The Village of Sackets Harbor is within the western part of the Town of Hounsfield and is west of Watertown. The heart of the village, with a Main Street and well-preserved 19th century buildings, has been recognized as the Sackets Harbor Village Historic District and listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1983.
To support the War of 1812, the US Navy built a major shipyard and its headquarters for the Great Lakes at the village. Within a short period, more than 3,000 men worked at the shipyard. The Army constructed earthworks, forts, barracks and supporting infrastructure to defend the village and navy shipyard, and its troops also camped in the village. The thousands of military personnel made it seem like a city. By the fall of 1814, this was the third-largest population center in the entire state, after Albany and New York City. With its strategic protected harbor on Lake Ontario and military installations, the village had national importance through the 19th century.
Soon after the war, the Army strengthened its defenses on the northern frontier by constructing Madison Barracks. The village also developed a commercial shipyard and many business connections to communities around the Great Lakes. Its businessmen were also connected to bases in the major markets of Louisville, Kentucky and New Orleans. In 1817 a consortium of local businessmen supported construction of the 240-ton Ontario, the first US steamboat on the Great Lakes. In July 1834, the commercial schooner Illinois from Sackets Harbor was the first to enter the harbor of the new settlement of Chicago. Sackets Harbor Battlefield State Historic Site commemorates a battle during the War of 1812 and the contribution of the area to the United States defense.
Prior to the American Revolutionary War, this area had been inhabited for thousands of years by differing cultures of indigenous peoples. The historic tribe were the Iroquoian-speaking Onondaga, part of the Haudenosaunee, or Iroquois Confederacy. Long trading with the French and English, the Mohawk and most of the Six Nations allied with the British during the Revolution, hoping to dislodge the American colonists from their territory. Following the war, they were forced to make major cessions of most of their land in New York to the United States. Most of the Iroquois went to Canada and settled on land granted by Great Britain.
In the large-scale sales of 5 million acres (20,000 km2) of public lands in the postwar period, Sackets Harbor was founded in 1801 by Augustus Sackett, a land speculator from New York City. He and others had high hopes for trade across Lake Ontario with Kingston and other parts of Canada. With one of the few natural harbors on Lake Ontario, Sackets Harbor was the most significant community in the area until the founding of the City of Watertown.