Syracuse ( or ) is a city in and the county seat of Onondaga County, New York, United States. It is the largest U.S. city with the name "Syracuse", and is the fifth most populous city in the state of New York. At the 2010 census, the city population was 145,170, (making it the 167th largest city in the country) and its metropolitan area had a population of 662,577. It is the economic and educational hub of Central New York, a region with over a million inhabitants. Syracuse is also well-provided with convention sites, with a downtown convention complex and, directly west of the city, the Empire Expo Center, which hosts the annual Great New York State Fair. The city derives its name from Siracusa, a city on the eastern coast of the Italian island of Sicily.
The city has functioned as a major crossroads over the last two centuries, first between the Erie Canal and its branch canals, then of the railway network. Today, Syracuse is located at the intersection of Interstates 81 and 90, and its airport is the largest in the region. Syracuse is a home to Syracuse University, a major research university; the Upstate Medical University and Hospital, the city's largest employer; SUNY Environmental Science and Forestry and other colleges and professional schools. In 2010 Forbes rated Syracuse 4th in the top 10 places to raise a family.
Salt and limestone
Around 399 million years ago, during the middle Devonian Period, the land now occupied by the city of Syracuse was south of the equator and covered by a salty sea. Eventually, the sea water evaporated leaving behind layers of halite and seashells which were eventually buried in the earth. From this prehistoric period, two products emerged as major resources in the 19th century; salt and limestone.
Many geological events occurred over the centuries which shaped the land. The most recent was the Great Ice Age which took place approximately 20,000 years ago. The last sheet of ice formed the Finger Lakes, the Adirondack Mountains, and Onondaga Lake, in addition to other land formations in Upstate New York.
The land around Onondaga Lake had been inhabited by Native Americans for 4,000 to 5,000 years. The Five Nations of the Iroquois Confederacy was composed of the Mohawks, the Senecas, the Onondagas, the Oneidas, and the Cayugas. Each nation's territory is located in what is now New York State. The Onondagas lived in the area around Onondaga Lake in Central New York.
The first known Europeans in the area were the French who arrived in 1615 when Samuel de Champlain launched an attack against the Onondagas with the aid of the Huron and Algonquian Indians who were bitter enemies of the Iroquois. Champlain's attack of the Onondaga fortress, the location of which has been heavily debated, but is now believed to have been located at the head of Onondaga Lake, lasted six days and ended when Champlain withdrew wounded and defeated.
During the 1640s, which were years of "troubling" battles between the French, Huron and Iroquois, many Jesuit priests were killed. Many French missionaries who arrived in the area from Canada, retreated to the north.
On August 5, 1654, Father Simon LeMoyne, a Jesuit missionary, arrived in the Onondaga village. During his short stay, LeMoyne drank from a spring which the Onondagas believed to be foul due to an evil spirit. He found it to be a salt water spring and he returned to Canada with salt made from the spring water.
The British began to take an active interest in the land around Onondaga Lake in the early 1700s. They befriended the Onondagas by giving them guns, which were highly prized. A British agent, William Johnson, acquired of land in the Mohawk country near present day Johnstown, New York. In 1751, Johnson heard that the French intended on securing a military post in the vicinity of the salt springs. He discussed the consequences of that action with the Onondagas and proposed that they grant him rights to all of Onondaga Lake and a two-mile (3 km) band of land around it. The Onondagas agreed and were paid £350 sterling.
As the Revolutionary War approached, both the British and the Americans sought Iroquois support. The British succeeded and by the end of the war, only the Oneidas and Tuscaroras, a recent addition to the nation, had remained neutral or friendly to the Americans.
The end result of the American Revolutionary War was the Treaty of Fort Stanwix (1784) enacted by the United States on October 22, 1784. The lands of the natives were distributed by treaties soon after. In 1788, the lands around Onondaga Lake were transferred from the Onondaga Nation to local salt producers.
The Oneidas and the Tuscaroras were able to secure the lands which they inhabited. Offers of reservations were made to the four nations that opposed the Americans. The Onondagas, Senecas, and Cayugas accepted the offer. The Mohawks refused and sought refuge in Canada similar to other British sympathizers.
After the American Revolutionary War, more settlers came to the area, mostly to trade with the Onondaga Nation. Ephraim Webster left the Continental Army to settle in 1784, along with Asa Danforth, another participant in the war. Comfort Tyler, whose engineering skill contributed to regional development, arrived four years later. All three settled in Onondaga Hollow south of the present city center at the head of Onondaga Lake, which was then marshy.
In late 1788, after the enactment of the Treaty of Fort Stanwix (1784) in which the Onondaga Nation relinquished part of their reservation including Onondaga Hollow to the local salt producers. The land was now open to settlers and the natives were left with only hunting and fishing rights. Tyler and Danforth began making salt for the family, but did not produce it to sell. Danforth built a sawmill and gristmill and Tyler laid the first roads and built bridges, and in the future would support the building of churches and schools.
The ground upon which the city of Syracuse now stands was originally part of the Onondaga Salt Springs Reservation. The first locality which received a name was called Webster's Landing after early settler, Ephraim Webster who was an Indian trader on the banks of the Onondaga Creek.
By 1793, the Westside of the future city was described as "dark, gloomy, and almost impenetrable swamp that was a favorite resort for wolves, bears, wildcats, mud-turtles, and swamp rattlesnakes." The western portion of the valley about Syracuse was originally timbered with hemlock, birch and soft maple; the eastern portion with cedar and pine.
During 1804, an act was passed that directed the sale of of the Onondaga Salt Springs Reservation for the purpose of "laying out and improving a road" running from lot 49, Manlius, to lot 38, Onondaga, east and west through the reservation. James Geddes laid out the design of the new road in "rather an irregular form so that as much dry land might be secured as possible." The land, now the central portion of the city of Syracuse, was purchased by Abraham Walton for $6,650 and the area was later named the Walton Tract. Michael Hogan and Charles Walton bought a portion of the tract in 1804 and sold it in 1814.
The swamp was almost impassable, but gradually it was drained, cleared, and settled. A gristmill, called the old red mill, was erected in 1805 followed by a sawmill and tannery. Soon after, a settler named Bogardus opened a tavern and across Walton's land James Geddes laid out a corduroy road, which later became part of the Genesee Turnpike.
By spring of 1819, the water did not sufficiently subside to allow passage until late May or June. Those going from Onondaga to Salina were "obliged" to pass around the area on the high ground east of the city "over by-ways" which were cut in every direction through the reservation for the purpose of collecting wood in the winter for the salt works. Early residents preferred to travel on the road in the winter because it was frozen and covered with hard pack snow.
The original settlement went through several name changes until 1824, first being called 'Salt Point' (1780), then 'Webster's Landing' (1786), 'Bogardus Corners' (1796), 'Milan' (1809), 'South Salina' (1812), 'Cossits’ Corners' (1814), and 'Corinth' (1817). The U.S. Postal Service rejected the name Corinth upon its application for a post office, stating there was already a post office by this name in New York.
The village of Syracuse was laid out into streets and lots in 1819, but the first election of village officers did not occur until 1825. At the time of incorporation, the village had 15 merchants, one newspaper, a fire department, and several small industries. The first schoolhouse was erected in 1820, the first church (Baptist) was built in 1821, and the First Presbyterian Church in 1824. The first grist mill occupied the ground where Syracuse High School later stood. This was also the site of Central High School. The village of Lodi consisted of a cluster of homes, groceries, and small businesses situated on the Erie Canal, east of Syracuse.
Because of similarities such as a salt industry and a neighboring village named Salina, the name Syracuse was chosen by village planner, John Wilkinson, after Syracuse, Sicily. In 1825, the village of Syracuse was officially incorporated. By 1832, the city had four wards.
During the winter of 1847–48 discussions about the incorporation of the three villages, Salina, Lodi and Syracuse began.
The period between 1830 and the incorporation of the city in 1847 was one of remarkable growth in all directions in the village of Syracuse. From a population of about 7,000 in 1830 it grew to 11,014 in 1840, and to 22,271 in 1850. Business industries multiplied, churches and schools were established, and from the small community which has been described, living in quite primitive conditions, Syracuse became a large and thriving village, with a reputation for enterprise and progressiveness that was reaching out over New York State.
The opening of the Erie Canal in 1825 caused a steep increase in the sale of salt, not only because of the improved and lower cost of transportation, but additionally, the ease of canal shipment caused New York State farms to change from wheat to pork production and curing pork required a lot of salt.
After the War of 1812, it became difficult to obtain salt from abroad and commercial salt production became an important Syracuse industry. The Erie Canal allowed the bulky and low-priced Onondaga salt to be transported to Chicago and beyond via the Great Lakes relatively quickly and inexpensively.
By 1830, the Erie Canal, which ran through the village, was completed. The Village of Syracuse and the Village of Salina were combined into the City of Syracuse on December 14, 1847. Harvey Baldwin was the first mayor of the new city.
The Jesuit missionaries visiting the Syracuse, New York region in the mid 17th century reported salty brine springs around the southern end of "Salt Lake", known today as Onondaga Lake. The 1788 Treaty of Fort Stanwix (1784), and the subsequent designation of the area by the State of New York as the Onondaga Salt Springs Reservation, provided the basis for commercial salt production from the late 18th century through the early 20th century.
The end result of the French and Indian War was the Treaty of Fort Stanwix (1784) enacted by the United States on October 22, 1784. The lands of the natives were distributed soon after. In 1788, the lands around Onondaga Lake were transferred from the Onondaga Nation to local salt producers with the stipulation that the property would be used to produce salt "for the common use of everyone."
Until 1900, the bulk of the salt used in the United States came from Syracuse.
Abolitionism and the Underground Railroad in Syracuse
Syracuse became an active center for the abolitionist movement, due in large part to the influence of Gerrit Smith and a group allied with him, mostly associated with the Unitarian Church and their pastor The Reverend Samuel May in Syracuse, as well as with Quakers in nearby Skaneateles, supported as well by abolitionists in many other religious congregations. Prior to the Civil War, due to the work of Jermain Wesley Loguen and others in defiance of federal law, Syracuse was known as the "great central depot on the Underground Railroad".
On October 1, 1851, William Henry, a freed slave known as "Jerry" was arrested under the Fugitive Slave Law. The anti-slavery Liberty Party was holding its state convention in the city, and when word of the arrest spread, several hundred abolitionists including Charles Augustus Wheaton broke into the city jail and freed Jerry. The event came to be widely known as the Jerry Rescue. In the aftermath, the Congregationalist minister Samuel Ringgold Ward had to flee to Canada to escape persecution because of his participation.
Exponential city growth
The first telegraphic message was received in the city via Albany, New York in 1840. The population by 1848 had grown to 18,741.
By 1853, the city was divided into eight wards and in 1856, the ten city banks reported an aggregate capital of $1,535,000.
On May 23, 1869, the Onondaga County Savings Bank building was opened for business. The first levy for city taxes collected was $58,441. John Greenway, brewer, gave a public barbecue in Clinton Square on New Year's Day, 1870.
During 1875, there were 200 smallpox deaths in the city. In 1879, the city population had grown to 62,243.
The telephone was first exhibited in Syracuse on June 12, 1879. The cornerstone of the County Clerk's building was laid on August 11, 1880. Shortly after, the electric light system was introduced into the central parts of the city in 1883.
Geddes was annexed to the city on May 17, 1886 and on February 3, 1887, the village of Danforth became part of the city.
By 1887, the city was divided into 11 wards, by 1891 it had split to 14 and by 1893 there were 19 wards. The City Hall building was completed in 1892.
James Geddes was hired in 1797 to survey Onondaga Salt Springs Reservation and lay out the first road in Salt Point.
In 1798, Salt Point became the village of Salina. The Surveyor-General, Simeon DeWitt employed Geddes to design the streets. Although Geddes had no formal training in surveying, DeWitt saw great potential in him. Soon Geddes sold his interest in the Geddes salt works to pursue other interests and surveying continued to be an important role for much of his life.
Geddes later surveyed and laid out the village of Geddes with approximately 20 lots on either side of West Genesee Street in 1807.
In 1812, early settler Comfort Tyler, then a state assemblyman, secured a charter for the Seneca Turnpike Company. With $100,000 he initiated the construction of a turnpike road (a toll road) on the old state road between Utica and Canandaigua. The road was finished in late 1812 and was "fairly flat and improved communications between the eastern and western areas" and was commonly known as the Seneca Turnpike. This road is known today as Genesee Street in Syracuse.
From 1803 through 1804, the Cherry Valley Turnpike, which passed through Cazenovia and intersected the Seneca Turnpike at Manlius was under construction. In 1807, roads around Onondaga Hill and Oswego to Salina were in the planning stages.
A road was approved in 1809 from Free Street and Salt Street in Salina to the town of Cicero. The Cold Spring Road was approved in 1817, from Liverpool to the Seneca River at Cold Springs. In 1820, Geddes laid a road between Salina and the Geddes Works. To deal with the swampy bogs he first filled the area with brush and debris from the swamp. This road is now called Hiawatha Boulevard.
A swing bridge in Salina Street was built in 1874, according to an act of the Legislature that year. The first asphalt pavement in the city was laid in 1880.
James Street was an exclusive residential thoroughfare by the late 19th century. The architectural styles of its homes varied from modified Spanish Revival and Italian Renaissance Revival to Greek Revival and Queen Anne, from Victorian Gothic to Georgian Colonial. West Genesee Street, part of the original Genesee Turnpike, had been through many changes since the "old red mill" was built on the banks of Onondaga Creek. For years, it was a choice residential street. Later, with the invention of the automobile, it became a busy commercial thoroughfare.
The official opening of the new State Fair Boulevard took place on September 2, 1916. Visitors to the New York State Fair that year were "pleased" with the wide smooth concrete surface of the road that ran from Hiawatha Avenue to the fairgrounds. The old boulevard had caused much trouble with its "mud holes and sticky surface when wet and clouds of dust when dry."
Exhibitors at the fair who had to haul over the boulevard found their trips cut in half and "the horses drawing loads will be saved greatly."
The first railroad station in Syracuse was in Vanderbilt Square, along East Washington Street between Salina and Warren Streets which was named for Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt, a railroad magnate and millionaire whose New York Central Railroad "dominated Washington Street for 100 years."
From 1839 on, Syracuse life for many years revolved around Vanderbilt Square, the magnet was the railroad station, and the hostelries that grew up around it. In the old station Henry Clay was welcomed on his visit to the New York State Fair in 1849. Daniel Webster, General Winfield Scott, Louis Kossuth, John Brown, Stephen A. Douglas, and other notables were greeted there.
The first street railway was built in Salina street in 1859 and Syracuse was soon known "far and wide" as the city where the trains passed through the middle of downtown. Travelers caught "intimate glimpses" of Syracuse, its people, stores and houses as the trains slowed on their way through town.
During the 1930s, the city's fourth rail station was constructed along Erie Boulevard East when the rail line through Syracuse was elevated. In Syracuse, the trains ran through the center of downtown, along Washington Street. That elevated section later was abandoned and replaced by Interstate 690.
Interurban and Streetcar railway
In addition to the multitude of rail services in the area, interurban and streetcar railway in Syracuse flourished in the city until the automobile, airplane and bus took their place by the early 1940s.
The trolley or streetcar served travel within the city limits of Syracuse as early as 1859. In the early days they were either horse-drawn or fueled by steam and by the end of the 19th century they were electric driven. The city was one of the first in the United States to adopt electricity as a transportation motive power.
Interurban were suburban railways with rights-of-way for higher speed traffic. They linked the city with the countryside which allowed people who lived in the suburbs and farming communities to work in Syracuse. The era was short-lived, however, lasting just over 40 years. The first interurban line was built in the city in 1885 with services to Oneida and the last line completed to Oswego in 1911. By 1932, "every bit" of track had been removed and the entire era was over.
By 1839, the "turbulent element" of the population became too unruly to be controlled by the old constabulary, and a committee consisting of the trustees of the village, with Thomas T. Davis, John Wilkinson and David S. Colvin, was appointed early in 1840 "to report amendments to the ordinances that will give the village a more vigorous police."
In May 1839, it was resolved by the trustees that "there shall hereafter be a police justice in Syracuse, who shall be appointed in the same manner as the judges of the County Courts," and an act of Legislature was procured for this purpose.
The first gas company in the city began business in 1849.
The Syracuse Fire Department built Engine House 1 in 1859 and a watch tower was constructed in the rear of Engine House 2 in 1862. The department added two steam engines to their fleet in 1866. By 1878, expenses for the fire department were $30,000 per year.
The matter of a stable city water supply from either Tully Lake or Skaneateles Lake was discussed during 1870 and 1871. Skaneateles Lake was chosen and in 1894 the modern water supply system was finally operational.
The salt industry declined after the Civil War, but a new manufacturing industry arose in its place. Manufacturing proliferated in Syracuse, New York from the late 1870s through the early 20th century, a period known as the Industrial Revolution. Franklin Chase, author of the 1924 history "Syracuse and Its Environs," summed up the early 20th century in Syracuse with this claim: "In truth, Syracuse manufactured more different articles numerically than even New York City itself."
During the early years, numerous businesses and stores were established, including the Franklin Automobile Company, which produced automobiles with air-cooled engines. In 1902, the Franklin (automobile) Model A attained the distinction of being the first four-cylinder automobile produced in the United States.
The first Solvay Process Company plant in the United States, was erected on the southwestern shore of Onondaga lake in 1884 and the village was given the name Solvay, New York to commemorate its inventor, Ernest Solvay. In 1861, he developed the ammonia-soda process for the manufacture of soda ash (anhydrous sodium carbonate, a rare chemical called natrite, to distinguish it from natural natron of antiquity) from brine wells dug in the southern end of Tully valley (as a source of sodium chloride) and limestone (as a source of calcium carbonate). The process was an improvement over the earlier Leblanc process.
Early public education
The first public education in the area occurred in 1797 in Salt Point, later the first ward of the city, where school was held in a salt block, a special building erected for processing salt. The first district school organized within the present city limits was in the village of Geddes where the earliest known schoolhouse was erected in 1804 on the site that was later occupied by Porter School.
The first schoolhouse to annex into the city was constructed in 1805 in the town of Salina which was incorporated in 1809. The building, designated as "No. 1," was constructed "according to the fashion of the day" with the faces of the children turned toward the four walls and the instructor in the middle of the room. The village of Salina was incorporated in 1824 and the school remained "No. 1" until the city of Syracuse was incorporated in 1848. At that time, the spring term opened with about 50 pupils in all grades of the "elementary studies." During the winter, the older students, many of them larger than the teacher, increased the total to over 100. The number increased so that it became necessary to "seat some of the pupils on the wood-pile."
The first school house in the village of Syracuse limits was built on Church Street (West Willow Street) at the corner of Franklin Street about 1826. Local schools passed into the control of the Syracuse Board of Education in the spring of 1848.
The first high school building was erected in 1868 and was called High School.
In 1930, the city opened a special school for crippled children and by 1932 the Children's court was established.
Syracuse university chartered
Geneva Medical College was founded in 1834 in Geneva, New York. It is now known as Upstate Medical University, the most prestigious medical college in the Syracuse area, one of only four in the State University of New York system, and two of only five medical schools in the state north of New York City. The other State medical school being in Buffalo.
The first public hospital opened in the city in 1870. The Milbank Memorial Fund, provided approximately $450,000 for public health projects during a nine-year period from 1923 through 1931 and "helped give Syracuse a high rank in health standards."
The Syracuse Telephonic Exchange was founded after Frederick C. Brower introduced the Bell telephone to Syracuse in 1878. He had seen the device exhibited at the Philadelphia Exposition of 1876 and secured Central New York rights from the Bell system. His father, Hiram C. Brower, was credited with installing the first "speaking tubes" in Syracuse and also the first enunciators and began the first telephone exchange which had about 1,000 subscribers.
During 1879, Mathew J. Myers, who operated a local telegraph and messenger service in the city, opened an exchange in the tower of the Gridley Building after sub-leasing the rights from Brower. D. L. Pyke, superintendent of Western Union, opened a rival exchange in the Wieting Block in Downtown Syracuse. During 1880, the two rival exchanges merged and named the Syracuse Telephonic Exchange which was eventually consolidated into the New York Telephone Company.
By the 20th century, Syracuse University was no longer sectarian and had grown from a few classrooms located in downtown Syracuse into a major research institution. It is nationally recognized for its college basketball, college football, and college lacrosse teams. In 1911, under the leadership of Syracuse University trustee, Louis Marshall, the New York State College of Forestry was re-established in close association with Syracuse University; it since has evolved into the SUNY-ESF. Le Moyne College was founded in 1946; Onondaga Community College in 1962.
World War II sparked significant industrial expansion in the area: specialty steel, fasteners, custom machining. After the war, two of the Big Three automobile manufacturers (General Motors & Chrysler) had major operations in the area. Syracuse was headquarters for Carrier Corporation, Crouse-Hinds traffic signal manufacturing, and General Electric had its main television manufacturing plant at Electronics Parkway in Syracuse.
Syracuse's population peaked at 221,000 in 1950. Immigration from abroad introduced many ethnic groups to the city, particularly German, Jewish, Irish, Italian, and Polish. African Americans had lived in Syracuse since Revolutionary War days, but between 1940 and 1960, some of the three million African Americans who migrated from the south to northern cities also settled in Syracuse. In the 1980s, many immigrants from Africa and Central America also moved to Syracuse, as they did to many northern cities – sometimes under the auspices of several religious charities. However, these new Syracusans could not make up for the flow of residents out of Syracuse, either to its suburbs or out of state, due to job loss.
Much of the city fabric changed after World War II, although Pioneer Homes, one of the earliest government housing projects in the US, had been completed earlier, in 1941. Many of Syracuse's landmark buildings were demolished in the 1950s and 1960s. The federal Urban Renewal program cleared large sectors that remained undeveloped for many decades, although several new museums and government buildings were built.
The manufacturing industry in Syracuse began to falter in the 1970s. Many small businesses failed during this time, which contributed to an already increasing unemployment rate. Rockwell International moved their factory outside New York state. General Electric moved its television manufacturing operations to Suffolk, Virginia and later to Singapore. The Carrier Corporation moved its headquarters out of Syracuse and outsourced manufacturing to Asian locations. Nevertheless, although city population has declined since 1950, the Syracuse metropolitan area population has remained fairly stable, even growing by 2.5 percent since 1970. While this growth rate is greater than much of Upstate New York, it is far below the national average during that period.