Onondaga Bank
(originally Onondaga County Savings Bank now M&T Bank)

Southeast corner of Salina and Erie

Onondaga County Savings Bank was first incorporated on April 10, 1855.  Its original offices were two blocks north of the current location, at the middle of 100 South Salina block.

The bank's second location was in the old Syracuse House which once stood where the bank is today.

The third location was the building now known as the Gridley Building, across the street from the current location.

The bank's fourth and final home was this 10 story "skyscraper," as it called when completed in 1897. (Onondaga Bank was purchased by M&T Bank in 1996).

The building was remodeled in 1931, adding murals and ceiling artwork by William T. Schwarz, whose father was president of the Bank from 1927 to 1931.

The ceiling painting is an astrologically correct representation of the night sky, depicting the signs of the Zodiac.   It is a replica of a map found by Schwarz in the Library of Congress, drawn by a 15th century astronomer.  This, in turn, was copied from an Italian monastery.

To maintain accuracy, the layout was overseen by a professor of astronomy at Haverford College in Pennsylvania.  The artist claimed the location of the stars was so precise, "You can even use a sextant on it."

Click for enlargement
Postcard circa 1900

Shying away from conventional materials, Schwarz used blox Belgium paint containing Ferrara marble dust instead of white lead to prevent cracking and darkening of colors.  The paint was applied to a fabric made of linen and jute.

The resulting canvas, in two sections, weighed more than a ton.  Installing it to the ceiling was an engineering feat in itself.  The mural was placed face down on the lobby floor on top of a circus net borrowed from the famous Ringling family of Sarasota, Florida.  The ceiling was coated with white lead and varnish. Then, using block and tackle, the mural and net were raised to within an inch of the ceiling.  From there the mural was rolled into place.

Fearing that the painting might not adhere properly, the net was left in place overnight.  The painting hasn't moved since.

The murals on the walls depict historical highlights of the community.

  1. The Great Council of the League of Five Nations.  The first mural depicts the 1743 meeting that made Onondaga the seat of power for the Iroquois.  The dominion of the Iroquois extended from the Hudson River on the east to Lake Michigan on the west, from the Ottawa River on the north to the Potomac on the south. 

  2. The First Mayor of Syracuse.  The Village of Syracuse, formed in 1825, grew from a few hundred people to a population of 15,795.  In 1848 Syracuse was incorporated as a city and on March 7, of that year Harvey Baldwin, a Democrat, was elected the first Mayor.  His opponent, John G. Forbes, ran on the Whig Party ticket.  The total number of votes cast -- 2,028.

  3. The Opening of the Erie Canal.  The grand celebration marking the completion and formal opening of the Erie Canal took place October 29, 1825 with Governor Dewitt Clinton presiding.  Actually, portions of the canal had been in use for several years before and in 1820 the first packet boat, the "Montezuma", with passengers from the East, had docked in Syracuse.

  4. The Visit of Marquis Lafayette.  The famous military figure of the Revolutionary War arrived in 1825 by way of Onondaga Hill and Onondaga Valley.  His arrival was celebrated with a parade in Syracuse.  At Clinton Square Lafayette then embarked by boat for Utica.

  5. Service.  This small mural commemorates the services of the men and women of this community who gave their lives for their country in the (at that time) three great wars:  The Civil War, the Spanish-American War and the First World War.

  6. The Discovery of Salt by Father Le Moyne.  The Canadian French explored the Onondaga area in 1653 and a mission, chapel and fort were built near Pompey Hill.  Father Simon LeMoyne, first Jesuit priest to the Onondagas, discovered salt in the vicinity in 1654.  This was the origin of the great salt industry.

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