City looks forward and back

Syracuse, also known as the "Salt City," is at the center of a region full of history.

Tuesday, August 21, 2001


By Renee K. Gadoua

In the 1920's, city planners proposed building a 25-story city hall in downtown Syracuse.

A 1950's proposal suggested a 30-story office building.

At one time, planners considered building a municipal football field on the city's North Side.

Those ambitious plans for the mid-sized city never came to pass. Today, the city's tallest building, the State Tower Building, is 23 stories. But the city has plenty of landmarks.

Buildings such as the Landmark Theatre; Syracuse University's Crouse College and Hall of

Languages; the Onondaga County Courthouse; the state Armory, now the Milton J. Rubenstein Museum of Science & Technology; and the I.M. Pei-designed Everson Museum of Art reflect the city's grand past and its enduring character.

The city is home to the SkyChiefs, a minor league baseball team; a Jesuit college, LeMoyne; Syracuse University; a zoo; outstanding teaching hospitals and numerous city parks.

Syracuse is at the center of a region full of history and beautiful land. Madison County, for example, was home to Gerritt Smith, the 19th-century abolitionist. Oswego County was home to Fort Ontario, America's only camp for Holocaust survivors. To the west, Seneca Falls hosted the first Women's Rights Convention in 1848.

The same year as that historic convention, the villages of Salina and Syracuse merged to form Syracuse, the city at the crossroads of the state and the heart of Central New York. Salt, known as white gold, near Onondaga Lake spurred the city's early development and became the source of Syracuse's nickname as The Salt City.

In its early days, Clinton Square was the heart of downtown Syracuse. Its role as the city's business center grew after the Erie Canal was built there and passenger boats docked along the city's main thoroughfare. A courthouse, banks, hotels and a theater surrounded the square and made the area the center of government as well as the center of commerce.

The city underwent a major change when the Erie Canal was filled in in the 1920s. Modern roads replaced the canal, first traveled by trolley cars, and later by cars.

Local and state officials pledge to bring more high-tech industry to the area. And while residents would welcome the economic benefits of such growth, many local businesses have been around more than 100 years and reflect the region's history and character.

Among them:

  • Cathedral Candle Co.:  The nation's oldest manufacturer of religious candles continually owned and operated by the same family, was founded in 1897.

  • Crouse Hinds Electric Co.:  An electrical manufacturer, was also founded in 1897. Its first product was a changeable headlight for trolley cars.

  • Edward Joy:  The plumbing and lighting supplier was founded in 1875 by Irish immigrant Edward Joy.

  • Lipe-Rollway Corp.:  Started in 1880, the manufacturer introduced one of the first movie cameras, automatic looms, time recorders and machines to roll cigars and wind brooms.

  • F.H. Ebeling:  Started by the Ebeling family in 1868 as a farm-supply store, the store remained in the Ebeling family until 1946. Today Ebeling Pet Center, said to be one of the oldest established pet centers in the country, operates several stores in Central and Northern New York.

  • John Marsellus Mfg. Co. Ltd.: The casket company, started in 1872, has created caskets for celebrities including the late John F. Kennedy, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and Cardinal John O'Connor of New York City.

  • Syracuse China: The tableware maker started in 1841 when W.H. Farrar founded Empire Pottery Co. on West Genesee Street to make whiskey jugs, butter crocks and pottery bowls. Now owned by Libbey, Inc., Syracuse China developed fully vitrified china, a product that was stronger than the porcelains of Europe.

  • Gustav Stickley Co.:  Gustav Stickley, considered one of the nation's leading craftsmen, began making furniture in Auburn near the turn of the century. The furniture company is now run by Alfred and Aminy Audi and operates in a plant in the village of Manlius.

On September 2, the city is scheduled to rededicate a renovated Clinton Square. The site will include a reflecting pool in the general shape and location of the original Erie Canal, fountains to recall the role of water in the city, night lighting to illuminate the facades of the nearby historic buildings, cleaning and restoration of the Soldiers and Sailors Monument and a path echoing the original towpath.

And who knows, some day there may be a 30-story office building downtown.

2001 The Syracuse Newspapers

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