The main streets of Syracuse are oddly wide and flat, fat gray rubber bands stretched out to their sides. It begs the question: who would lay out a city with so much empty space? The answer is simple. One street was once the Erie Canal (Erie Boulevard); another, the Genesee Valley Turnpike (Genesee Street).
Like many towns in central New York, Syracuse boomed with the opening of the Erie Canal. But long before the canal, settlers were attracted to the area by its many valuable salt springs. As early as 1797, the state took over the springs in order to obtain tax revenues on salt, then worth so much it was referred to as “white gold.”
With the opening of the Erie Canal, the salt industry developed rapidly, reaching a high point of eight million bushels a year during the Civil War. Other Syracuse industries flourished as well, including foundries and machine shops. The Irish, who had arrived to dig the canal, remained to work the factories and were soon joined by large numbers of German immigrants.
After the Civil War, other industries took over: among them, typewriters, ceramics, and Franklin cars, equipped with air-cooled engines. The Irish and Germans were joined by Italians, Poles, Russians, Ukrainians, and African Americans.
Today, Syracuse still supports a wide variety of peoples and industries, including the Niagara Mohawk Power Corporation, Bristol-Myers Squibb, and Syracuse University. The fourth-largest city in New York State (pop. 140,000), Syracuse also has its share of urban ills.
© Avalon Travel and Sascha Zuger from Moon New York State, 5th Edition