Walking around the Major Elisha K. Henson, a U.S. Army tugboat from World War II, you’re struck by how crowded it is. Walking around the H. Lee White Marine Museum in Oswego, you’re struck by how spacious it is.
The Henson is berthed alongside the White Museum in Oswego, which got its start as a port city. Located where the Oswego River flows into Lake Ontario, the city has long been a maritime center, and that’s what the White Museum celebrates.
The museum covers two floors and includes a replica of a captain’s quarters on a ship, Indian canoes, a large light from a lighthouse, dozens of photographs and paintings relating to Great Lakes history, a ship’s steering wheel and numerous other ship-related items.
The number of ships berthed on the pier that holds the museum varies. The day we visited, there was the OMF Ontario, a modern version of a mid-19th century lake schooner. The 85-foot-long vessel, built between 1988 and 1994, is now used as a training ship.
Schooners such as the OMF Ontario were common on the Great Lakes until the late 19th century, when their capability of transporting coal, lumber, grain and other materials was outstripped by railroads and steamboats.
The Eleanor D, the last commercial fishing boat to be active on Lake Ontario, is in dry dock and being restored to its original condition.
The Henson is an LT-5 Army boat that saw action at Normandy on D-Day. The boat – by tradition, any vessel on the Great Lakes is called a boat, not a ship, regardless of size – was used to tow barges carrying equipment and supplies, not soldiers, during the Normandy invasion.
After the war, the Henson was assigned to the Army Corps of Engineers on the Great Lakes and helped to build the St. Lawrence Seaway. It was renamed the John F. Nash. But now it belongs to the White Museum, which restored it to its World War II condition, and has been renamed to its original name, the Major Elisha K. Henson. It can be toured if you visit the museum before the end of September.
Everything inside the 115-foot-long boat, technically a tugboat, is crowded: the passageways, the sleeping quarters, the head. Everything. Walking around the boat gives you a small idea of what life must have been like for those assigned to the Henson.
On June 9, 1944, three days after the D-Day invasion commenced, the Henson shot down a German plane. A small picture of a plane and a swastika on the smokestack attest to the fact. The guns on the Henson today are wooden replicas.
Among the prized possessions of the museum are paintings by Frank Kraft, George Gray, James G. Tyler and Albert Adams, showing various maritime scenes.
And of course there’s a gift shop where you can buy books, coffee mugs, post cards, and lots of other gift shop stuff.
Admission is $7 for adults, $3 for teenagers, and free for anyone 12 and younger. The museum is open year-round from 1 to 5 p.m. seven days a week. Boats are available for touring until the end of September.
If you go
Take I-90 east to Exit 40. Take Route 34 north until you reach Route 104. Take 104 east. It becomes Bridge Street, which is the main street in Oswego. Take Bridge Street to First Street, turn left. Take First as far north as it will go, which is four blocks, and continue straight ahead onto the pier. The H. Lee White Marine Museum is on the pier. Parking is free. If you’re using a GPS system, the address for the museum is 1 W. First St.