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  • Uniquely Syracuse

    What's in a Name?

    Syracuse was named after an ancient city in Sicily.

    In 1819 a committee was appointed to settle on a name for this place. Syracuse was proposed by John Wilkinson because of the similarities he noticed between the description of ancient Siracusa in Sicily and the characteristics of this area; both had salt-water springs and a town to the north called Salina. The committee chose the name by unanimous vote.

    Frank Buckwalter, H. Leo Dickison and Amel Menotti of Bristol Laboratories in Syracuse made headlines in 1948 when they presented their research on the development of synthetic penicillin. It was hailed as an exciting medical advance and proved to be safer and more effective than any previous form of the lifesaving drug.

    Speaking of medical advances... can you imagine sitting on a stool while the dentist extracted a tooth? Neither could M.W. Hanchett of Syracuse, who developed this early version of the dentist's chair in 1840. The seat could be raised and lowered like a piano stool and was hinged so that it could be tipped backward and forward; now that's more like it!


    American Arts and Crafts

    Syracuse had a national role in the Arts and Crafts Movement, which flourished in the early twentieth century.

    The Arts and Crafts Movement emerged as artists, writers, and designers reacted to the often poorly made and highly decorated products of the Industrial Revolution. The movement stressed the use of quality materials, craftsmanship and simplicity of design.

    Gustav Stickley (1858-1942) was a major spokesman for the Arts and Crafts Movement. He began making his characteristic oak furniture here in 1900. He also published The Craftsman; a national magazine dedicated to the ideals of the movement. Gustav Stickely's brothers established the L. and J.G. Stickley Company, which also produced distinctive furniture.

    During the same period, Adelaide Robineau, a master art potter, and Henry Keck, a stained glass craftsman, earned national recognition while living and working in Syracuse. The presence of talented and acclaimed artists affirmed the city's position as a center of the American Arts and Crafts Movement. Syracuse continues to enjoy a lively arts community with potters, cabinetmakers and other artisans carrying on the Arts and Crafts tradition.

    Between 1913 and 1974 the Henry Keck Studio created stained glass windows for homes and churches across the United States, including many in Syracuse. Stanley Worden began work with Henry Keck in 1920 as a boy, taking over the studio in 1940 after the death of Mr. Keck.

    Please pass the salt

    Inventions and products made in Syracuse help to set the tables of America and the world.

    In 1919 Syracusan Joseph Burns had a flash of inspiration while using a glass-cutting tool with a scalloped edge-wouldn't this be great for cutting bread? He patented his idea and formed a knife manufacturing company; the serrated knife was born.

    Syracuse's ceramic origins date to the pottery of the native Onondaga people. In the early 1800's jugs were made from local clay and by the end of the century a thriving ceramics industry existed here. James Pass, a chemistry student working for the Onondaga Pottery Company, invented a process in 1890 which produced a translucent white china called Syracuse China. It won a Medal of Honor at the 1893 World's Fair. The product was so popular that the company changed its name to Syracuse China and remained "Syracuse's ambassador to the world of fine dining" until April 9, 2009 when the Syracuse China factory was shut down by Libbey, Inc. of Toledo Ohio, and all production of Syracuse China moved from North America after 138 years of production.

    From 1860 to 1930 Syracuse was the brewing capital of upstate New York. British immigrants first introduced beer making to the area and after the Civil War German immigrants turned the home brewing industry into big business. Over the years more than 30 breweries operated in Syracuse and hops and barley were valuable cash crops for upstate farmers. In the days before refrigeration the excellent transportation system surrounding Syracuse provided for the fastest shipment of beer over the greatest possible distance without spoilage.

    The American candle-making industry began in the Syracuse kitchen of Anton and Rosina Will in 1855. The family business soon grew into the Will and Baumer Candle Company, which continues to produce thousands of candles daily. The company's most famous customer is the Pope, who orders candles for the Vatican.

    Salt potatoes are to Syracuse what chicken wings are to Buffalo - a regional specialty identified with an upstate city. Salt potatoes were invented in the 1800's by local salt workers who boiled small potatoes, skins and all, in brine for an inexpensive lunch. The tasty taters are still enjoyed today; their salt-encrusted skins dipped in melted butter before eating.


    Athletes' Feet

    Whether shooting baskets in the Carrier Dome in a size twenty shoe or just learning to walk in a child's size two, Syracusans know that feet come in all shapes and sizes.

    If you have ever had your feet measured in a shoe store, it was with a Brannock device, invented and patented in the 1930's by Syracusan Charles Brannock. The device eliminated the crippling effects of poorly fitted shoes by measuring not only the length, but the width and the ball of the foot.

    Syracuse sports action happens in the Carrier Dome, one of the largest air-supported stadiums in the country, and the only enclosed football stadium on a college campus. The Dome holds 50,000 people. It would take a pigeon - a carrier pigeon no doubt - 20 seconds to fly from one end to the other. The roof is made of fiberglass panels that cover an area of 6.5 acres.

    The question: "What did Black Jack Pershing, the Wright Brothers, Lucky Lindy and Teddy Roosevelt have in common?"

    The answer: "They all wore Nettleton shoes made in Syracuse."

    A.E. Nettleton Company, founded here in 1879, considered its product to be the Rolls Royce of footwear. The company designed and introduced the Loafer in 1937. Since then this shoe has become classic American footwear.


    Land of Hiawatha

    Here in central New York, over 500 years ago, Hiawatha formed the confederacy of five Native American tribes called the Haudenosaunee, the people of the long house. This confederacy has come to be known as the Iroquois League.

    The legendary Hiawatha was a real person and a member of the Onondaga tribe. The Onondagas are still the keepers of the council fire and the tradtional center of the Iroquois Confederacy.

    One of the most famous recent residents of the Onondaga Territory was Chief John Big Tree (1862-1967). His profile was familiar to millions as the face on the Indian Head Nickel. As a Hollywood actor, as the profile on the Pontiac car emblem and as the face on the nickel he represented an image of Native Americans for a generation.

    The native peoples of upstate New York created the game of lacrosse which they sometimes used in place of battle; games could last for days and extend for miles across the countryside. Lacrosse remains an important part of native cultural life and has become a popular international sport.


    Red Light, Green Light

    Whether it's crossing with the light, riding a bicycle or driving a car, transportation affects almost every aspect of our lives.

    Huntington Crouse and Jesse Hinds started their electric car headlight manufacturing business in 1897. Crouse and Hinds' best-known invention is the traffic light, first installed in Syracuse at the corner of James and State Streets in 1924. The traffic light gained importance with the growth of the automotive industry.

    Syracuse's contribution to the development of the automobile was the 1901 invention of the air-cooled engine by John Wilkinson, grandson of the man who named Syracuse. The air-cooled Franklin Car was produced until 1934. Even though they are no longer manufactured, meticulously maintained Franklins return to the streets of central New York each year as part of the H.H. Fanklin Car Club Annual Trek.

    Just as new car models are anxiously awaited today the same was true of two wheelers during the bicycle craze of the late 1800's. Among the most popular bicycles nationwide were the Stearn's "Yellow Fender" and the "Syracuse," both designed and made here. Traffic regulations had to be introduced during the bicycle's peak popularity to control the throngs of cyclists in the streets. Squads of bicycle policemen were organized and bicycle paths were built to reduce the number of accidents.

    Merchants National Bank and Trust Company, founded in the 1850's was the first commercial bank in Syracuse and was funded entirely by investments from Syracusans. Always innovative, in 1949 Merchants created the very first automobile "drive-in bank" (although Syracuse Savings Bank had a teller's window on the canal towpath as early as the 1870's).


    Ladies and Gentlemen …Step Right Up

    Because of its central location on the Erie Canal and its easy access by railroad, toll roads and turnpikes, Syracuse was chosen to host the first annual New York State Fair in 1841.

    A popular attraction at the 1849 fair was a wheel 50 feet high, made of iron and oak with wooden buckets large enough to carry four adults or six children each. It was operated by hand power and a system of ropes. Samuel Hurst, a Syracusan and the State Fair operator, developed this forerunner of the Ferris wheel with James Mulholland, a carpenter from Scotland who had seen a similar wheel in Edinburgh.


    Elizabeth "Libba" Cotten 1891-1987

    Grammy Award-winning folk singer Libba Cotten bought her first guitar at Sears and Roebuck for $3.75 when she was 11 years old. That same year she wrote her most famous song "Freight Train" which she would later record with Pete Seeger as an American classic. Playing on the folk music circuit, Libba Cotten was honored wherever she went, including at the Smithsonian Institution on her 90th birthday. She captivated her audiences with her warm spirit and her unique left-handed style of guitar playing dubbed "Cotten picking." Her songs and style have influenced countless musicians.

    In 1983 Ms. Cotten was named Syracuse's first Living Treasure, an award which recognizes this community's greatest asset, its people. The Libba Cotten Grove, at the corner of South State and Castle Streets, is a living memorial to this unique Syracusan.

    Adelaide Alsop Robineau 1865-1929

    Internationally acclaimed artist Adelaide Robineau lived and worked in Syracuse from the 1880's until her death in 1929. She was a potter, teacher and editor/publisher of Keramic Studio magazine. The Everson Museum of Art in Syracuse houses the largest collection of her ceramics, including her most famous work, the Scarab Vase.

    Adelaide Robineau began her career as a porcelain decorator and then became a teacher of porcelain painting. Not satisfied with the ready-made porcelains on which she worked, Robineau wanted to create the forms themselves. She began to explore the technical and artistic processes involved in making porcelain, and developed the unique glazes for which she is known.

    More than half a century after her death, Adelaide Robineau is admired universally by artists who consider her work a monument to the ideals of the Arts and Crafts Movement. The home and studio that she built still stand on Robineau Road overlooking Onondaga Park and downtown Syracuse.

    Jermain Wesley Loguen (1814-1872)

    Jermain Loguen was born a slave in Tennessee and escaped from bondage when he was 21. He came to Syracuse in 1841 as pastor of the People's African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church. A recognized orator, abolitionist and teacher, he was "general agent" of the Syracuse Fugitive Society and devoted his life to helping fugitive slaves and denouncing slavery. His biography, The Reverend J.W. Loguen as a Slave and as a Freeman, was published in 1859. He frequently wrote letters to local newspapers asking for employment for runaway slaves. A stationmaster on the Underground Railroad, his home at East Genesee and Pine Streets had a special apartment for fugitive slaves. He was a prominent participant in Syracuse's most famous abolitionist event, the Jerry Rescue, which is commemorated by a monument in Clinton Square.

    John Marsellus (1846-1941)

    John Marsellus was a philosopher-businessman. As a young commercial traveler plying the Erie Canal he was attracted to Syracuse, "a city with a bustling air about it," according to his diary. He settled here in the 1870's to establish his own business, the Marsellus Casket Company. An enlightened employer, he gained the loyalty of his employees by treating them with kindness and respect. In his journal he wrote of "the immortal worth and dignity of man…" and acknowledged "that all men even those performing the most humble tasks, are peers (the lowest with the exalted)…" He was a progressive businessman, a promoter of trade associations, and founder and fourth president of the Syracuse Chamber of Commerce. He believed that "business is service…no company can win in the realm of trade in this day that does not directly or indirectly contribute to the needs of humanity and in some way to the material or intellectual advancement of society." His company operated as a family-managed business until 2003.


    In Our Opinion

    The 1850 Weighlock Building is the only building of its kind in the world.

    The Weighlock Building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It is the only surviving weigh station of seven originally on the canal system. This Greek Revival style building housed administrative offices and a huge scale to weigh canal boats. After tolls were abolished in 1883 the building remained in use for state offices. In 1957 the Weighlock Building was abandoned and slated for demolition. It was saved by a group of public-spirited citizens and since 1962 has been the home of the Erie Canal Museum.