New York - Syracuse
Syracuse (400 alt.,147,306 pop.), an important commercial and manufacturing city at the approximate geographical center of New York State, occupies the flatlands at the head of Onondaga Lake, its newer residential sections pushing south and cast into the valleys between the Onondaga hills.
Clinton Square, the heart of the city, is where nineteenth-century freight and passengers were transferred to canal boats at the Packet Dock. Traversing the square, wide Erie Boulevard, built on the fill of the old Erie Canal, carries the heavy traffic of State 5. The main business district, south of the Square, is dominated by wide Salina Street, with its clattering, streetcars, its modern buildings conspicuous among the earlier structures of brick and stone.
Irish and German groups of the third, fourth, and fifth generations constitute more than half of the native population. Since they have merged with the earlier settlers to produce a typical American populace, their oldcountry traditions have all but disappeared. The Irish still celebrate St.Patrick's Day; the German retain their lodges and singing societies, and the festival of Gemuetlichkeit conducted by the Turnverein is still a highlight in the celebration of Thanksgiving.
The later immigrant groups, still bilingual, occupy well-defined districts. The Italians have all but supplanted the Germans on the 'north side' and have their own business section along North State and North Salina Streets. The Poles, attracted to Syracuse by the steel mills, live on the west side. Many of their homes huddle close to the grim plants of the Crucible Steel Company; others occupy a small district near Eastwood. Numerous lodge rooms and churches serve as social centers. The Russians, principally Ukranians, are settled along South State and Harrison Streets. Having but recently migrated, they still keep old country traditions alive. They still worship according to the Orthodox rite and still use the Julian calendar, celebrating Christmas on January 7. On that day the room in which the Christmas feast is held is sprinkled with straw, to simulate the manger in which Christ was born. Priests bless homes by sprinkling each room with holy water. In the Ukranian spring festivals, children and adults perform native dances in bright red, yellow, and green costumes handed down for generations. The Jewish people originally settled within the boundaries of State, E.Genesee, Irving, and Adams Streets, where they established businesses and built homes and synagogues; but as their businesses grew and they became prosperous, they moved their homes and synagogues to outlying districts. There are three Negro churches—Baptist, Methodist, and Episcopalian, and Negro chapters of the fraternal orders of Elks, Masons, Knights of Pythias, and Odd Fellows.
In the field of fine arts, the College of Fine Arts of Syracuse University and the Syracuse Museum of Fine Arts exert definite influence; the Associated Artists of Syracuse is the largest and most active of a number of art groups. Morning Musicals, established in 1890, is the largest organization in the field of music. The Music School Settlement gives free instruction to talented children. The German Liederkranz is the best known of a number of music and social organizations among the older established foreign groups. Gone are the days of the old Weiting Opera House, where, during its prime in the late nineteenth century, world premieres and test runs of plays and light operas were held. Today the legitimate stage is kept alive by the efforts of the dramatic group of Syracuse University.
The beginnings and early growth of Syracuse are identified with salt, but a determining factor in the success of the city was the initiative of a succession of 'rugged individualists'—men like James Geddes, Joshua Forman, John Wilkinson, Thomas G. Alvord, and Vivus W. Smith. What the French soldiers and Jesuits—the first white men to visit the site of Syracuse ( 1654)—saw, was a swamp. The salt springs were discovered by Father Simon LeMoyne, who reported that the Indians believed the water to be infested by a demon, rendering it fetid. The first white settler was Ephraim Webster, who came from Oriskany in 1786 and opened a trading station near the mouth of Onondaga Creek. Webster won the friendship of the Indians by his courage and his readiness to adopt their ways, even to marrying their daughters. Stories associated with his life are part of the folklore of the region; it is believed that James Fenimore Cooper's character Natty Bumppo owes much to the historical figure of Ephraim Webster. Webster's first Indian wife died shortly after their marriage in 1789. According to tradition, he promised his second Indian wife that he would live with her as long as she kept sober. After 20 years, Webster, reacting to the conventionalizing influences of the already large white settlement, began to desire a white wife and set out to make his Indian spouse drunk. For a long time she resisted every attempt but finally succumbed to the camouflage of milk punch. The next morning she left without uttering a word and soon thereafter died of grief. Webster married a white woman and raised a white family.
While on a hunting trip in Montgomery County, Webster slept in the barn of Major Asa Danforth in Johnstown. Webster's praise of the Onondaga country was so convincing that Major Danforth, his wife, his son Asa,Jr., and Comfort Tyler emigrated, and on May 22, 1788, erected the 'first Christian home' in the county. Asa's brother John followed him and began the manufacture of salt on the lake shore. In 1794 James Geddes settled on the west shore of the lake and in 1796 dug the first salt well in the present township of Geddes. The Indians claimed the springs west of the lake, but they adopted Geddes into their tribe and allowed him to continue to make salt. Other settlers came; little clusters of log houses were built around the scattered salt works along the lake shore, and for 70 years this industry formed the nucleus around which the activities of the communities revolved.
The most important of the salt settlements was Salina, also called Salt Point, now the north section of Syracuse. In 1797 the State took over the salt fields and established a reservation 11 miles long and 9 miles wide to obtain revenue from a tax on salt. Means of evading the duty were soon invented, and salt smuggling flourished.
The chief handicap of the infant industry was lack of adequate transportation facilities. Oxen wallowed through marshy land and hauled out salt on stone-boats. In 1804 James Geddes, then a member of the State legislature, interested Governor George Clinton in his plan to sell 250 acres of the State reservation and use the proceeds to build a road to the salt springs. The land, now the central portion of the city of Syracuse, was bought by Abraham Walton for $6,650. It was an unhealthy, almost impassable swamp, but gradually it was drained, cleared, and settled. A gristmill, the 'old red mill,' was built in 1805, a sawmill and tannery soon after; a tavern was opened by a man named Bogardus; and around these grew up the village of Syracuse. Across Walton's land Geddes laid out a 10-mile corduroy road, which later became part of the Genesee Turnpike.
Stimulated by this new utility, the salt industry developed rapidly. In the beginning the brine was dipped or pumped by hand from the springs for boiling. When the surface brine was exhausted, wells were dug and brine was pumped from them through pipes made of logs to 'salt blocks,' where it was boiled in huge kettles. The other method of manufacture was by solar evaporation: brine was exposed to the sun in huge vats and the salt precipitated by evaporation. If it started to rain a bell was rung, a signal for the workers to dash out and cover the vats.
The beginnings of manufacturing in Syracuse go back almost to the first settlements. Thomas Wiard began making wooden plows with iron staves in 1793. After the turn of the century. Nicholas Mickles, who came from New England to lay the foundations of a fortune in what was then frontier country, erected the first furnace west of Oneida County. The enterprise, in which Joshua Forman soon had an interest, was known as the Onondaga Furnace; its site is contained within Elmwood Park. It manufactured kettles for the salt works and for the western country, and during the War of 1812 it cast shot for the army.
From the time of the commercial beginnings of the salt industry, the, central New York waterways served as principal means of transportation. But these natural water routes were uncertain, difficult, and limited, and portages were slow and expensive. Syracuse salt manufacturers, especially Joshua Forman and James Geddes, were early propagandists on behalf of the Erie Canal project. With the lower freight rates on the canal, the production of salt increased rapidly, reaching a high point of 8,000,000 bushels annually during the Civil War period. Syracuse and Salina, situated on the canal halfway between Albany and Buffalo, and at the junction with the Oswego Canal opened in 1838, became important canal ports.
Salina was incorporated as a village in 1824, Syracuse in 1825. The latter had been known at various times as Bogardus Comers, Milan, Cossit's Corners, and Corinth. The name Syracuse was suggested by John Wilkinson, the first postmaster, who had read a poem describing the ancient Greek city in Sicily, which had also grown around a marsh and salt springs. At the time of incorporation the village had 15 merchants, one newspaper, a fire department, and several small industries.
John Wilkinson served as postmaster from 1820 to 1840 and as assemblyman in 1834 and 1835, and organized the Bank of Syracuse in 1838. His chief service was the construction of railroads radiating out of Syracuse, which gave the salt industry its final stimulus. The Auburn & Syracuse Railroad was opened for traffic in 1838; the Syracuse & Utica in 1839; the Oswego & Syracuse in 1848; the Rochester & Syracuse in 1853. The Syracuse & Binghamton Railroad, opened in 1854, brought coal from the Pennsylvania mines to be used as fuel in the salt fields. The salt industry had another able champion in Thomas G. Alvord, whose zealous efforts in its defense at Albany earned him the sobriquet of 'Old Salt.' He was elected to the assembly in 1845 and became lieutenant governor in 1864.
As early as 1840 leading citizens urged the consolidation of Syracuse and Salina and their incorporation as one city, but old antipathies blocked action. On New Year's Eve 1844, the rivalry culminated in a riot in Siegel's boarding house, which stood on the corner of Washington and Warren Streets. Tradition has it that salt-boilers from Salina descended upon the house to 'break up a party.' Mr. Siegel resented an insulting remark addressed to his wife and shattered the face of one of the intruders with a shotgun. A free-for-all followed, and the militia was called out. The event shocked both villages and negotiations for a city charter began. Terms were settled on January 3, 1848, and the two villages, together with Lodi, were incorporated as the city of Syracuse with a population of 22,000.
The new city was a center of the factional politics and the reform movements that swept across central New York State in the middle of the century. On October 1, 1851, occurred the Jerry Rescue, one of the most dramatic incidents in the antislavery movement. In June 1854, Horace Greeley, Thurlow Weed, and Vivus W. Smith met in Smith's home at the corner of West Onondaga Street and South Avenue in a historic conference, one of a series resulting in the birth of the Republican party. A meeting of the new party in Syracuse in 1859, at which a resolution 'to oppose treason" was adopted, foreshadowed the Civil War.
By 1860 Syracuse had several small foundries, machine shops, and factories producing agricultural implements, boots and shoes, furniture, saddlery, hardware, and silverware. The Irish, who came in large numbers to dig the canal and lay the railroads, remained to man the new factories. The Germans came between 1825 and 1850 and founded several of the industries that made Syracuse noteworthy in the nineteenth century. One group settled in the heart of the salt reservation, at the present village of Liverpool, and developed the willowware industry, which enjoyed wide fame for 50 years. In 1855, Anthony Will, a carpenter who had served his apprenticeship in Bavaria, melted wax over the family cook stove and started the candle industry in Syracuse.
After the Civil War, salt manufacture declined under competition from Canada and Michigan. The central location of Syracuse, its railroads and canals, its access to raw materials, the presence of gypsum, brine, and limestone, ready money, and a large labor supply—all combined to attract varied industries; the acres devoted to salt works became more valuable as factory sites and the old industry was forced out.
John D. Gray moved his shoe factory from Little Falls to Syracuse in 1866. The pottery industry, which dug some of its clay near East Syracuse, was firmly organized in 1871. In the same year William Sweet started the first steel mill in the city. Harry Wiard, descendant of Thomas Wiard, invented the chilling process in plow manufacture, and in 1876 production of the improved plow was begun by the Syracuse Chilled Plow Company.
In 1887 the Smith-Premier, the first typewriter to bear the Smith name, was manufactured in Lyman C. Smith's gun factory on South Clinton Street. Alexander T. Brown, an employee, invented the machine, and Wilbert Smith, brother of Lyman, financed the construction of the model. Today the manufacture of typewriters ranks high among the industries of Syracuse.
H.H.Franklin opened a die-casting shop in 1894. In 1898 John Wilkinson, grandson of the first postmaster of Syracuse, was perfecting an automobile with an air-cooled motor. The facilities of the Franklin foundry were put at his disposal, and in 1902 the first Franklin stock car was turned out. As the automobile industry developed, Syracuse turned to the manufacture of gears and other parts requiring specialized labor skill.
In these years of industrial expansion Syracuse developed the facilities and felicities of modern city life. The first high school building was erected in 1868, the first public hospital was opened in 1870, the first park acquired in 1886. Syracuse University opened its doors in September 1871, and has grown with the city. In 1894 the modern water supply system was opened. Streets were extended and paved. Building went forward steadily and the area of the city was increased. Today Syracuse remains an industrial stronghold surrounded and supported by the rich agricultural area of central New York.
Syracuse established a special school for crippled children in 1930 and a children's court in 1932. Night schools for adults began in 1890; in 1936, under the WPA, 300 teachers provided instruction for 15,000 adults. The Milbank Memorial Fund, providing approximately $450,000 for public health projects during the nine-year period 1923-31, has helped give Syracuse a high rank in health standards.
In 1838 the Syracuse & Utica Railroad laid its tracks along Washington Street, and the New York Central retained the same right-of-way. For almost 100 years, trains, moving at a snail's pace along the street level, spread a pall of smoke and dust, and idle travelers caught intimate glimpes of soot-covered Syracuse, its people, its stores, and its houses. Syracuse was known far and wide as the city where the trains passed through the street.