When Mercedes Niess moved to Oswego in 1990, she didn’t anticipate becoming enamored with the depth of history that lies within Central New York. But as she began volunteering at the H. Lee White Maritime Museum, she discovered a newfound passion. Little did she know, she had found what would be her new ‘home’ for the next 30 years.
“Originally being from Long Island, I always loved being near the water any time of the year,” said Niess. “The Museum was right on the harbor of Lake Ontario and I immediately fell in love with the organization and the area.”
Oswego’s harbor is the oldest freshwater port in the United States. The Museum, established in 1982, tells the unique story of the region’s early settlement and development through exhibits of artifacts and vessels. Visitors can learn about the history of Lake Ontario and its connecting waterways, and tour the historic vessels at its dock.
As Niess progressively gained more responsibilities at the museum over the years, first as associate director and later as executive director, she found that the proverbial waters were getting murky as growing external financial challenges arose.
“Our vision has always been to creatively engage and inspire the community through educational, cultural and innovative experiences,” said Niess. “As a small organization, we recognized that in order to continue our vision, we’d need to make a change.”
With the encouragement of the Port of Oswego Authority, the organization decided to pool its resources and develop collaborative partnerships with the Oswego Maritime Foundation and the Oswego Maritime Alliance. With both organizations exhibiting a shared passion for preserving the maritime history of Oswego and offer on-water experiences, Niess realized there was great benefit to becoming one cohesive entity.
A Strategic Partnership grant from the Community Foundation assisted the museum with the legal and consulting expenses associated with the consolidation. The resulting partnership gave the Museum the ability to expand its offerings to further develop cultural heritage tourism, and remain a stable force in the Oswego community for generations.
“The grant continues to guide us on a new and exciting course that has engaged the community on all levels,” said Niess. “We need to continue to hone our long-range plans and develop new goals to ensure that the museum will be here for another 40 years.”