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  • Historic Syracuse


    The story of Syracuse is intimately intertwined with the development of industry and commerce. While Syracuse has often been identified as “The City That Salt Built,” it was never totally reliant on the salt industry for its economic survival. The Canal, and later the railroads, established the city as an important transportation hub and this, in turn, attracted a diverse number of manufacturing and commercial concerns. This diversity enabled the city to adjust to the gradual decline of the salt industry during the second half of the nineteenth century. Remnants of the salt industry can still be found at the Geddes Salt Pump site.


    Manufacturing changed the physical face of Syracuse. Early industrial pursuits were mainly located near the center of the city but gradually spread to other areas.

    During the second half of the nineteenth century, a multitude of factory buildings were constructed in the western half of the city near the Erie Canal, particularly along South Geddes and West Fayette Streets. East of downtown on East Water Street were foundries and machine shops. Candle factories were located along Salina and Wolf Streets in the northern part of the city, while guns were manufactured on South Clinton Street.

    Factories were everywhere, but particularly concentrated in the west and northwest portions of Syracuse.

    Industrial buildings generally were one-to-six story brick grid factory designs with segmental-arched windows and corbelling (decorative brickwork) under the roofline. Today, this industrial tradition is embodied in such representative buildings as the Franklin Square complex, Burns Supply on West Genesee Street, the Book Warehouse on Bear Street, Nettletons’s Shoe Factory at State & Willow Streets, and the old Mack Miller candle factory at the corner of Wolf & North Salina Streets.

    Of great historical interest is the former Lipe Machine Shop on South Geddes street, where a variety of mechanical devices were developed, and where H.H. Franklin first met Charles Wilkinson, grandson of the man who gave Syracuse its name. This collaboration led to formation of the Franklin Motor Car Company.


    Commercial development greatly accelerated during the second half of the nineteenth century. As industry shifted away from downtown, commercial establishments remained around the old village core. South Salina Street evolved into a dry goods retail center, while the North Salina Street corridor featured smaller retail business activity. Hanover Square became the diversified commercial core of downtown with banks, office buildings, newspaper offices, and retail establishments. City government operated from its site south of the Erie Canal between Water and Washington Streets on Market Street, while office and institutional buildings developed to the south along Montgomery Street to Columbus Circle. As the urban core expanded, the various sections were tied together by the street railway system. First opened in 1860 to provide service up to the First Ward (Old Salina village), it later extended to all sections of the city.

    The earliest buildings were simple wood frame designs that are no longer extant today. These were replaced by brick, stone, and later, steel frame structures. The oldest remaining brick designs are the Franklin Buildings in Hanover Square on East Genesee Street (1834), the Phoenix and Dana Buildings on East Water Street (1834), and the Weighlock Building on East Water Street (1837). Armory Square has a variety of brick commercial architecture grouped around the State Armory on West Jefferson Street. A significant grouping of Italianate buildings, some with pressed metal and cast iron elements, appears adjacent to Armory Square on West Fayette Street.

    Many high-style buildings appeared after 1850, which reflected prevailing architectural styles and added prestige and grandeur to the downtown skyline. Their presence can be attributed to the unusually high number of prominent architects working in the area during that period. The most important early architect was Horatio Nelson White, who began his career in the 1850’s. White’s achievements include the Gridley Building (1867), Second Empire Style), and the Armory (1847, Neo-Gothic Style). Archimedes Russell apprenticed in White’s office and went on to design the fourth Onondaga County Courthouse (1906, with Melvin King, Beaux Arts Style) and the Third National Bank Building (1886, Queen Anne Style).

    Joseph L. Silsbee, also a well-known architect who practiced locally between 1873-1884, designed the Syracuse Savings Bank Building (1875), Gothic Revival Style) and the White Memorial Building (1876), High Victorian Gothic). James Randall designed the Onondaga Public Library Building (1902-05, Beaux Arts). Charles Colton designed City Hall (1889), Richardsonian Romanesque). Other local architects included Melvin King (Hills Building, 1928, Art Deco), Gordon Wright (First Baptist Church, 1912, Gothic Revival), and Dwight James Baum (Columbus Circle fountain, 1934).

    The tradition of high-style architecture in the downtown area continued through the first half of this century. Notable examples are the Art Deco Style Niagara Mohawk Building (1932) and State Tower Office Building (1927). One other building of note in the downtown area is the Lankmark Theatre, formerly Loew’s State 1928, Neoclassical Style). Once the grandest of the many movie theaters downtown, it is now the lone survivor.

    Commercial buildings were not limited to the downtown area. A significant historic commercial row extends up North Salina Street, and there are smaller commercial districts in the various sections of the city, and at many intersections.


    A community is defined by the people who settle there, by the types of institutions and organizations that are developed to serve them, and by the residential neighborhoods in which they dwell. In Syracuse, the arrival of skilled craftsmen, professionals in education, architecture, medicine and other fields, religious ministries, and a large and diverse number of ethnic groups has greatly contributed to the area’s community and cultural development.


    Following incorporation in 1848, the City of Syracuse faced the task of providing police and fire protection, schools, and other municipal services. In 1861, the seat of government was established on Montgomery Street with the construction of a Second Empire Style City Hall. The present Richardsonian Romanesque Style City Hall replaced that structure in 1889.

    Government buildings generally reflected popular trends. Columbus Circle boasts the Fourth Onondaga County Courthouse (Beaux Arts Style, 1906) and the Onondaga County Library (Beaux Arts Style, 1905). The Federal Building and Post Office (now Clinton Exchange, 1928, Neoclassical Style) is located at the western end of Clinton Square, and a number of fire houses, some reflecting late nineteenth century Victorian styles and early twentieth century Neoclassical design, are located throughout the city. A New York State building still in use is the Armory Building at 236 West Jefferson Street. Originally constructed in 1874 to replace an earlier structure destroyed by fire, the Armory was modernized in1907. The building has been used historically to house, train, and equip soldiers, and also for entertainment and celebratory activities.


    In 1905, landscape architect Charles Mulford Robinson noted that Syracuse had developed around “squares and triangles.” It is in these squares and triangles that the beginnings of open space in the urban setting can first be traced.

    During the nineteenth century, Syracuse contained much open land which had not yet been developed. The turn of century “ City Beautiful” movement provided inspiration for the development of this open space into urban parks and squares.

    In 1906, the city possessed over 250 acres of property that had been donated or purchased through the years, including Burnet, Onondaga, and Schiller Parks. Although there was no formal City Beautiful plan, articles by Charles Mulford Robinson, specifically referring to Syracuse and calling for landscaped parks linked by wide, tree-lined boulevards, were read with enthusiasm. The articles stimulated the formation of a Park Commission in 1906, which oversaw the doubling of available park acreage by 1916.

    In 1907, Lower Onondaga Park was designed as an example of picturesque planning; in 1911, Onondaga Park, its neighbor to the west was landscaped when Wilkinson Reservoir was scaled down and rechristened Hiawatha Lake; the same year (1911), Schiller Park was completed, along with the dedication of its monument to German poets Goethe and Schiller. During this period, a number of monuments were also erected in other parks and squares, further enhancing the open spaces.

    The turn-of-the century Arts & Crafts movement inspired the design of the buildings erected in Schiller Park, as well as residences under construction around the idyllic landscape of Onondaga Park.

    In 1917, city legislation formally created the City Parks Department to oversee park acquisition and development. In 1921, the city purchased Thornden Park from the Davis family. Already containing many beautiful landscape features and plantings, the city added the E.M. Mills Rose Garden, an amphitheatre, drives, and paths. Elmwood Park was acquired in 1933 and, with the help of the WPA, given the rusticity found today.

    By 1940, the city’s holdings had grown to 145 parks and playgrounds, comprising over 1100 acres. Parks and open spaces continue to be developed and preserved. Throughout their history, these spaces have enhanced the neighborhoods they occupy and added to the enjoyment of the community overall.


    A Board of Education was appointed in 1848, and, by the time of its first report in 1849, ten public schools were in operation. The city established a high school in 1854, early by national standards. Following 1854, the schools generally expanded with the population, sometimes holding class in rented commercial space to accommodate the overflow of students. By 1900, the city operated 37 schools with an average daily attendance of 15,375.

    School construction quickened during the first quarter of the twentieth century. Today, many of these Neoclassical Style buildings still dot the city. Of these, the most impressive is the former Central Technical High School on East Adams Street, built in 1903 and designed by Archimedes Russell. Several other schools dating from this period, such as the Salina School on Lemoyne Avenue and the Jefferson School on Park Street, are now being adaptively reused as apartments.

    Numerous private and parochial schools were also established and remain an important presence in many city neighborhoods.

    The most prominent example of higher education is Syracuse University. Founded in 1870, the University occupies a large tract of land on the hill directly overlooking downtown Syracuse. The Syracuse University campus is dotted with many outstanding educational building, including Crouse College (Richardsonian Romanesque, 1889) and the Hall of Languages (Beaux Arts Style, 1872); both conspicuously located on Piety Hill.

    The location of the school created many new streets and street changes in 1871. Land for University Place was donated to the city. Walnut Park was created between Adams Street and University Place; Spruce Street (later Walnut Avenue) was extended from Adams to University Place; and Adams Street was extended from Renwick Avenue to Comstock.

    As these city streets were pushed eastward, the growth of the University continued to impact residential and commercial development. Prior to this period, the area was sparsely developed, with large tracts of land for farms and estates. The need for housing and commercial businesses to service the University was a great impetus to the growth and popularity of these neighborhoods, and remains so today.


    Syracuse is a city of many churches, the spires of which can be seen across the city landscape.

    The Protestant religions were the first to establish permanent ministries in the area. The first church was erected in 1822 on the northwest corner of Washington Park. In 1824, the Baptists erected their church, a frame building located at West Genesee and Franklin Streets. The Presbyterians, Methodists, Unitarians, Lutherans, Congregationalists, and Episcopalians soon followed with churches of their own to contribute to the skyline. Many of these later churches, built during the 1830’s and 40’s, were ambitious classical designs with tall steeples. By 1850, Syracuse boasted over a hundred churches of all architectural types.

    The Catholic tradition was originally introduced by Pere LeMoyne n 1654, when he established the mission on the east shore on Onondaga Lake, but it was the influx of immigrants during the nineteenth century which greatly influenced the growth of the Catholic Church in the area. The Germans established the Church of the Assumption in 1843, and it remains today, a prominent structure on North Salina Street. The Irish, French, Italians, Poles and other Europeans each contributed to the growth of the Catholic population, and many imposing and prominently sited churches, schools, and convents were built throughout the city.

    The Judaic tradition also took hold in Syracuse at an early period. The first Jewish settlers arrived before 1838 and, in 1841 formed the Temple Society of Concord. The group first adapted a house at Madison and South State Streets to serve as their synagogue; in 1860, a new synagogue was completed at Harrison and South State. The Congregation New Beth Israel built their synagogue on Grape Street (now Townsend) in 1856, and others soon followed. In 1889, the Hebrew Free School was organized to supplement public education. The neighborhood to the east of downtown between Erie Boulevard and East Genesee Street up to the University section was dotted with Temples and Jewish community service structures. Unfortunately, much of this area was lost to the Urban Renewal projects of the 1960’s.

    Religious groups also had an impact on many social services and movements. During the pre-Civil War era, a number of local churches were involved in the underground railroad. The Reverend Jermain Loguen, an escaped slave and minister of the A.M.E. Zion Church, and Reverend Samuel May of the Church of the Messiah, were prominent abolitionists. Park Church, the First Gospel Church, First Congregational, and Plymouth Congregational were now meeting places for those interested in the cause to free the slaves. Frederick Douglass, a leader of the movement, lectured here often, and in 1851, local citizens aided in the escape of a former slave to Canada in what was to be known as the “Jerry Rescue.”

    The religious community was instrumental in the area of health care. In 1869, the Sisters of the Franciscan Order founded St. Joseph’s Hospital on Prospect Hill. It was the first hospital in Syracuse and remains one of the largest health care facilities in the city today. In 1872, Bishop Huntington of the Episcopal Diocese founded the House of the Good Shepherd, now University Hospital.

    The Catholic Church had a large influence in the area of education, with the establishment of elementary and secondary schools affiliated with neighborhood parishes. Private Catholic secondary schools and colleges were also established. The Catholic Youth Organization (CYO) has operated on North Salina Street for many generations, providing recreational opportunities for the city’s youth.

    In the 1870’s the Sisters of Charity of St. Vincent dePaul purchased the city-owned poorhouse located in the southwest area of Syracuse. The House of Providence became, over time, an orphanage for boys. A new building at 1654 West Onondaga Street was constructed in 1908 following a fire. Designed by Archimedes Russell, the Neoclassical Style institutional building is still in use as office space.

    The development of neighborhoods followed the general pattern of growth of the city. Syracuse Village developed generally along the Erie Canal, which formed an east-west axis through the village. Warehouses and businesses were located along or near the canal, while residences were interspersed with commercial establishments. As the village grew, residential growth expanded outward from this core. Neighborhoods developed east of North Salina Street up into the already established Village of Salina; to the east and west along the Erie Canal; and southward along South Salina Street.

    The advent of the horsedrawn trolleys in 1861, and the electric railway system in the 1880’s, facilitated this outward growth of neighborhoods, particularly since the railway companies expanded through undeveloped sections and paved existing roadways as an incentive for obtaining rights-of-way. The influx of immigrants during the 1880’s coincided with railroad development and quickened the pace of residential growth. Diverse ethnic groups settled in concentrated sections of the city, giving neighborhoods distinct ethnic characteristics.

    A tour through the city today illustrates this historic pattern, as examples of American residential architectural styles from the early nineteenth century Federal Style to twentieth-century Eclectic traditions including Colonial Revival, Neoclassical, Tudor and Craftsman Style dwellings still exist. In particular abundance are late nineteenth-century Italianate and Victorian frame designs, and turn-of-the-century Colonial Revival examples.

    Early residential concentrations appear primarily in the Northside and Valley areas. The oldest dwellings date from c. 1810. Several Federal style houses can be found on South Salina Street and East Seneca Turnpike, while examples of the Greek Revival style remain at Fayette Park, Park Street and East Genesee Street. The Italianate Style (1840-1885) was widely constructed throughout the city, and significant numbers still exist in the Northside, Near Northeast, Eastside, Brighton, and Southwest neighborhoods. The Gothic Revival Style, popular during the same period as Italianate, was not as widely developed, but several residential examples remain in the Valley area. Second Empire Style residences (1860-1890) can be found in the Near Northeast, particularly around the Hawley-Green Street area. One example of the Romantic Octagon Style (1850-1870) can be found on Bear Street.

    Victorian architecture is very common throughout the city, particularly the Queen Anne Style. Two high-style examples are located on North McBride Street, and many other variations can be found in older neighborhoods like Brighton, Strathmore, Southwest, Near Westside, Northside, Thornden, and the Valley.

    Later-nineteenth and early-twentieth century styles are common throughout the city. The Colonial Revival Style gained a foothold in older neighborhoods while simultaneously appearing in newer developments. Prominent examples can be found in the Sedgwick/James area, Scottholm Boulevard, and Ruskin and Summit Avenues.

    The Arts & Crafts movement greatly influenced residential architecture in Syracuse beginning in the last decade of the nineteenth century. The city is rich in traditional Craftsman Bungalow cottages and Tudor Style dwellings. Of particular note are elaborate Arts & Crafts examples found in the Sedgwick and Bellevue Heights areas, many designed by noted architect Ward Wellington Ward. These residences retain a sense of character and embody a particular style which has been much admired by residents and those passing through these neighborhoods for many years.


    The City of Syracuse contains an impressive collection of buildings representative of its dynamic growth from two small crossroad villages into an important urban area. Many of these structures still stand as originally designed, and are in use today. Others have undergone rehabilitation and are being used for new purposes. From high-style designs to small dwellings, this wide variety of extant buildings constitutes an important connection between the people who first used these buildings, and those who walk through their doors today.