The History of New York State
Book IX, Chapter XI

Editor, Dr. James Sullivan

Online Edition by Holice, Deb & Pam




In few States have the Indian names been so perpetuated as they were by the early settlers of New York. The very word Onondaga takes one back centuries to that time when all of the territory was under the dominion of the red race. The Onondagas were one of the powerful tribes in New York. Although they had only fourteen of the fifty chiefs that ruled the Confederation, the vote in council was by nations, each having one. Their great advantage lay in the fact that they had the great council five of the Five Nations, to which came all envoys, Indian or white.

It was through this necessity of coming to make peace or to seek favors that the white man so early became acquainted with the county now within the borders of Onondaga County. As early as 1648 the location of this tribe of Indians was known and described; a dozen years before this both the Dutch and French had dealings of them; Champlain is supposed to have attacked an Onondaga village in 1615; but this is doubtful, although he passed through the present county on his way to an Oneida town.  

The Frenchman, Radisson, in 1652, captured and adopted by the Mohawks, was the first white man to stay for a time in this region, he to be followed shortly by many of this nationality, Jesuit priests and soldiers. The first chapel was erected within the limits of the town of Pompey, November 11, 1655, and the first colony, French, settled on Lake Onondaga one week later of the same year. Frontenac invaded and burned Onondaga in 1696. So much for early dates. Of the wars which ended in turn the sway of the Indian,

French, and English, an account may be found elsewhere. While there were many who settled here before the Revolution as may be seen by turning to the mention of the various towns, the great development of the county area did not begin until after that great event. In concluding peace with this new nation, the English made no provision for their Indian allies. In 1784 the great council at Fort Stanwix was held and an endeavor made to placate the tribes was unsuccessful. But two years later a treaty was made at the same place whereby the Onondagas ceded to the State of New York all their lands except certain reservations.

Although having no legal title to the land they preempted, men like Asa Danforth had established themselves and family in 1788., Others soon followed. On September 16, 1776, congress had promised bounties for 88 inhabitants. In 1783 New York added the promise of lands to their troops. This was the genesis of the "Military Tract," a land grant constantly referred to in State history. On January 1, 1791, drawing fro the lots laid out in this tract began, and the land was quickly disposed of. Many of the soldiers did not settle on the acres, but sold to others. Much was bought up speculators. But in the main, many came and stayed an by 1799 there were known to be 879 people in the present county limits. In 1920 there were 241,465.

Meanwhile, Onondaga had organized as a county on June 6, 1794. Formed from Herkimer, she embraced much of the military tract and benefited by its distribution. Cayuga County was taken off five years later, Cortland in 1808, and Oswego in 1816, leaving it as it now exists, an almost square body of land thirty by thirty-four miles, or in terms of square miles, 781. The first court was held in Asa Danforth's house in Onondaga town. it was not until 1805 that the county's business was cared for in a an unfinished building on Onondaga Hill. This courthouse was completed two years later and used until new buildings were erected in Syracuse in 1830, the county seat having been removed to a location half way between this place and Salina. A new penitentiary was built near by in 1830, and after the burning of the courthouse, 1856, another was erected on the north side of the canal the next year. the present fine structure was completed in 1907.

Onondaga County is in a somewhat elevated district, the lowest point being 350 feet above sea level, and ranges to hills well over 2,000; five valley cross the county from north to south; there are many, and some large, lakes. The county was originally well forested and the products of the forest supplied the first industries. The trapper and the digger of ginseng first ranged the region. When the settlers began to clear the woodlands the times was a loss until they began to burn the log heaps and export potash. Later the saw mill disposed of the timber to greater profit. At one time, 1826, Baldwinsville had fifteen saw mills in operation; now there re none. Hemlock and oak were plentiful, hence came the tanneries. These made a market for the hides and cattle and sheep were brought in. Weaving and spinning at one time attained a real importance, but the mills have long since disappeared.

Agriculture has had its changes. The grains are not grown more cheaply elsewhere, a return to the cattle industry came about. But this time its was the dairy cow that was grown; milk, with the increasing large cities, proving profitable Fruits, vegetables, poultry for the same reason took on new value. Salt was the main mineral resource from Indian days, the Onondagas receiving rights to the "salt lakes." When the white man began to evaporate brine, all manner of industries grew up about it. Woods were needed to boil the brine, barrels in which to pack the salt, means of transportation to get it to market. This sale industry has held its own amid the changes which the years have wrought inmost of the industries. Solvay is a city of 5,000 whose main livelihood is drawn from salt works. Liverpool is another village which has held on to its original business with gain, it is the center of the willow basket trade.

The changes in the county's industries have been natural and brought about inmost cases, not by any inability to continue them, but because transportation developments have made other things more profitable. The Erie Canal was finished in Onondaga some time before the whole work was completed. In 1817 the county was using a section of ninety-four miles. The completed canal, 1825, moved grain growing west and brought manufacturing nearer. The steamboat "Independence" was tried out on Lake Skaneateles in 1831. The auburn and Syracuse Railroad ran its first train seven years later, and the Utica and Syracuse opened in 1839. Today a map of Syracuse has the appearance of the center of a spider's web, so many are the railroads and canals which cluster here. Probably to the Erie Canal, now enlarged to barge dimensions, and the roads, highway and railroad, is the growth of Onondaga County from a rough forest region to a manufacturing and dairy section due. A noted writer on economics, and a business expert, has said: "This region is destined to become the manufacturing center of the United States."

When the county was erected, the towns within the territory had for the most part been organized and named. Surveyor-general DeWitt was credited with "shaking his classical pepper pot over central new York and leaving innocent villages smarting with such names of Ovid, Pompey, Marcellus, etc." he denied having any knowledge of the names until they were reported to him. Probably some subordinate thought out the classical scheme by which the lots in the military tract were named, and which were in turn taken by the towns formed on them later. The earliest settled of the towns were, with the 1920 census populations figures were:









































Van Buren





















Syracuse city



Onondaga Indian Reservation




Camillus, the first town alphabetically, if not historically, was erected from Marcellus, March 9, 1799, taking the name of Military Tract No. 5. Settled first by Isaac Lindsay and his brothers, 1791, one of the latter, William, discovered in the town the first plaster bed found in the United States and formed a company in 1808 to work and sell the product. The Erie Canal helped to make the section quite a mill center. The village Camillus incorporated 1852, has now four factories, pocket knives being the main article made, although there is also a knitting mill.

Cicero, formed February 20, 1807, was a "favored spot in the old days.' Champlain and Le Moyne both visited it, and in 1759 Fort Brewerton was built, a large structure for its times. The great "Cicero swamp" has been he scene of a number of endeavors to drain, but half has as yet resisted these efforts. The reclaimed soil is very fertile, and the is well off agriculturally.

Clay was taken from Cicero in April, 1827, early became an important grain section, but the principal industry of the early day was the making of barrels, and supplying wood to the salt works at Syracuse. There are several small villages within the township lines.

DeWitt, erected from Manlius in 1835, had for its first settler Benjamin Morehouse in 1789. The main village, East Syracuse, incorporated 1881, was founded by the New York Central Railroad as a site on which to erect repair shops. It soon attained a population of 2,000, since doubled, and while railroad interests are still the most important, there the other industries, silverware being a valued product. Eastwood, incorporated in 1895, is closely connected with the shiretown, and the seat of large boiler work, furniture factories and an incubator concern.

Elbridge was called after Elbridge Gerry, whose name is attached to that strange political animal the "Gerrymander." The town, set off in 1829, is one of the farming section, with some minor manufactures in Elbridge village, incorporated 1848, has two concerns making chairs and other furniture.

Fabius, No. 15 of the Military Tract, was erected march 9, 1798. The highest land in the county is in this area which limits its industries to dairying, in which it is a leader, and the growing of vegetables, the canning of which is an important business. Fabius village, until 1850 called Franklinville, incorporated in 1880, is a cannery and milk center for the town.

Geddes was named for its first citizens, James Geddes, who came here in 1794 to manage a company he had formed for the making of salt. The village of the same name, annexed to Syracuse in 1887, had large iron works. The Solvay process company came to Geddes town in 1881, and developed with such rapidity that a village soon grew up about it, which was incorporated in 1895. The most modern municipal ideas are used in the management of the village, making it one of the premier places of this region. the industries consist of soda and by products works employing 2,500; coke, iron castings, steel forgings, and electrical supplies.

LaFayette, organized 1825 from Pompey and Onondaga, was named after the famous Marquis who was touring America at that time. Part of the town was bought from the Indians in 1817 and sold to settlers five years later. In 1794 Elias Conlin erected a sawmill on the creek which was given his name. The village LaFayette was laid out when the Skaneateles and Cazenovia road was built. The New England style of a center square with houses surrounding was used. As late as 1835 it consisted of one church, two stores and a dozen houses. The village Cardiff made for itself name known throughout the world, for it was at this place that the famous "Cardiff Giant" came to light. It was but a gypsum fake made in Chicago, to which it was returned and attracted attention from the wise of many nations.

Lysander, No. 1 of the Military tract, made a town in 1794, was on the State road built in 1806-07. The mail route from Oswego to Onondaga using this road gave mail service to the early settlers and attracted many. In 1797 Dr. Jonas Baldwin passed this way, saw the value the water power here, bought land the next year, erected a wing dam and made a canal in the parts needed from the Oneida River to Cayuga Lake. His usefulness tot he district was commemorated in the changing of the name of Columbia villages in 1817 to Baldwinsville. This hamlet was incorporated in 1848. For years it did its manufacturing on a large scale; large sawmills, large gristmills, large paper and knitting mills. In more recent years the factory interests have be been more varied and smaller. There are some fourteen concerns now, producing pumping machinery, wagon springs, grist, knives and knit goods.

Manlius, erected 1794, was first settled by David Tripp in 1790, a mile from the present village, Manlius. This village grew rapidly until the opening of the Erie Canal. The first newspaper in the county was the "Derne Gazette," for Derne was the name by which it was then known (1806). It was short lived but was followed by the "Times" in 1808 which wisely gave one side of its single sheet to Democratic politics and other to the Federalist. Fayetteville was helped by the anal and incorporated in 1828, and reincorporated in 1871, and possibly reincarnated. It now has six industries, such as furniture factories, vegetable cannery, and white metal works.

Marcellus was one of the heaviest wooded sections of the county, but had quite a few resident before 1800. Sawmills and tanneries soon sprang up and the forest land was a hive of industry. The village of the same name was on the stage route and soon outstripped other places,. And when an electric road was laid in recent years it took on some of the busy life of its earlier days. It is a very pretty place, with the making of woolen cloth as its main occupation. Marcellus falls specializes on tissue paper. Marcellus was incorporated in 1853.

Onondaga, formed in 1708, has had the most of its historic events related in the earlier part of these notes. Onondaga Hill, Valley, South and East Onondaga, are the names of some of the village. The last is a suburb of Syracuse as is also Danforth, an incorporated village (1886).

Otisco, taken from Pompey, Marcellus and Tully is 1806, is one of the hill towns interested more in dairies and farms than factories.

Pompey, organized in 1794, included five of the present towns and part of six others. Pompey Hill is prominent in the history of the county, probably because of its prominence on the landscape, for from the hill one can see into seven counties. The township has many hamlets, and many noted men in all walks of life are proud to have come from Old Pompey."

Salina derived its name and early importance from the salt springs and works which were established even before the white man came to this region. As a town, it was erected in 1809, mostly from the Indian reservation lands. Even in 1788 there were men here whose names became connected with the events of the county, all drawn by the fortunes to be made in so useful a commodity as salt. The village, which soon took form, bade fair to become a rival of Syracuse, but the two have so grown toward each other that rivalry no longer exists.

Skaneateles, named from the lake, was set off from Marcellus in 1830. The village was incorporated in 1833, enlarged in 1870 to one square mile, and reincorporated in 1855. The place has become quite a summer resort and the lake, on which the first steamboat in 1831 had it unsuccessful trial, is now well supplied with craft, the most of which are used for pleasure rather and business. There are seven factories in the village, most of them engaged in the making of paper and cigars, Skaneateles Falls has woolen mills and manufactures felt.

Spafford was taken from Marcellus, Sempronius and Tully in 1811. It lies between Skaneateles and Otisco Lakes, with the longest lake frontage of any of the town, and is noted for it picturesque hills and valleys. It has come to be a favored spot in which folk from the cities erect this summer homes.

Tully, formed in 1803, is a dairy and summer resort section. It had undeveloped wealth under ground which was not revealed until the Solvay Process company bored deep wells in 1888 and struck a great bed of rock salt in Tully Valley. These wells are flooded and the saturated solutions conveyed to Solvay, eighteen miles away.

Van Buren, taken from Camillus, was erected as a town in 1829. The town has a number of hamlets which have been given curious names, such as Satan's Kingdom, Dead Creek, Shacksburg, Whiskey Hollow, Pleasant Valley and Sorrel Hill. Memphis is the largest of the villages.

The Onondaga Reservation was set off for the Onondaga Indians by the treaty of Fort Stanwix in 1788. The things sale-guarded by the aborigines in the compact were places to fish and set weirs and the right to a salt spring. The reservation now covers 6,100 acres, and with the taking up of the white man's practice with the soil, and in shops, has become a beautiful park much visited by travelers, from all over the States. The Indian owners of this area numbered, in 1920, only 475.

The City of Syracuse--The consideration of the growth of a great city and the factors that entered into it, are always matters of interest and worth. The Indian seemed to have recognized something strategical about this locality, for the Iroquois League is said to have been formed with the present boundaries of Syracuse. Many of the early trails lead through the district. A white settler or two had built their cabins here even before 1800. Four years later than this date the Walton Tract was laid out in village lots by James Geddes. Abraham Walton bought the whole tract of 250 acres fro $6,550 in 1805 and built a mill. The village was called South Salina, but in the next year was known as Bogardus' Corners, changed title with the changing ownership of a tavern to Cossit's Corners, 1815. But meanwhile, in 1809, it had been called Milan for a year or two, and then South Salina. In 1817 the name of Corinth was attached to it, and probably about 1819, the discovery having been made that there was a post office in the State by the same title, it received its present designation at the suggestion of John Wilkinson. A poem, which had won an Oxford University prize, entitled, "Syracuse," had come to the attention of Mr. Wilkinson, and a study of the ancient city had impressed him with the similarity of the two places in many respect, leading him to make his suggestion when a new name was required for the thriving village. Mr. Wilkinson became the first postmaster in 1820, and in the same year the first school house and first church were built.

Nine years later a visitor, colonel William L. Stone, remarked that "in 1820 where he had seen six scattered tenements surrounded by a desolate, poverty-stricken, woody country, enough to make an owl weep to fly over it," he now saw "another enchanted city with splendid hotels and rows of majestic buildings, streets crowded with people." Joshua Forman, who was entertaining him, replied: "You will live to see this place a city yet." Bu this time the Erie Canal had been completed through the future city and a land boom was on. By 1836 there were four churches, the county buildings, two newspapers, an "Academy," 47 stores, 28 industrial concerns, two fire companies, and the population had reached 4,103.

Salt was the source of the early Syracuse prosperity and growth. The nearby Indian and later State reservations of the salt springs conserved and centered the salt industry. In 1830 two of a number of companies has each a capitalization of $150,000, and were making 163,000 bushels of coarse salt annually. Twenty years later the industry had reached its height, yet even as late as 1890 the yearly output was three million bushels. But the city was n longer a one-industry city; it was becoming a region of factories.

Following the business depression which overtook the nation in the early eighteen nineties, large manufacturing companies located in the Syracuse district, and by the opening years of the new century they were coming in increasing numbers. In 1903 the name "Typewriter City" was applied rightly to Syracuse for three different machines were being made here. One concern had just erected the largest typewriter building in the world. Famous bicycle factories had before this carried on a tremendous business but with the going out of the century went the bicycle as an important vehicle and the automobile was introduced in its stead. The bicycle plants promptly took up the making of motor cars. For years Syracuse had led the world in the manufacture of time recorders. In 1906 it had more engaged in the making of men's clothing, outside four of the largest cities, than any other place. In the State it ranked first in the manufacture of salt, candles, and in the value of its iron, steel and rolling mill products. It was third in boots and shoes, bakery products, food preparations.

These are some of the more outstanding of the manufacturing industries. There are few necessities in which the city is not represented or allied by its factories. The Solvay Process Company has for many reason stood first in the hearts of the residents of Syracuse. It for many years did more shipping than all the rest of the business of Syracuse combined. It turns out soda in all forms, with quantities of the by-products of its manufacture.

But not alone by its industries does a city become great. The place it takes in social, religious and educational affairs establishes its true importance and standing among the cities of the State. Exclusive of trade unions and minor social clubs, there are 300 fraternal orders, lodges and miscellaneous societies, including all the major organizations. The State Fair, started in 1841, and made a permanent institution in 1888, annually beings thousands of visitors to the city. the churches number more then 125, with nearly all denominations represented. The school system is not only of the completest, but is topped by Syracuse University, ranking among the highest in the Unites States. The city in 1867 voted $100,000 for a university if $400,000 should be added as an endowment. The Methodist Episcopal convention, in 1870, voted to raise the sum, and pledges covering the amount wee secured by January, 1871. From this small beginning came this great coeducational university. On the 100 acres of campus, new buildings for the enlarged wok of the school are constantly being erected. There are, besides the colleges of fine Arts, with which the institution started, the College of medicine, founded in 1872; law, 1895; applied Science, 1901; and the Teachers' college, authorized in 1906.

A summary of the changes and expansion of Syracuse would read like this: Settled just previous to 1800,. Plotted as a village 1804; incorporated April 13, 1825. Annexes Salina and received a city charter December 13, 1847. The county seat, which had been between the two villages now as wholly within Syracuse, which erected new county buildings in 1907. Corner stone of the University laid, August 31, 1871. State Fair permanently located here in 1888. Syracuse City Hall opened April 30, 1892, Geddes was added to the city 1886; Danforth the next year; the village of Eastwood 1895; Elmwood 1899; Huntley, 1908. Population, 1920, 171,717.


The History of New York State, Lewis Historical Publishing Company, Inc., 1927

This book is owned by Pam Rietsch and is a part of the Mardos Memorial Library

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