built on the site of the one and only refugee camp during WWII

The Safe Haven Holocaust Refugee Shelter Museum was built on the site of the one and only refugee camp during WWII

Safe Haven Holocaust Refugee Shelter Museum
Situated a short walk from the encampment is the Safe Haven Holocaust Refugee Shelter Museum ($5 for adults). It was built on the site of an internment camp for mainly Jewish refugees escaping the Nazi holocaust during WWII. An executive order given by President Roosevelt gave these 982 residents safe haven from 1944-1946. 

At the Safe Haven Holocaust Refugee Shelter Museum, a lively exhibit brings alive the stories of Jewish refugees who stayed at the one and only refugee camp during WWII

At the Safe Haven Holocaust Refugee Shelter Museum, a lively exhibit brings alive the stories of Jewish refugees who stayed at the one and only refugee camp during WWII

As we enter the building, two departing parties rave to us about the exhibit. And it’s true: The stories told through photographs, artifacts, documents, and recorded sounds paint a vivid picture of what that experience was like for those families. The museum is currently seeking status as a National Historic Landmark as it was the one and only refugee center created during WWII. As it’s an important part of our national history, I highly recommend visiting this site.

Rudy's Lakeside Drive-In: Its best feature is the outdoor seating and the view of Lake Ontario

Rudy’s Lakeside Drive-In: Its best feature is the outdoor seating and the view of Lake Ontario

Our lunch at Rudy's Lakeside Drive-In

Our lunch at Rudy’s Lakeside Drive-In

Lunch at Rudy’s Lakeside Drive-In
After a morning of civics and history lessons, beckoning us now are the nearby blue waters of Lake Ontario and the promise of a great lunch at Rudy’s Lakeside Drive-In. A simple, doublewide-trailer-like structure, this place has served locals and visitors since 1946.

It’s organized chaos at its best: Customers line up along the long counter and vie for the attention of anyone who’ll take their order. The outdoor seating is its best feature, with views looking out at the expanse of Lake Ontario while eating favorites like: Texas Hots ($3.24), fried clams, fried haddock ($8.99), and fried pickles ($3.45). Yep, lots of fried stuff, but it’s an experience that folks dream about during the offseason (it’s open from May through October).

What was originally the office to a large grain silo on a pier is now the home of the H. Lee White Marine Museum

What was originally the office to a large grain silo on a pier is now the home of the H. Lee White Marine Museum

H. Lee White Maritime Museum
The 28-year-old Oswego tradition known as Harborfest—an annual four-day/night free-admission festival featuring the work of local artisans, carnival rides, live music, and foods of all kind—looms, but first, we first we pay a visit to the H. Lee White Maritime Museum.

H. Lee White Marine Museum is the current home for WWII tugboat, the LT-5

H. Lee White Marine Museum is the current home for WWII tugboat, the LT-5

Situated on a pier overlooking the Oswego Harbor, the museum features recovered sunken maritime artifacts, exhibits colorfully illustrating the history of shipping in the Oswego Harbor, and is the current home of WWII tugboat, the LT-5, a National Historic Landmark, one of the few remaining US Army vessels from the Normandy Landings. 

Harborfest!
No longer able to resist the smell of cotton candy and kettle corn wafting across the harbor, we head for Harborfest. I’ll let the photos and their captions replay the experience:

Harborfest, an annual four-day festival featuring the work of local artisans, carnival rides and games, live music, and food of all kinds

Harborfest, in Oswego Harbor

And:

Our friend Travis tries a local festival favorite: fried Oreos!

Our friend Travis tries a local festival favorite: fried Oreos!

And:

Dancing at Harborfest

Dancing at Harborfest

A full, wonderful and very fried-heavy experience.

Sun setting on outdoor deck of GS Steamer's Bar & Grill

Sun setting on outdoor deck of GS Steamer’s Bar & Grill

Dinner at GS Steamers Bar & Grill
Capping the end of a full-journeyed day is an open-air dinner on the deck of GS Steamers Bar & Grill. From beneath a canopy, our view is of the sun setting beyond Oswego Harbor and the festival sites below. Food highlights include: salmon & mango salsa, haddock platter and beef tenderloin tips (all entrees reasonably priced under $23).

What was once Altmar's elementary school has been repurposed as the Tailwater Lodge

What was once Altmar’s elementary school has been repurposed as the Tailwater Lodge

For the night: Tailwater Lodge
After dark we leave Oswego and head east for an hour’s drive to Altmar, a small town known for its spectacular trout fishing on the 17-mile Salmon River. We overnight at the Tailwater Lodge, a repurposed building that was once the town’s elementary school. Though some of the hallways had me imagining end-of-class bells, the overall feel of the place was convincingly ranch-rustic and upscale.

Laura’s adventure through New York’s 1000 Islands region continues here.

Laura Pedrick

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About the Author

Laura Pedrick
Laura is a photojournalist who for most of her career has been assigned to cover New Jersey for The New York Times. Stories have included the Statehouse, political campaigns, and a wide range of hard news and features for all sections of the paper, including the Travel section. More recently she has focused on clients in the healthcare industry and education. She lives in Titusville, NJ, with her daughter and sometimes assistant, Lana. And oh yeah, has known Johnny Jet (dare she say it) since he was in diapers and is excited to be working for him as one of his latest contributors!

1 Comment on "An Adventure through New York’s 1000 Islands, Part 2: Oswego and Harborfest"

  1. Justin Carnett | October 7, 2015 at 5:06 am | Reply

    Thanks for the post! I could refrain from leaving a comment after I saw fried Oreos! This is very, very tasty! Besides, I want you to know that I’ve revealed so awesome application for travellers called well-way.com where you can crete your own trip map by yourself for a single minutes! Every true traveller MUST try this.

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