Copyright
Marcus Christian Hand.

From a forest to a city (Volume 1) online

. (page 1 of 14)
Online LibraryMarcus Christian HandFrom a forest to a city (Volume 1) → online text (page 1 of 14)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


Class /^/^^
Rnnlc ,Ji'/7->



CfiPyRIGHT DEPOSni



From a Forest



To A City.



Personal Reminiscences of Syracuse, N. Y.



BY



M/^.



HAND -




SYRACUSE, N. Y.:

MASTERS & STONE, PRINTERS.



18S9.






COPYRIGHTED
1880
— BY—

M. C. HAND.



^ FROM A FOREST TO A CITY,



More than half a century ago I reached that period in
life common to most young men when it seems best to
leave the parental home and start out on the broad earth
in search of the place that destiny has decided we should
make home for ourselves. I had never prepared myself
for any particular pursuit. My school advantages had
been, perhaps, a little better than many of my early as-
sociates. There seemed no calling nor locality that
beckoned to me as offering place and opportunity. I
bade farewell to the home of my childhood in one of the
north eastern counties of this state. I seemed like a
piece of drift wood carried along by the tide of circum-
stances to what destination I knew not. I soon found
myself moving slowly westward on a canal boat, then the
most common mode of travel through the state. Dark for-
ests and swamps were almost continuous with occasional
clearings of a few acres with cheap structures filled with
boatmen's supplies. After traveling for hours through an
unusually gloomy cedar swamp we came to a place
called Lodi. There was a small flouring mill built of stone
on the south side of the canal, our boat stopped here in
search of freight. Seeing the spires of two little churches
a mile west, I stepped off the north side and walked
along through a thick growth of cedar until I came to



4 FROM A FOREST

the Oswego canal. There was not a house to be seen
where Canal street is now located. When I came to
Salina street I left the tow path and crossed over to the
south side of the bridge, where I obtained my first view
of the streets of the little village of Syracuse. Of the
several streets that diverged from near Salina street
bridge, I could not decide which to take, as I had noth-
ing to call me in either direction. It was a warm pleas-
ant day in October, and for more than an hour I stood
still and surveyed the prospect before me. The build-
ings that lined the streets were unattractive, no better
than other country villages in those days, wooden build-
ings largely predominating. The two wide streets Salina
and Genesee crossing each other where I stood, gave the
little town an airy appearance. On the west side of
Salina street where the Globe Hotel is now, was a row
of one and a half and two story wooden dwellings, nearly
all painted white with green blinds, each lot sur-
rounded with a picket fence ; the green lawn and shrub-
bery in front of these neat little homes giving them an air
of cheerfulness and comfort. On the north-east corner
of Salina and Fayette streets the present site of McCar-
thy's store, there was a church built after the architecture
of those days, painted white with outside green blinds
running up to a point. There were brick side walks, over
some of which sign boards were placed which read " five
dollars fine for any person driving or leading a horse
on any sidewalk in this village." This seemed to a
stranger, evidence of a neat and orderly people. What
claimed my notice more ihan anything else, was the ac-
tivity of those I saw on the street. Every man moved



TO A CITY. 5

as though he had just heard that his house was on fire.
This energy impressed me most favorably with the
place and its people. The hills of the surrounding coun-
try were not hiddden by lofty buildings, and clothed in
the variegated hues of autumn, added much to the beauty
of the landscape before me. I felt a growing attachment
to the little place, and taking an inventory of my pockets,
found an old crown dollar, and several small pieces of
silver with bars on one side and a medallion on the other,
worth twelve and one half cents, (this currency long since
passed out of circulation). My cash amounted to two
dollars, a doubtful capital to resume my journey with.
I had not yet exchanged a word with any citizen. As I
was reflecting what was best to do, a short thick-set man,
past the meridian of life, stopped near me to look at a
passing canal boat. He was the first man I had seen, who
did not appear to be in a hurry. He took from his pock-
et a snuff box and applied a liberal pinch to his nose,
with evident satisfaction. Our eyes met, he noticed that
I was closely observing him, he handed his snuff box
towards me and said, " Will you have a pinch young
man ? I thanked him for his courtesy, and replied that I
was more in need of advice, that I had come to a stand-
still was a stranger without money, and in search of some
locality where I could spend the energies of my life with
a fair chance of a reasonable compensation. The kind-
ness of his nature led him to be interested in my welfare.
He advised me to look no farther, that young energetic
men were needed here, as it was the opinion of the best
men of the village that it would grow to be a city. This
opinion was based on its natural advantages, as it was



6 FROM A FOREST

nearly the center of the state, with inexhaustable salt
springs. His advice was to go to work here and help
build up the place, and invest every dollar in real estate,
that the rise of property would increase with my years.
He gave me his name, and pointed out a little white
house standing near the site of the Baptist church on
West Genesee street, as his home, and said if he could
help me by further advice any time he would do so if I
would call on him. These fev/ words so comforting to
me cost him nothing. A half of a hundred years have
passed by since they were spoken and every muscle and
bone of his body has crumbled to dust. His kind words
are as fresh in my memory as the hour in which he ut-
tered them, and they are firmly impressed upon the minds
of my family not to be forgotten so long as their lives last,
thus proving the truth of the little song,

" Kind words will never die, no never die."

I followed his advice and with little difficulty found
employment as clerk for the fall and winter in a store
situated where the Court house now stands. I became
acquainted with the original settlers and gained from
them a knowledge of the early history of the place.
Since that time more than fifty years have left their ex-
periences with me, and their changes in the place, and
sometimes when walking along our streets in a reflective
mood, my feelings are beyond description, contemplat-
ing the great changes that have taken place, and seldom if
ever do I see the face of one that was a middle aged man
at that time. They, with their unpretentious homes
only exist in memory. Fev/ men are left in Syracuse who



TO A CITY.



have personal recollections of its early history, and these
year by year are growing less.

Mr. Clark in his History of the county only gives the
same space to Syracuse that he does to other towns. Mr.
Clayton in his new History of the county should have de-
voted a liberal space to Syracuse, but instead he has
copied largely from Mr. Clark with but little additional
matter. This is to be regretted as it would seem that
his book might have been greatly enchanced in value by
such a course. It was hoped and expected that Mr.
Leavenworth would have given us a detailed account of
the early history of our town. He was whhout doubt
thoroughly familiar with the subject. Probably a large
majority of the citizens of Syracuse have but little know-
ledge of its history. It should be interesting to every
citizen to trace the progress of Syracuse through its pe-
riods of development from a mere hamlet to a flourishing
city. For many years I took an active part in the com-
pletion of many of the buildings that form the central
portion of the town, and was acquainted with all the
principal builders until the population was sixty thousand.

It is only designed to give a history of many of the
most important events occurring within the original
boundaries of the village of Syracuse for a period of near-
ly half a century. According to the title of this book my
task is completed when Syracuse is chartered a city. My
reminiscences will comprise short personal sketches of
some of the early settlers and a description of their simple
unpretentious homes, tracing Syracuse through its various
periods of development from a forest to a city. Many



8



FROM A FOREST



citizens now living in the fifth, seventh and eighth wards,
will remember that a large portion of these localities were
but little more than firming lands in 1848.



EARLY HISTORY.

In the year eighteen hundred the now central portion
of Syracuse was a dense forest, covered by a thick growth
of cedar, with here and there patches of higher ground
covered with stately pines, and other varieties of forest
trees. This was a continuance of the vast forest that
stretched from the Adirondacks on the north to the pine
forests of Pennsylvania. A hundred years ago the forest
was cut by a few continuous roads, with here and there
small clearings, peopled by pioneers from the eastern
states, and where good water power was found small vil-
lages sometimes sprang into existance. The streams
were filled with salmon and trout and wild game abound-
ed. So plenty were the wild animals in the forest where
Syracuse now stands that a trading boat from Albany
made a trip spring and fall loaded with goods to ex-
change for furs and live bears, dcers, and wolves and re-
turned to Albany where the trader found market for
these wild animals. The route traveled was by an old
water way from tide water up the Mohawk to Rome,
where a short portage was made to Wood creek, via.
Oneida lake and Seneca river to Onondaga lake. The
first white man who made this journey was said to be
W. Greenhalgh in 1677. In the year 1788 Asa Danforth,
with a few others, located at Onondaga Valley, and in



TO A CITY.



1803, there were eight frame and several log houses, a
post office established, and court was held there. In
1800 there were fifty-eight inhabitants at Salina mostly-
engaged in manufacturing salt. Thus we see at these
two points there was a nucleus of a village, while between
the two where the center of the city is now, was an un-
broken forest. The State by treaty with the Onondagas,
held at Fort Stanwix a few years before the close of the
last century, had acquired a title to a tract of this forest.
In the year 1804 two hundred and fifty acres, the now
central portion of Syracuse, was sold to Abram Walton.
The proceeds of the sale were to be expended in building
the Genesee turnpike through this section. On the 4th, of
July 1817 amid the roar of cannon from the Arsenal at
Rome, N. Y., the first shovelful of earth was raised
from the ground by Judge Richardson as a commence-
ment of the Erie canal, and soon after Elias Gramaer
made a commencement in this county. The large num-
ber of laboring men that were called here to perform this
great work, remained as permanent residents, as they be-
lieved that labor would be in demand in some branch of
salt manufacturing. These new comers built themselves
houses along the line of the canal, using slabs from the saw
mill located here where good pine slabs could be bought
for one cent apiece. For a few dollars, and three or four
days work, a comfortable house could be built. It was
surprising how comfortable these houses could be made
(and comfort only was considered). A whole slab was
used as a batten, the bark removed, the edges were thin,



lO FROM A FOREST

and with plenty of nails could be made nearly air tight ;
and the same material made a good roof.

April 2oth, 1820 the first boat made its appearance
here, a small craft named the " Montezuma," from
a place of the same name. This was the first great event
in the place, it had been extensively advertised, and
nearly every inhabitant for many miles around had gath-
ered on the banks of the canal, anxious to see the great
sight. The large crowd that had been standing for
hours, became impatient; from the first, there were many
who believed the scheme was not practicable, and this
faction was well represented in the assembled crowd, and
many who had been standing expectantly for hours be-
came tired and joined the douljters, who were shouting
that '' to-morrow you will hear that the " Montezuma"
bumped her nose against the bank, and sunk before she
had floated a mile, and we wish old Clinton had gone
down with her, and sunk in the ditch he has made at our
expense." While all this was going on, at once, there
was a shout of " There she comes I she is coming ! " A
team of spirited horses had been fastened to the line at
Jordan and as they passed the crowd of spectators, the
horses were on a fast trot, a wave of water was forced
wide over the low banks, and a loud shout arose from the
excited crowd. This successful trip silenced all doubters
and the canal was acknovvledged to be a success. From
that hour dates a nev/ era in the history of Syracuse. All
agreed that this water-way must result in great advantan-
tages to the locality. Men of means came here and used



TO A CITY, II



their money freely in building storage and forwarding
houses on the line of the canal. No place from Albany
to Buffalo attracted so much attention as Syracuse, on ac-
count of its salt interests. Among the few inhabitants
here there was much enthusiasm, and the forest receded
before the axe-man's stroke. Of all the enterprising men
few could equal Joshua Forman, and none could do more
than he in laying the foundation for a permanent pros-
perity. To his great energy, and ability, the undertaking
and completion of the Erie canal is largely due. To him
more than any other man, is Syracuse indebted for what
it is to-day. He located at Onondaga Valley in 1800
and opened a law office. He early became interested in
founding a town that would ultimately became one of
importance, and for many reasons he believed that neither
of the three rivals, Salina, Onondaga Hill or Onondaga
Valley should be the centre of this town. But to the
clear and discerning mind of Judge Forman he believed
it must be on a line of navigation through which much of
the commerce of the state must pass. Accordingly he
left the Valley and located where is now the centre of
Clinton, between Water and Washington streets. At
that time the greatest number of buildings were standing
on what is now West Genesee street. Streets had no ex-
istence then.

A wagon road from the Valley leading to Salina,
crossed the Genesee turnpike at the canal bridge on
Salina street west of Salina and south of Water street.
The block where the Weiting Opera House and many
other elegant and costly building are now standing, was



12 FROM A FOREST

then a grove of stately pines. The small trees, and all the
under brush had been removed, and sufficient sunlight
found its way through the scattering pines, to give life to
the wild grass. Here was the little white house of Mr.
Forman. The grounds west, nearly to the creek, were
soon transformed into a garden, where beautiful flowers and
fine vegetables grew under the care of the gardener; it
was a place of rare beauty for those times, here a lover of
nature and rural life, could be content, among those pines
clothed in evergreen with such peculiar foliage, that they
never cease responding in low murmurs to the passing
breeze. In this beautiful pine grove the first celebration
of the 4th, that was ever held in Syracuse took place in
1820. As before stated a section of the canal was com-
pleted and several small boats could be located here. It
was proposed to have a grand celebration of the 4th,
which in those days was entered into with vastly more
spirit than now, for many were then living, who had
taken part with and followed the great Washington in
skirmish and battle. One of the attractions, was a ride
on the canal. The people of the present day will be
surprised that so novel was this considered at that
time, that the Govenor of the state with many other cele-
brities, as well as many from all parts of the state, and
inhabitants for miles around were here to see and take
part. The programme was carried out in all it appoint-
ments. Thaddeus M. Wood was called to preside, and in a
short and brilliant speech, for which this man was so won-
derfully distinguished, dwelt upon the great achievements
of the day they celebrated, and upon the inexhaustible



TO A CITY. 13

mines of wealth contained in their salt interests, and the
postive assurance of an early and successful completion of
a waterway through the state, which would afford them a
cheap and easy transportation to the markets of the west
and the tide water east. In view of this great advantage,
in part only enjoyed by any other locality, it seemed
postively certain that at no distant day instead of the
shade of these pines, the shade of towering buildings
would fall upon the ground where they then stood, that
beautiful paved streets east and west would soon spring
into existence populated by a happy and prosperous
people. The oration was delivered by S. N. Hopkins,
Esq., in which the same sentiments were continued in a
most eloquent manner. A lengthy account of this cele-
bration appeared in a paper published at that time in
Onondaga Valley, and read by the writer many years ago.
Notwithstanding these flattering prospects so eloquent-
ly expressed by Mr. Wood, there was a great drawback
to the enterprise, one that seemed to dampen the ardor
of the bravest heart. Syracuse had the reputation which
seemed to be well supported, of being the most un-
healthy locality in the state and to use the language of
that time " it seemed to be the abode of pestilence and
death," especially while the canal was beirg dug which un-
doubtedly added to the other causes of sickness, and few
of the canal laborers escaped the fever and many died.
Thirty of these poor fellow were buried near where
Fayette crosses Clinton street. Their lonely graves were
then shaded by the tall forest trees that were standing
near. The busy throng that now surges to and fro



14 FROM A FOREST

through that locality are not aware of this fact. Some
who had located here with the expectation of remaining
and had built small frame houses, tore them down and
removed them to more healthy locations. This' most
serious difficulty was to a great extent obviated by Judge
Forman who believed there could be but little prosper-
ity unless a healthy condition could be restored and like
a skillful physician, was determined to find the cause if
possible and then proceed to obviate it if it was in the
power of man. He took a careful survey of Onondaga
creek and lake, and found that the lake was nearly on a
level with some of it surroundings when the water was
highest and it set back from the creek and lake, and flood-
ed the low and swampy lands. After making a survey of
the outlet of the lake in the Seneca river, he believed it
was possible to lower the lake several feet by making its
outlet much wider and deeper. He petitioned the legis-
lature for an appropriation for this purpose and also for
surveys and maps for a thorough system of drainage. A
part of the expense was to be a local tax upon the lands as
they were benefited. This work was completed in
1822-23. The lowering of the lake produced a salutary
effect ; what was marsh and swamp became dry land, yet
there were some pools which stubbornly resisted. Ditch-
es were dug from these to the creek and some traces of
them still remain. The last pool or frog pond that I re-
member was located where the Farmer block now stands,
on the corner of Madison and Warren streets. A sewer
was constructed by Bradley Gary to the creek, and this
pool was drained and filled up. The residents on War-



TO A CITY. 15

ren street would be surprised if they could see that local-
ity as it was in 1828. There was a hill where Onondaga
crosses Warren street. North of this point was a deep
ravine with a brook running through it, the banks of
which were lined with flags and rushes, through which
the muskrat and mink had made paths in their nocturnal
visits to the old mill pond. Before this lavine was filled
a buckboard on which three mechanics were riding down
the hill, broke, and one a Mr. Hamilton was run over and
his collar bone broken, he was carried to the nearest
house a quarter of a mile distant where he was cared for.
This accident is referred to as showing the condition of
the road bed here at that time. A few years after the
ravine was filled and the road made level. The thorough
system of drainage with the lowering of the lake, though
expensive, proved most salutary in its effects upon the
health of the inhabitants and prosperity was again re-
stored and many who had desired to locate here, but had
been restrained from fear, now came with confidence.



THE name: of SYRACUSE.

Previous to the year 1820 the place had been known by
several different names. For the first twelve years it had
taken its name from the first hotel, and while Mr. Bogar-
dus was proprietor it was called Bogardus' Corners. It
was next called Cossit's Corners, and South Salina. The
latter name was -not popular on account of feuds, and
petty jelousies existing between the two places, . and for
the want of a better name it was called Milan, for three



1 6 FROM A FOREST

years, but that was not generally liked. At this date there
were not far from two hundred inhabitants scattered
about the vicinity. They were called together for some
business purpose, when incidentally the vexed question of
a name arose for discussion. Judge Forman made a
short speech in which he stated that it would seem that
they had arrived at that point when they should decide
upon some permanent name; that he had always felt it
would grow to be a place of importance, and should
therefore have a good name. He said Corinth had always
been a favorite name ever since he first read Grecian his-
tory, (probably the most of his hearers had never heard
of such a place) and he then gave them an account of this
Grecian city. I am indebted to the traditions of the first
settlers for this information. It is now impossible to re-
late what he said on this occasion. He might, and probably
did say, something to this effect, "We must confess that
thus far, for fifteen years we have been vacillating be-
tween several different names for the town, whose foun-
dations we all desire shall be well laid. If we now select
the name, Corinth, and should it bear that name as long
as its Grecian namesake, some relic worshipper might
look down from some of our hill tops five thousand years
hence upon an ancient city, extending miles to the south
with its spires and glittering domes and say, here is a
city whose origin is lost in the night of ages. For Cor-
inth the Grecian city was founded long before Homer
wrote the siege of Troy. It was one of the finest cities
of Greece, adorned with the most sumptuous buildings,
its public squares and temples, its theatres and porticos



TO A CITY. 17

were famed in antiquity. The forum surrounded by-
temples and adorned with statues and columns. Here
was the statue of Diana of the Ephesians and the Tem-
ple of Fortune, with its statues of Parian marble." It is
certain, if we can rely upon the statements of the first
settlers, that Mr, Forman christened our town Corinth,
and in all probability instead of living in the city of
Syracuse to day we should be living in the city of Cor-
inth, had it not been prevented by a mere accident.
Some time during the year 1819 Mr. Wilkinson
with others petitioned for a post-office to be established
in Corinth, N. Y., and himself for Postmaster. He soon
after received his appointment, but the application for
the name of the post office was rejected in conse-
quence of there already being one in the state by that
name. Within a few years our city has been flooded with
pamphlets filled with advertisements, and for the purpose
of inducing the people to preserve and tolerate them,
have contained a few pages of the early history of Syra-
cuse, in every instance quoted verbatim from Mr.
Clark's history of Onondaga, and when they arrive at the
name of our town they simply say Mr. Wilkinson named
it Syracuse. The Yankee is renowned for his inquisitive
proclivities, which in him seem an innate principle and
is demonstrated in the character of the boy who cut the
bellows in pieces to find out where the wind' came from.
Should one of our inquisitive inhabitants start out with the


1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14

Online LibraryMarcus Christian HandFrom a forest to a city (Volume 1) → online text (page 1 of 14)