Erie Canal Museum
This long, low-slung 1850s building (318 Erie Blvd., at Montgomery St., 315/471-0593, www.eriecanalmuseum.org, 10 a.m.–5 p.m. Mon.–Sat., 10 a.m.–3 p.m. Sun., free admission) was once an Erie Canal weigh station for boats. Today, it’s home to a visitors center, historical exhibits, a theater where a good introductory film on the city is screened, and a 65-foot-long reconstructed canal boat. In the boat remain the original personal effects of some early passengers, including one heart-breaking letter from an Irishwoman who had just buried her husband at sea.
Syracuse is one of New York’s Heritage Areas—loosely delineated historic districts linked by a common theme. The Syracuse theme is transportation, and business and capital. Free walking-tour brochures can be picked up here.
West on Erie Boulevard
Heading west two blocks from the visitors center, you’ll reach the heart of the city, Clinton Square. The former intersection of the Erie Canal and Genesee Valley Turnpike, the square in days past teemed with farmers’ wagons, peddlers’ carts, canal boats, hawkers, musicians, and organ grinders. Today, many free outdoor events are held here.
In the mid-1800s, Clinton Square evolved from a marketplace into a financial center. The four bank buildings along Salina Street—all on the National Register of Historic Places—hark back to those days. The four-sided, 100-foot clock tower on the 1867 Gridley Building was originally lit by gas jets.
At the western end of Clinton Square, near Clinton Street, stands the Jerry Rescue Monument. The monument commemorates William “Jerry” McHenry, born into slavery in North Carolina around 1812. Jerry successfully escaped to Syracuse, where he got a job in a cooper’s shop making salt barrels. There he was discovered and arrested by federal marshals in 1851. A vigilante abolitionist group headed by Gerrit Smith and Dr. Samuel J. May attacked the police station and rescued Jerry, who fled to Canada a few days later. That rescue, which challenged the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, was one of the early precipitating events leading up to the Civil War.
One block further west on Erie Boulevard at Franklin Street reigns the stunning Niagara Mohawk Power Corporation building. Completed in 1932, the steel-and-black structure is a superb example of art deco architecture. The edifice is especially worth seeing at night, when it’s lit by colored lights.
Armory Square District
Head south on Franklin Street three blocks, and you’ll find yourself in the redbrick Armory Square District, Syracuse’s answer to Greenwich Village. At one end hulks the old Syracuse Armory, while all around are shops, cafés, and restaurants. The district centers on the junction of Franklin and Walton Streets.
Rubenstein Museum of Science and Technology
The old Syracuse Armory now houses the MOST, a.k.a. the Rubenstein Museum of Science and Technology (500 S. Franklin St., at W. Jefferson St., 315/425-9068, www.most.org, 10 a.m.–5 p.m. Wed.–Sun., adults $5, seniors and children 2–11 $4). The MOST moved into this location in 1992. The armory’s former Riding Hall now holds exhibits on the earth, the human body, and the environment; the former Drill Hall showcases a 225-seat IMAX theater (tickets $9). Especially popular with kids are the old 1863 stables, now packed with hands-on exhibits, and the Silverman Planetarium.
Just 1.5 blocks east of the MOST stands the 2,922-seat Landmark Theatre (362 S. Salina St., at E. Jefferson St., 315/475-7979, www.landmarktheatre.org, 10 a.m.–5 p.m. Mon.–Fri., tours by appointment), designed in 1928 by Thomas Lamb, a preeminent movie-palace architect. The building’s relatively sedate exterior does little to prepare you for its riotous interior—an ornate Indo-Persian fantasy bestrewn with gold carvings. Nearly destroyed by a wrecking ball in the 1970s, the Landmark is now a beloved local institution.
Onondaga Historical Association Museum
One of the best county museums in New Yoprk State, the Onondaga Historical Association Museum (321 Montgomery St., between E. Jefferson and Fayette Sts., 315/428-1864, www.cnyhistory.org, 10 a.m.–4 p.m. Wed.–Fri., 11 a.m.–4 p.m. Sat.–Sun., free admission) covers virtually every aspect of Central New York’s history, from the Onondaga Nation and early African American settlers to the Erie Canal and the salt industry. One display explores the 50 breweries that once operated in Syracuse; another, the city’s natural history. A plethora of historic maps, photographs, paintings, and artifacts are displayed.
Everson Museum of Art
Housed in a sleek 1968 building designed by I. M. Pei, the Everson (401 Harrison St., at State St., 315/474-6064, www.everson.org, noon–5 p.m. Tues.–Fri. and Sun., 10 a.m.–5 p.m. Sat., free admission) contains one of the world’s largest collections of ceramics. The museum also displays small but fine collections of 18th-century American portraits, African and Latin American folk art, and contemporary photography. Temporary exhibits usually focus on one major American artist such as Winslow Homer, Ansel Adams, or Helen Frankenthaler.
© Avalon Travel and Sascha Zuger from Moon New York State, 5th Edition