The Village of East Syracuse is located immediately east of Syracuse, in the Town of Dewitt.
The original inhabitants of the area were Onondaga clans, whose village was atop a hill on the eastern border of Onondaga territory along what is now Kinne St. An established trail ran down part of what is now James Street to Ley Creek where the Onondagas could travel by canoe to their capital along the northeast shore of Onondaga Lake. Portions of this Onondaga village dating from the early eighteenth century were uncovered in the 1930s when East Syracuse High School was being built on Kinne St near James.
The current settlement, originally named "Messina," grew up along the northern edge of the Erie Canal across from Headson's Landing, a busy canal port with the only bridge to cross the canal east of downtown Syracuse for ten miles. In the middle of the nineteenth century the Messina Plank Road (now New York State Route 290) was built from Messina east to Manlius Center and the canal port there. Large venetian blind and buggy whip factories operated in Messina in the late nineteenth century.
In the 1870s, the main line of the New York Central Railroad was built through the northern part of Messina. The DeWitt Railyards complex, one of the busiest in the world in its day, stretched from Messina five miles east to Minoa. East and westbound trains were assembled in the yards at the "Hump", where trains were pushed up tracks on one side of an artificial hill and routed to their train by track switches as the rolled freely down the far side. During most of the nineteenth century the larger part of the hamlet was south of the railroad yards, but as the population grew with rail workers, housing expanded to the north.
During the boom following construction of the railroad, the name "East Syracuse" began to replace Messina. That name was chosen for the new village when it was incorporated in 1881. At that time the village thrived due to its access to transportation. The railroad was the new powerhouse, but the canal remained viable, with Headson's Landing still a busy port. The northeastern corner of the Headson's Landing Bridge was the original southwestern corner of the village.
In the 20th century, Erie Boulevard was built over the canal from west of Syracuse to about a mile past Headson's landing. In the 1960s, Interstate 690 was built through the southern part of the Village between the railroad and Erie Blvd. Now only a small portion of the original settlement south of the railroad remains, including about 100 of the Village's 1400 dwelling units.
With the canal gone and the railroad seeing only a portion of its former business, and as the interstate system and other high speed roads have turned the all day trip of the nineteenth century into an hours's drive, East Syracuse has become fully a suburb of Syracuse.
East Syracuse is home to Bristol Labs, a division of Bristol-Myers Squibb. Formerly the world's largest source of penicillin, production was ended there in 2005 due to the less expensive production of this antibiotic overseas. Bristol Labs now makes several newer drugs, along with housing a state-of-the-art ramp-up facility designed to quickly adapt to make moderate quantities of new drugs for clinical trials.
East Syracuse played another role in making the world a little bit smaller in 1996, when Village Trustee Jason M Rhoades, a twenty-year-old college student and management intern at NYNEX (now Verizon), made history by being the first legislator in the world to participate in a legislative meeting by telecom from a business trip in Massachusetts. Rhoades was also the Village's youngest Trustee when elected in 1995 at the age of nineteen, and one of the youngest people ever elected to any municipal office in New York State. In 2001, he became the Village's youngest Mayor at the age of twenty-five.
A recent list of the Mayors of East Syracuse (with party affiliation) includes: