Syracuse, Historical Sketch of the Central City
Historical Sketch of the “Central City,” and the Importance
of the Bell System in Its Business and Social Life
By L. L. Cleaves, Division Advertising Manager
Source: The Telephone Review, June 1912, pp. 135-139. Pamphlet
located at the New York State Library.
THE STADIUM AT SYRACUSE UNIVERSITY.
THE Circus came to Syracuse the other day. It held its show at 2000 S.
Salina Street, as being the nearest available place to the city’s center.
This location for the tents was near the two and one-half mile circle from
the City Hall. In 1825 Syracuse had its first circus. This early
circus probably did not require quite so much space as the present one,
and it was held near the Site of the present City Hall. Syracuse has not
grown large so fast as many other cities. But it is a comparatively short
span of time since downtown blocks were covered with trees, and the Indians
were roaming over these hills in search of game, for food and the pelts
which they exchanged with traders.
RUINS OF GREEK THEATRE, SYRACUSE, SICILY
CHAMPLAIN'S ATTACK ON THE INDIAN FORT
ON ONONDAGA LAKE - Original in the State Library.
FIRST SETTLED IN 1788.
There was some trading with Indians in the territory as far back as 1780.
The white traders came across from Albany, on the trail which followed
the Valley of the Mohawk and which later became the Genesee Turnpike. It
was not until 1788 that Asa Danforth and a few others settled at Onondaga
Valley. We now know the “Valley” chiefly as a switching station for the
American Telephone & Telegraph Company. That Company has erected a
substantial building for its switching service in order to avoid the bringing
of its conductors through the city’s subways. The “Valley” although three
miles from the New York Telephone Company’s building is well surrounded
with the city’s homes and it is not out of the range of possibility that
even this location will, within a few years, be too urban to allow the
bringing of Long Distance conductors aerially to it.
In 1803 there were eight frame houses and several log cabins at Salina,
now the city’s first ward. Salina and Onondaga Valley, where Danforth’s
settlement was, were some five miles apart and those five miles were a
continuous forest and swamp. But it was these two beginnings of villages
that ultimately, though not until after years of rivalry and feud, combined
to form the village of Syracuse.
It is surprising that the two agencies responsible for the settling
and the early prosperity of Syracuse should now be the least of the important
industrial characteristics of the city. These two agencies were the Salt
Springs and the Erie Canal.
The digging of the Erie Canal was started for a lap to the westward in
1817 and the first boat arrived in 1820. You can easily picture the excitement
and anticipation of the settlers when rumor arrived that the first boat
was on its way from Camillus. The entire populace was gathered on the canal
bank at the appointed hour; but the boat, like many a canal boat in later
times, did not arrive on time, and the expectant people stood many hours
impatiently waiting. Finally they decided they had been hoaxed, and showed
their scepticism by ridicule and anathema at DeWitt Clinton, the father
of the canal project. Just as they were turning sadly to their homes, the
boat arrived, drawn not by the conventional mules but by a pair of spirited
horses. The boat arrived with a flourish like a stage coach, the horses
on the run and swale flowing over the banks of the canal. It was a nine
days’ wonder. From that time the settlement had two magnets for immigrants,
the station on the canal and the salt beds from the latter, early, the
Indians, and later the white people had been extracting wealth. Furthermore,
the locality which had been a miasmic swamp was now a healthful spot, through
the lowering of Onondaga Lake by deepening its outlet. This automatically
drained the land and allowed it to dry. The Syracuse Company, which owned
the tract, went so far as to cut it up into village lots in preparation
for the boom which was to follow.
THE ORIGINAL SYRACUSE HOUSE IN 1820.
THE CITY HALL, SYRACUSE.
IT WAS THE SALT INDUSTRY THAT FIRST ATTRACTED SETTLERS TO SYRACUSE.
THE SALT INDUSTRY.
In the year 1797 the salt beds yielded 25,500 bushels of salt to the efforts
of the Indians. In 1808 the work of the white people had brought
the yield to 320,000 bushels. Salt was the leading industry up to and including
1860. In that year the value of the product was $1,300,000.00. From
the crest of that year the salt business has been gradually declining.
It is now something like the 24th industry in point of value of product,
with one-tenth as much production as there was 50 years ago. It was
in 1804 that the State sold to one Walton a tract of 250 acres, now the
heart of the city, and used the money to improve the Genesee Turnpike,
that State wide boulevard carrying the same name throughout all municipalities
from Albany to Buffalo. This was the tract that was later cut up into village
lots by the Syracuse Company which purchased it from Walton.
THE FIRST FACTORY, SYRACUSE.
THE FIRST FACTORY.
When Walton bought the tract from the State, it was included in the deed
that he should build a mill upon it. This he did in 1805. This was the
first “factory, and turned out grist to the settlers, made from the grains
they brought. Two years afterwards, in 1806, the Mansion House was
built. This hotel stood for 40 years and was replaced by the Empire House,
just north of the canal at Salina Street, which is still a popular hotel.
The Mansion House was not much of a hotel, but from its proprietor the
settlement carried the name of “Cosett’s Corners” for a number of years.
"In 1814," says an old book, “the forest was clear as far as Montgomery
Street.” Montgomery Street now is as near the center of the city as any
thing can be. It is the street on which our engineers selected the site
for our Central Office and where, at number 321, the handsome building
of this Company now stands.
FIRST POST OFFICE. 1820.
The settlement did not get recognition from the United States Government
until 1820, when, on petition of John Wilkinson, a Post Office was established
and Mr. Wilkinson made Postmaster. There was some delay in establishing
the Post Office because the settlement had no satisfactory name. Judge
Forman, a student, had read much of Grecian History and was attracted by
the descriptions of the beauty of Corinth. In a speech before his fellow
townsmen he advocated this name for the village and the name was accepted,
although most of his fellow townsmen were not sufficiently literary to
know anything about its fitness, except from his description. But the name
did not last, and when it was proposed as the name of the Post Office the
United States Government refused it on the ground that there was already
a municipality Corinth in the State. Postmaster Wilkinson had read a prize
poetical description of Syracuse, Sicily, which described that celebrated
city and told of its place in ancient history. Mr. Wilkinson discovered
a similarity between the location of the ancient city and his present home.
There were the hills sloping to the beautiful lake, the lake itself, of
similar size and form to Onondaga Lake, and salt springs even a city called
Salina near at hand. He proposed the name Syracuse to his fellow townsmen,
and it was accepted as the name of the village and its Post Office. Modern
times have brought even a closer similarity between the ancient and present
cities in that the old Syracuse has the ruins of the finest Greek Colosseum
in the world, while modern Syracuse has in connection with its University
one of the largest and most famous modern stadia. At this time the village
boasted 250 people. It got its village charter in 1825 with a population
of 600. This village was the union of Salina, Ononlaga Valley and another
small settlement called Geddes.
THE RAILROAD WAS BUILT TO SYRACUSE IN 1838. - From an Old Woodcut.
THE FIRST RAILROAD, 1838.
Syracuse is known by the travelers on the railroad as the city which brings
its railroad trains down its principal streets. When we think of how little
importance these streets were when the railroad obtained its original franchise,
it is not exactly surprising that the tracks are where they are today.
In 1838 the Syracuse and Utica Railroad Company applied for permission
to construct a railroad to the settlement and erect a station between Salina
and Warren streets. The ordinance carried a stipulation that the railroad
should build a sewer through the streets it occupies, lay flagstone walks,
plant trees, keep the Street in repair and purchase enough land for an
alley on each side of the station. Permission was granted, and the station,
or train shed, of wood, was built two blocks farther east than the present
station of the N. Y. Central Railroad. This shed covered two tracks and
was 210 feet long; it looked like a boat house. It was as unsuited for
use as a railroad station as it could well be, with the waiting rooms on
the second floor and platforms raised from the tracks. to which passengers
alighted. Passengers traveling from Syracuse were warned of the approach
of the train by a bell, as there was nothing more uncertain than the time
of arrival,— except possibly the time of departure; for the eastward train
waited at Syracuse for the westward train; and in the absence of telegraph
and telephone there was no means of knowing within two days the time of
arrival of the train going in the opposite direction. Passengers were summoned
to the station, however, to cool their heels and to wait indefinitely for
the train to start.
"CENTRAL" IN THE "CENTRAL CITY."
THE BIGGEST NOISE.
It was in this ancient station that the greatest noise ever heard in the
city was made. Strangely enough this uproar was in celebration of the laying
of the first Atlantic telegraph cable. In the absence of data it does not
seem probable that inland towns generally had elaborate celebrations of
this event; and it seems strange that Syracuse should have gone to such
pains to deafen the ears of its people. This celebration did not occur
until 1858, and the city had received its first telegraph message as early
as 1846. The hubbub was made by thirteen locomotives blowing their whistles
within the station shed at the same time, accompanied by cannon and church
bells without. It is said that nobody noticed the noise of the cannon and
church bells; but the noise of the thirteen locomotive whistles within
this tunnel was so startling as to cause a panic, and the fainting and
trampling of women.
CITY CHARTER IN 1848.
By this time Syracuse was a considerable place, for in 1848 when its city
charter was obtained it contained 15,000 people, and by 1858 had grown
to more than 25,000.
TOLL BOARD, SYRACUSE.
THE FIRST TELEPHONE SERVICE.
The County of Onondaga was originally assigned by the parent telephone
company to H. C. Brower and Son, on a short term license. The Browers operated
in the county except for Syracuse, and Syracuse was sublet to M. J. Myers
and Son who were already the managers for the American District Telegraph.
They operated the Exchange under the name American District Telegraph Company.
In 1879 they issued a directory which contained 208 listings, many of them
included more than once.
Syracuse at that time was the only point in Central New York which was
not operated by a regularly incorporated Associate Company. The Empire
State Company was to the Westward, the Central New York Telephone &
Telegraph Company to the Eastward and the New York and Pennsylvania Company
to the Southward. Both the Empire State and the Central New York Companies
were eager to add Onondaga County to their territories and Brower received
a liberal offer from the Empire State Company for his license when the
license had only one year to run. The offer was not accepted. The
Central New York Company was successful in obtaining the Syracuse territory
in 1886. The stipulation of the parent Company in adding Syracuse to the
Central New York’s territory was that $100,000.00 additional capital be
furnished without any increase in the stock issue of the Company. This
money was produced by the stockholders of the Central New York Company
by turning 20 per cent, of their holdings into the Company’s Treasury and
buying them back at par.
N. Y. TELEPHONE CO.'S BUILDING, SYRACUSE, N. Y.
CENTRAL NEW YORK TELEPHONE CO.
When the Central New York Company entered Syracuse there were about 300
subscribers in the city. An active sales campaign was begun and within
a very short time the number of subscribers was doubled. The Central Office
was located in the Wieting Theater Block. What was considered a substantial
plant, all aerial, was put up. This included the famous 90-foot pole line
through Salina Street. It was not long, however, before public sentiment
arose on the pole question and a demand for underground was felt. An underground
franchise was obtained in 1897, and land in Montgomery Street was purchased
for the erection of a building. There were then about 2,000 stations in
the city, in those days considered a large Exchange. A building was erected
in Montgomery Street, later sold to the Historical Association, which was
designed to care for a business of 8,000 stations, a development which
was the wildest prediction of the engineers. This building was occupied
only about eight years when it was discovered that larger quarters would
soon be needed. The result was the large building just South of the first
structure, now occupied by our Company.
A CONCERT AT THE STATE FAIR, SYRACUSE.
THE “CENTRAL CITY.’
Syracuse is called the “Central City” from the fact that it is as near
the geographical center of the State as it could be, in the irregular form
of the State’s territory. It is exactly in the center from East to West,
and nearly central from North to South. It might be called the “Central
City” for another reason: because its Bell Central Office is so important
a characteristic of the city. High Per Capita and P. B. X. Development
Syracuse shows Bell development, within the free mileage area, of 11.4
per cent. It stands third in percentage of development in cities with a
population of 125.000 to 200,000, as recorded in the A. T. & T. Company’s
bulletin of January 1, 1912. Its development is 1.37 per cent, better than
the average in this class of cities. Syracuse stands 28th as to percentage
of development, among the 108 cities of 50,000 population or over, in the
United States and Canada.
Syracuse has a higher percentage of development in Private Branch Exchanges
than any other city in its class.
The city has about 27,450 families and 8,483 Bell telephones other than
business. This shows a residence telephone for every sixth family.
Syracuse is a most important toll and Long Distance center. The A. T.
& T. Company has a two-story building containing its switching station
in the outskirts of the town. The percentage of toll and Long Distance
calls to locals is 1.18, which is a high percentage, considering that the
local calling rate is 8.4 per station per day.
BATTERMAN'S WINDOW DISPLAY, BROOKLYN.
THE New York Telephone Company had a novel and effective telephone window
display in the store of H. Batterman Company, Dry Goods, at Broadway, Graham
and Flushing Avenues, Brooklyn, in conjunction with this firm’s semi-annual
food show, held the week of April 13.
The window, 45 feet long and 9 1/2 feet deep, was tastefully dressed
and many varieties of foods were displayed with signs calling attention
to the ease and quickness with which any article in the store may be ordered
One of the most attractive features of the window was “The Traveling
Salesman” machine. This machine displayed a series of four photographs
showing the evolution of a telephone order, and several placards reading
“If you can't come to us, the Telephone brings us to you,’ “Shopping by
Telephone is so Convenient,” “By the Way, have you a Telephone,” etc.,
all calling attention to the modern business methods employed in Batterman’s
store, and the wonderful advantages of the telephone. The evolution of
a telephone order as shown in the four photographs, was as follows: 1.
Woman Woman reading Batterrnan’s advertisement in the newspaper. 2. Telephoning
her order, which resulted from reading the advertisement. 3. Clerk in Batterman’s
store receiving the telephone order. 4. Goods being delivered by Batterman’s
wagon. A 40-line switchboard was placed in the right-hand corner
of the window, from which connections were made to 20 extension stations,
10 of these being reconstructed telephone instruments with frosted electric
light bulbs in place of mouthpieces. Names of suburban towns were painted
on the bulbs, which flashed intermittently, indicating orders being received
from nearby towns as well as local orders.
The crowd in front of the window was so large that it was necessary
to rope off the sidewalk in order that a picture of the display might be
One of the leading Brooklyn news-papers reproduced a photograph of the
display in connection with a 3-column article concerning it.
The following letter was received from the general manager of the store:
“I wish to congratulate you on the telephone display you had in our
window in connection with our groceries. The features that you had there,
such as the girl at the switchboard, moving signs and flashing bulbs on
the transmitter, attracted thousands of people throughout the week, and
we have received a great many compliments on it. I might also add that
during that week, and since, our telephone orders have increased considerably.
“Thanking you for the interest you took in this and the fine display
you gave us, I am, Very truly yours,
Since the above letter was written, Batterman’s report that their telephone
order business has increased about 20 per cent.
(Sig.) “CORBETT McCARTHY."
I. H. WRIGHT,
District Agent. Williamsburg.
Submitted 9 August 1998