HISTORIC TOWN OF ONONDAGA DRIVING TOUR

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              In 1998, the Town of Onondaga Historical Society sponsored a bus tour as part of their bicentennial celebration. This driving tour was put together by Jane Tracy, former Town of Onondaga Historian. Jane’s description of this tour- “this is a two man tour, one to read and one to drive. This route was originally devised to show as much of the town as possible in a two hour bus tour, with as few turn-arounds as possible”. This original tour has been redone with maps to allow our community to explore and enjoy its’ history as a self-guided tour.

 

We begin the tour at the corner of West Seneca Turnpike and Cedarvale Road, the site of today’s Finally Ours Restaurant. The Town of Onondaga was established April 2, 1798 and now covers 65 square miles. This area was called Card’s Corners, named for the family who lived there. The site of Finally Ours Restaurant was also the site of a landmark eatery to past residents known as Pfeiffer’s Drive-In Restaurant. Just past the intersection heading south on Cedarvale Road is the new Legends and Lore Roadside Marker noting the long ago tragic story of the lovers and their fate on 13 Curves. Head south to 13 Curves.

As you continue down Cedarvale Road, the water source known as Cedarvale Creek will be running to the right. This creek and its’ abundant water were the reasons many early settlers came to this area. An early town resident, John Ball, built a home here in 1825. He also owned a saw and gristmill on Onondaga Creek at Cedarvale Gorge. Down Balcomb’s Mill Road was the Cedarvale Flour Mill built by John Balcomb shortly after his arrival here from England in 1839, which was run by three generations of the family. Thirteen Curves will soon be approaching so watch for the spirit in her white wedding gown searching for her lost groom.

 

After twisting and turning through the curves and you reach the bottom of the hill, turn right onto Pleasant Valley Road, past the Cedarvale Maple Syrup Co. on the right to find the Gilbert Cemetery.

 

 

Just past where Kasson Road joins Pleasant Valley Road, on the left, you will find the little Gilbert Cemetery with its’ 40 graves, burials from 1811-2000. For many years, the famous man buried in this little cemetery was all but forgotten. His gravestone said only “Father”. Richard Wright, then president of the Onondaga Historical Association found the grave while doing a research project. OHA placed a new monument on the grave in 1964. It now says “ George N. Barnard, 1819-1902, Pioneer in Photography.” According to a 1988 biography, George Barnard began working for Matthew Brady in NYC in 1859. He went to Cuba for Brady and then to the Civil War. He was the official photographer for the Military Division of Mississippi, the man who took the pictures of Sherman’s “March to the Sea.” Many photographs credited to Matthew Brady were probably taken by Barnard, and many were used in Ken Burn’s PBS documentary “The Civil War.” Barnard’s studio was in Syracuse, located in what is known as the Koolakian Building, 132 East Genesee Street in the Hanover Square area. George and his second wife Emma Gilbert, retired to her family’s farm near Cedarvale in 1893. He set up a small studio in the old farmhouse and took pictures of school children, family and neighbors. When George and Emma died, they were buried nearby in the Gilbert family cemetery, facing Cedarvale Road.

Turning back towards Cedarvale Road, take a right back onto Cedarvale, approaching the

intersection of Cedarvale and Amber Roads.

 

 

At the intersection of Cedarvale and Amber Roads was the little Cedarvale Church. A historic marker erected by the town in 1998 tells of the Oakland Religious Society formed by Albert de Monfredy in the building that was erected in 1825 as a distillery. Stay on Amber Road as the tour continues to Navarino and Route 20.

Just past Holmes Road which is off of Amber Road, there is the Cedarvale Cemetery on the left, listed as having 113 graves dating 1815-1966.

 

Where Amber Road meets Route 20, welcome to Navarino. This tour turns left onto Route 20, heading east.

Navarino was originally called Halls Corners, settled by Shubael and Sarah Hall from Connecticut in 1799, on the headlands of Onondaga Creek. It was renamed Navarino in 1828.

 

 

As you travel east on Route 20, there is Pine Ridge Cemetery on the right, just past Fox Road. There are different kinds of monuments in this country cemetery with interesting epitaphs. It has listed 433 graves (1998 figure), burials from 1850 – the present.

 

At the intersection of Route 20 and Hogsback Road was a former community now known as Joshua. It has been known as Cradleville and East Navarino. Old timers in the area pronounce it “Josh-a-way”. In its’ heyday, Joshua claimed more than 30 families. A newspaper article dated 1969 wrote that half dozen families were still living there. Webber’s Well stood next to the general store/post office at the four corners and carried a sign, which said “Welcome Tourist and Friend to Drink and Rest.” There were tourist cottages there for a number of years after WWII. The Second Baptist Church of Onondaga built in Joshua in 1822 and was active until 1910, being razed in 1929. Joshua was named for Joshua Chafee, familiarly known in the area as “Uncle Josh.” In 1885, Joshua Chafee’s solution to the heavily shaded, muddy northern route to the Syracuse market was the building of Hogsback Road, with the settlement of Joshua on one end and Lords Hill Road at the other. From early 1800, every early map has listed Chafees in this part of the town. In an 1862-66 diary kept by Comfort T. Chafee, the life of the Chafees is depicted in this Civil War era. The diary tells of crops, weather, births and deaths, enlistment in the War, “soldier’s money”, battles, local boys and family members killed in the war, town meetings, school meetings, travel by buggy, stage and “buss”, fishing at Otisco Lake, fires at Indian Woods, floods, his work at “the burying ground”, hiring the School Marm, peddlers passing by, the blacksmith, which families were dying of consumption (tuberculosis), working on the road to pay his taxes, “numbering the children” for the school (census), making maple sugar, a horse thief, “bad” dollar bills, visitors from Virginia and “Dixie” and much more. The early name of Cradleville came from the grain cradle invented and manufactured by the Chafees for many years. “Uncle Josh” and his wife are buried in Pine Ridge Cemetery where Comfort T. Chafee laid out the pine trees in 1892/93. Their marker is molded in the shape of a tree trunk and is marked “Uncle Josh 1886.”

 

When Route 20 crosses Route 80, Lords Corners, a turn to the right will take you to Beak and Skiff and their many offerings, from apples to apple cider to hard cider, and a beautiful view of the valley.

Continuing east on Route 20, as you drive down the hill there will be a left turn onto Hitchings Road which the route will follow until it joins with Route 80 again.

 

 

The Gideon Seely/Hitchings Farmhouse is on the left at the corner of Hitchings and McClusky Roads. Comfort Tyler was the first deeded owner of this property in 1798. He then deeded 420 acres to Gideon Seely in 1799. Seely built a log cabin here in 1803 – present kitchen of today’s large farmhouse. The main part of the house was built about 10 years later, around 1813. Gideon then built a large white Federal style house across McClusky Road and deeded the first house to his son and wife, who lived there 11 years when it was sold to Horace Hitchings. Hitchings had 4 children and worried about their education and was instrumental in having a schoolhouse built near his home. This schoolhouse is still there at the corner of Route 20 and Case Hill Road, now a residence. The first apple orchard in this area was planted here in 1892 – 14 trees planted across McClusky Road from the original house, in what they called “The Home Orchard.” The Captain Turner Fenner Cemetery (or Budlong Cemetery) is on the left, described in the 1998 tour guide as to the left of a house, up a bank overgrown with brush and small trees. Captain Fenner settled on Hitchings Road along the creek bank in 1798. The corner of Hitchings Road and Route 80 was called “Budlong Corners.”

 

 

Turning left onto Route 80 from Hitchings Road, the town tour heads to the village of South Onondaga. On the right, where Griffin Road joins Route 80 and Tanner Road, “Johnnycake  School” was located there where a teacher educated many of the children in the area, named after Johnnycake Street, the early name of Tanner Road.

 

As you enter the village of South Onondaga, Wheeler Elementary School and the Onondaga Jr.-Sr. High School will be on the right.

 

South Onondaga area was once called “Toad’s Hollow” and then records refer to it as “South Hollow.” South Onondaga was settled early, about 1798. In the 1800s, South Onondaga consisted of Main Street (Route 80), Johnnycake Street (Tanner Road), Nichols Corners and Newman Hill. Lords Hill Road was built by prisoners who were housed at a Prison camp and guardhouse at the intersection of Routes 80 and 20. One of the first stores in the village was in the Hotel built by brothers Martin and Vic Day. In March 1874 they built a bigger store, the building on the corner. There was a post office in the Jodsons store nearby and the mail came by stagecoach that ran from Navarino to Syracuse and back. In the 19th century, South Onondaga was home to the following list of industries: 4 sawmills, 3 gristmills, 1 distillery, 1 brickyard, 1 potashery, 1 woolcardery, 2 fulling mills, 1 wool cloth mill, 1 tannery, 1 tailor shop, 2 stores, 1 harness maker, 2 wagon makers, 1 hotel, 2 schools, 2 churches, 2 physicians, 7 cemeteries, 1 coffin maker, 1 cabinet maker, 2 shoemakers, 1 undertaker, 3 blacksmiths, 1 creamery, 1 barber shop, stagecoach stops, taverns and a cider mill. The red brick South Onondaga Methodist Church was built in 1834. The Onondaga High School building was a WPA project in the 1930s.

 

At the intersection of Route 80 and Makyes Road, turn right onto Makyes. The South Onondaga Fire Department building will be on the left. In front of the fire department building, there used to be a white Grange Building that originally saw use as the District 21 Schoolhouse. (This building has been torn down.)

 

 

 

 

A little past the fire department is the South Onondaga Cemetery, a resting place of some of the town’s earliest settlers, such as Gideon Seely, Captain Turner Fenner, and Ezekiel Newman and his wife, Mary Wilson Newman. In 1778, 7 year old Mary Wilson and her family were captured during the Indian raids in the Cherry Valley and lived through the march to Canada and returned to Onondaga to marry and live out her life. One account said that when she told her grandchildren the story of the long march to Canada, she would end by saying “I never did much care for walkin’ after that”. South Onondaga has burials listed 1810 to the present.

 

Up a little further on Makyes, just before it crosses Tanner Road, the second house from the corner on the left was built by Moses Fowler, Jr. in 1868, using the back part of the house next door.

 

If you take a left at the Tanner Road/Makyes Road intersection and continue to where Tanner Road and Cedarvale Road cross, you would come to an area once called Nichols Corners. You would drive past a house built by Levi Ellis, a brother of General Ellis, in 1819. This house was a tavern, then a schoolhouse for many years until the Mudville Schoolhouse was built. The area down around Tanner Road was called Mudville but the 1998 tour notes it had no account of how it got that name.

 

The tour continues north on Makyes Road, veering left onto Abbey Road.

Another of our lost hamlets was right in this area. In an 1858 social note in the Syracuse Standard newspaper, this area was referred to as “Little Africa”, likely because of the settlement of Days and DeGroats and Talbots who settled here. One of the most interesting cemetery finds in the town was in the early summer of 1993 Jane Tracy and 3 friends broke through a thicket of brush on a hillside off Makyes Road, just past this intersection. They found the little cemetery where the DeGroats and Days buried their dead under fieldstones stuck upright in the soil, about 150 years ago, with the year 1846 etched crudely on one. The ancestors of the DeGroats and Days were folks who had likely been slaves, some who had married into the native Indian tribes, and also some of the Dutch soldiers who fought in the Revolutionary War. The Talbots lived along this side of the area and Epsilom Talbot had a blacksmith shop on Abbey Road. The Talbots buried their dead in a small cemetery "in a point" near their home. These 2 cemeteries are believed to be the first black burial grounds identified in the county. When the old census records were searched, Jane found the families clustered across the farmland that became Makyes Road. There was John DeGroat, mulatto, farmer with his wife and 5 children, next to the Abbeys, who had Philanda DeGroat, Indian, listed in the household. Down the way was Jacob Bakeman, mulatto. His large family was listed and also Albert and Peter Day, servants. James Bakeman was nearby. He was a shoemaker. Farmers James Cornell and Daniel Day lived side by side. Both were listed as mulatto, as was their neighbor, an older Peter Day and his family. Another neighbor was Absalom Talbott, mulatto, a blacksmith. Farmers Benjamin Bakeman and his son Oliver, lived next door to the blacksmith. Benjamin, son of Henry, a Revolutionary War vet who settled in the Mohawk Valley, came to Onondaga from Oswego Falls, now Fulton. Seventeen slaves were listed in the town of Onondaga records in 1810. The census that year also carried 4 "exclusively colored households" of 29 people, headed by Solomon Day, William Day, William S. Day and James DeGroat."

 

Continue on Abbey Road to Norton Road and turn left onto Norton.

To the right, just before the intersection of Abbey and Norton Roads, is the Norton Road Schoolhouse – District No. 11 School. It was built in 1834 of limestone cut from a local quarry and used as a school until 1948 when the school districts became centralized.

 

Stop at the intersection of Norton Road and Bussey Road

"Across to the left, behind the barn, is the Anson Johnson Cemetery - 4 stones - 1830-32. The Victorian house at the corner, with the cupola on top, was built by Burret Norton about 1859. His father, Augustus Norton, came from Waterbury, Connecticut in 1807, another one of those pioneers who family lore have it walked here from Connecticut. He built a log cabin here in the woods and worked at his trade as a cooper for many years. I'm told some of his barrels are still in existence. When Augustus lived here, Abbey Road was called "Whiskey Street", probably nothing to do with Augustus, but maybe. The Norton Family Burial Ground is down the road behind the original Norton Home."

 

Turn right on Bussey Road

(Note: If you are looking for the Browning Cemetery, take a left onto Bussey Road and proceed south 1 mile past Holmes Road. There are 23 graves, dates 1812-1918.)

 

Continue on Bussey Road until the intersection with West Seneca Turnpike/Route 175.

At the intersection of Bussey Road and West Seneca Turnpike, there is a large white house on the left. This property was purchased by James Hutchinson of Simsbury, Connecticut in 1802. James and his wife, “Roxey”, came to the area with their son, Orrin, 6 years old at the time. Orrin was to become “General Hutchinson” of the General Hutchinson House further east on Route 175 (today’s’ Inn of the Seasons Restaurant). Four more children were born to James and Roxey here in the Town of Onondaga. The big clapboard house was built about 1803. James and Roxey were buried in the family burial ground across Bussey Road from the house but were reinterred in Walnut Grove Cemetery in 1860 when the house and property were sold. In 1878, the Bussey family purchased the house and their family lived there for 118 years, until 1997.

 

Turn right onto West Seneca Turnpike/Route 175, then left onto Harris Road.

The house on the corner was the home of the man for whom Harris Road is named. Charles Harris was born in England in 1867 and served in the English Navy before coming to this county. Charles Harris died at age 81 and was buried with his family at Walnut Grove cemetery on South Avenue. As you continue north on Harris Road, a Taunton Fire Station is on the left.

 

Pause at the Historic Marker at District 5 School house, just before the intersection with Howlett Hill Road.

District 5 School, another of the town’s stone schoolhouses, was built in 1853 to take the place of the original wooden structure. Students went to school there until consolidation, when these students, as well as the students from Split Rock School, became part of the West Genesee School District. Across the intersection, to the right, stood the old Loomis Hill Methodist Church, and to the right of it is the Old Loomis Hill Cemetery, 37 graves, 1812-1884.

 

 

Cross Howlett Hill Road, turn left into the side entrance of Loomis Hill Cemetery and proceed to the back.

This is the new Loomis Hill Cemetery, a county cemetery for the indigent, burials from 1932 to the present. Circle around the back and about half way around, to the left you will see a monument, flush to the ground, Barre grey granite, 4” thick polished border, 1” sand carved letter. It says:

              “Eternally Together, These 100

              Nameless Souls, Now To Be Forever

              Known as Valued Members

              Of Our Onondaga County Family

              Interred at the Onondaga County Poorhouse.

On June 27, 1996, a group of historians and County Officials met here at Loomis Hill Cemetery for a Memorial Service for the Reinterment of Remains from the County Poorhouse over on Onondaga Road. Town of Onondaga Historian Jane Tracy spoke the following words “During the first 9 years of occupancy of the Poorhouse (1827-1836), there were a total of 156 deaths recorded in the ledgers. Charges were recorded for “winding sheets and coffins” so we believe that these dead were buried on the grounds. Historians assumed that these burials occurred in the burial ground called Poorhouse Knoll located 300-400 yards behind the existing poorhouse. No other earlier burial ground was ever mentioned in histories or records. A 1913 newspaper article tells of finding skeletal remains of 19 humans when excavating for an addition to the rear of the powerhouse at the County Home. Nothing further is known about this discovery. Two sets of remains were discovered in the spring of 1992 and another 98 in November 1995 when the county began cleanup after failure of an underground fuel storage tank. When the 6500 square feet of contaminated soil had been reclaimed, work stopped, leaving the balance of the long-lost graveyard undisturbed. At the end of our lives, we expect that we will be put to eternal rest. The people once buried at the old graveyard were unearthed through ignorance of their existence. They have been reburied at Loomis Hill Cemetery and we hope through this memorial service we showed that we cared and that we value the memory of these citizens of Onondaga County.”

 

Leave Loomis Hill Cemetery by way of the front entrance and turn right onto Howlett Hill Road.

The tour will pass The Veteran’s Cemetery, begun in 1960. On the left side is the Sherwood Farms Subdivision that was built on the property of the Fyler Farm. There is an interesting story connected with the Fyler House. It seems Mrs. Ruth Fyler got on her husband’s nerves and he took a knife to her on February 22, 1854, killing her. There is also the story that Mr. Fyler wanted the Mrs. out of the way as he had fancied one of the servant girls. Either story, Alfred Fyler was convicted in March 1855 but was not sentenced and sent to the Utica Insane Asylum.

The Fyler Family Cemetery shows up on all the old maps, but as far as what is known, only 1 monument remains, in the side yard of the house. A few years ago, Jane Tracy received in the mail a plot plan of Sherwood Farms with notations on it from a man who had been doing soil investigations on this site back in 1961. He marked the spot where he had seen 2 tombstones standing up in a grassy area not far from the road. He told the builder about them, but the next week when he went back down, they were gone and no one knew where. He had written down the information from the stones: Asa Fyler 1787-1863 and Mary Fyler 1790-1864.

As you travel past the Fyler Home, up ahead is Kelly’s Corners, where we will be turning right. If you continue west on Howlett Hill Road, you will come to the area known as Howlett Hill. Howlett Hill was named for its’ first settler, Parley Howlett. Parley was born in 1754 and was a soldier of the Revolution. He came from Vermont to Onondaga Hollow and then, the same year, moved to the hill that would later be named for him. He built a log cabin at the corner of the present Corporal Welch Road and Howlett Hill Road. In 1801, Thomas Robinson, another Revolutionary War soldier arrived in the area and in 1803, Giles Case came. The families of the Cases and Robinsons grew up and married. It is said that at one time the dwellings along the highway for a mile in either direction from the original homestead were occupied exclusively by Cases and Robinsons. In fact, the area was known as Casetown until the Post Office arrived in 1935 and changed the name to Howlett Hill.

 

At Kelly’s Corner, the intersection of Howlett Hill Road and Cedarvale Road, turn right.

This intersection and the area surrounding it have been called “Kelly’s Corners” for the past 80 plus years. Actually, the house and property were purchased and enlarged by a man named Paul Champlain in 1842. He was a prosperous farmer and had a blacksmith shop next to his home where he manufactured stonecutters’ tools, many of which were used in the famous Split Rock Quarries, a half mile away. However important he may have been, his name didn’t stick to this intersection. John Kelly bought the property in 1910 and all the maps and records now call it “Kelly’s Corners.” Leo Kelly, the son of John Kelly, visited Jane Tracy one day and told her of his recollections of the area. His dad was one of the local farmers who were hired to work their teams at Split Rock. John often told the tale about the night of July 2, 1918, when the explosion happened at Split Rock. He said, “it shook the ground so much that all the snakes came out and the ground was covered with snakes. The fire lit up the sky, no one knew what was happening.” Before the U.S. entered WWI, the Solvay Process company in Solvay was manufacturing soda ash by a process of combining limestone with salt and had acquired several hundred acres of quarries west of Syracuse to quarry limestone. Semet-Solvay Co./Solvay Process was manufacturing picric acid for the French, Italian and English governments. In 1914, the Semet-Solvay Company received a million dollar order from Russia for TNT. With this large order from Russia, the company needed more space and a safer place for the operation than in the concentrated population of the village of Solvay. The Split Rock Quarry had been abandoned by the company two years before for a more productive site at Jamesville, leaving acreage abandoned only 5 miles from the village of Solvay. By April 1915, Split Rock Munitions plant was in operation in a portion of the unused quarry. Split Rock authority Richard Miller wrote a four part book series all about the days of Split Rock, from its’ quarries to the explosion of 1918.

This is the definitive work on Split Rock. For a more condensed story, Jasena R. Foley, a former Town of Onondaga historian, wrote “The Night the Rock Blew Up.”, which focused on the night of the munitions explosion.

 

Continue on Cedarvale Road, then turn right onto Split Rock Road

On the right is St. Peter’s Church. Its’ original parishioners were largely the families of Irish Catholic immigrants who were workers at the Split Rock Stone Quarries. The limestone house on the left is a landmark in the Split Rock area. William Fay, a Revolutionary War veteran, walked from Massachusetts in 1796, built a log cabin and a springhouse on the farmland. His son, Aaron Fay, built the stone house in 1833. The stone “garage”, now a horse barn, was built in 1945. The King family restored the house in the mid-1900s and donated the property across the road to the town, now King’s Park. Another of our “lost hamlets” was this area between Split Rock and Taunton called Faytown. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, it was a thriving community of over 300 people, with a large inn at the intersection, Morey’s Mill further down Fay Road, a blacksmith shop at the “V”, and an 1860 map shows a toll house near this spot. Most of the dwellings in Faytown were constructed of logs, which is why no remains of this once thriving town are left to be seen. After the death of the Revolutionary War veteran William Fay, the land was divided and sub-divided between descendants.

 

Split Rock Road veers to the left and intersects with Route 173/Onondaga Road.

If you continue down across Route 173 to Fay Road, you will come to the area known today as Taunton. Taunton was originally part of Faytown and was best known as the home of the old Morey’s Mill.

 

Turn Right onto Route 173/Onondaga Road, and continue to the intersection with Howlett Hill Road, near the St. Elias Church.

At the point, this was site of the Red Point School District #26. There have been 2 large archeological “digs” in this area, one up Howlett Hill Road near the Manor Hill development and the second one on the left where the Westbrook Hills apartments now sit. The second dig was called the “Furnace Brook Dig” because the Indian village sat next to Furnace Brook. When digging the footings for the apartment complex, they found “post mold” which gave them the shape and dimensions of the dwellings. Until this time the largest longhouse found was about 200 feet long. Here they found the “footprints” of a 335 feet long Iroquois longhouse, 2 other smaller longhouses, and a round structure, which was presumably a sweat lodge. On the right is one of the entrances to Onondaga Community College. Just past this Onondaga Road college entrance was the site of a large farmhouse built by General Ellis. General John Ellis was a soldier in the Revolutionary War who came to Onondaga Hill in 1798. He built a log cabin, then a large home in 1811. He also served in the War of 1812. The house was used by the American Legion after WWII and then razed in 1957. The General Ellis Cemetery is in the grove of trees next to where the house was built. He died in 1820. He and his wife, Submit, are buried there. Six stones remain, one was for Jabez Webb – the stone says “ Joby Webb” – he was the Town Clerk in 1798 and then became the Town Supervisor in 1806. He enjoyed a short tenure as supervisor; he was killed by a falling tree in 1807.

On the left is the area that once housed the large county complex for the care of the poor and indigent. The first Poorhouse building was erected in 1827. In 1854, a second stone building was added so that they could take care of more of the county’s poor and homeless.

Two more stone buildings were erected in 1860 and 1864 (in a row with the first building) to be used as Insane Asylums. Over the years buildings have been put up and taken down and now all of the original stone poorhouse buildings have been razed. Mulroy Hall, part of OCC, was once the mens’ building. The County Poorhouse and Farm was a self-sufficient entity. Everyone worked. They had their own dairy farms, vegetable gardens (many NYS State Fair award winning vegetables came from their gardens), hay fields, cows, pigs, laundry and health clinics. They even had a cannery to take care of the excess produce to carry them through the winter. There is a story that many decades ago when the circus came to town and needed a place to house some of the animals, this complex became part of a menagerie for a few days. Out behind the buildings is the Poorhouse Knoll Cemetery. Only 6 stones appear, but there are many more graves.

 

Crossing the intersection with Velasko Road (once known as West Ave)

The second building on the left is the old Grange Building, and at one time also served as the home of the Onondaga Masonic Club. Further down Onondaga Road is Onondaga Hill Middle School (at one time it was a K-6 Elementary School for Onondaga Hill students)

 

To the intersection of Routes 173 and 175 (West Seneca Turnpike, Onondaga Road and South Avenue).

At the intersection, on the right, is the Easton Storehouse, which was built in 1823 from stone cut in a quarry behind Tenterden Drive. Water was poured into the limestone and as it froze, the stone would crack into the desired size blocks. The Onondagas drew the 

28 inch thick ashlar stones up South Avenue on skids pulled by oxen. The building first served as a stagecoach stop, but after the Erie Canal was built, there was less traffic along the turnpike and the building became a wagon shop and store around 1825. In the mid-1850s, it was used as a blacksmith shop by G.J.Baker. In 1939 the building was bought by Evan B. Evans who added the small porches and shutters on the front of the building. Over the years, it has been used to house an advertising agency, a womens’ clothing boutique, and a dental office.

The point of West Seneca Turnpike and Onondaga Road was once the home of a park where celebrations of many holidays were held. Across from this park, where a large apartment building stands today, was once the place for Spud Murphy’s Socony gas station. Further around that corner, heading towards South Ave, the Stack House/Hotel once attracted visitors and locals to its’ doors.

 

Follow West Seneca Turnpike/Route 173 as it proceeds past the Onondaga Hill Post Office to the intersection with Broad Road.

On the corner to the left in the open lot was the Strong house and farm. The house was razed about 1997. The Strongs owned all the property where Upstate/Community Hospital and Van Duyn Home and Hospital are today. Going down West Seneca Turnpike hill, opposite the entrance to the hospital complex, is the cement holding wall that contains the War of 1812 Cemetery. Captains Crouch and Branch were returning from the war, one in the fall and one in the spring, both became ill, died, and were buried in this little 2 grave cemetery. The cemetery is now in the care of the County Parks Department and is called the “smallest park in the county.” Hopper’s Glen is over to the right behind the ridge. During the 1800s, families would take the streetcar to the turn around at the foot of Hopper’s Glen to walk through the beautiful gorge, to picnic and to climb “Devil’s Tooth”, a large stone formation.

 

 

Continuing east on W. Seneca Turnpike/Route 173, thru the valley section.

The Valley area was annexed to the city of Syracuse in 1927. Until then it had been an important part of the Town of Onondaga. The first school in the town was started by Dr. Gordon Needham here in the valley in 1796. The Onondaga Valley Academy stood on the Academy Green behind the church here on the right just past Valley Drive/Route 80. When the children from the Onondaga Hill completed their eighth grade education at the small district schools, they then came down to the Valley Academy for high school until the Westhill school district was formed and Westhill High School was built. The town was fortunate to have had as a town resident a man by the name of George Knapp. He lived on Knapp Road, up on the Hill. George was not only a historian but also a wonderful artist. He painted historic scenes that help us visualize what early Onondaga looked like.

 

Cross South Salina Street, proceed up East Seneca Turnpike to the stoplight at the top of the hill.

If you are able, pull to the side of the road just beyond the first street.

One of Knapp’s paintings shows Comfort Tyler standing by the Arsenal of 1812 on the summit of East Hill, watching a regiment of English redcoats, prisoners of war, being marched up the hill to bivouac in George Olmstead’s hayfield. This painting also shows 4 houses on the road and they are still with us today. John Gridley’s elegant home was built of Onondaga grey limestone about 1812. It has 7 fireplaces, fine carving on the mantels and woodwork and nearly all of the original interior. This house has a Masonic emblem carved into the stone at the front door. It is known that John Gridley was very active in the Masonic Order. Folklore has it that when he built his house, about the time of the War of 1812, he felt that if the British invaded, they wouldn’t harm the house of a brother Mason. George Olmstead’s farmhouse is across the way, on the right. It has been re-sided and added onto, but it’s still there. And on the left is the little Gothic cottage built by Job Tyler. Next is the little white house on the corner that belonged to Deacon Joseph Swan. As you proceed up the hill, on the right there is a white house with a cannon in the front yard. Up behind it are the ruins of the State Arsenal built in 1811 to be prepared for the war that broke out in 1812. Also, behind the house is the Arsenal Cemetery.

 

Turn right at the traffic signal on the top of the hill and then take a very short right onto Lafayette Road, past the Kinney Drugs.

If you continue on East Seneca Turnpike, past Nob Hill apartments, you will come to Southwood, which is part of the Town of Onondaga. Quite a distance from the other side of the town in Navarino

 

Continue on Lafayette Road, past Graham Road, and take the second right off Lafayette Road which is Dave Tilden Road. Turn left on Sentinel Heights Road

 

 

Sentinel Heights, in the southeast corner of the town was first called Indian Orchard, then the Reservation or New Reservation, then East Hill or Onondaga East Hill, and finally Sentinel Heights. Most of the history of this area was taken from the papers of Miss Flora Morton, given to TOHS by her grandson. The first reported settler was a man named Samuel Clark who came in 1812. Flora Morton’s grandfather Hotchkiss came in 1820. Next was Andrew Share, a soldier of the Revolution, who provided the land for the cemetery, the school, and the church. This area was known early in our history as “Indian Orchard” because of the apple orchards planted by the Onondagas. By the late 1860s, the area was now known as “The Reservation”. At that time the Onondagas were spoken of as living at “The Castle”, and the farms at The Reservation were all owned by the white settlers who had taken their land from the state at the time of the Purchase of 1817. In 1868, the settlement known as The Reservation had two churches, a schoolhouse, a cemetery, a blacksmith shop and 20-30 farms.

 

 

Continue on Sentinel Heights Road until the intersection of Bull Hill Road. Turn right on Bull Hill Road.

 

The first church was built on the northwest corner of Sentinel Heights Road and Bull Hill Road and called the Reformed Methodist Church. During the Abolition excitement in the 1840s, the church members were divided over the slavery question. Those who didn’t think the church should come out against slavery withdrew and built a second church, across the road on the southeast corner, about 1857. Just up Bull Hill Road on the right is the cemetery now called Pioneer Cemetery. The first burial noted in the records of the “New Reservation Cemetery” is of Susannah Snow, born November 11,1815, died April 26, 1816, infant daughter of Asa and Dorothy Wheeler Snow. There are about 200 graves on the original plot plan, of which 163 burials are recorded. The cemetery was in use from 1804 to 1936. About 1884 the records began to refer to this area as “East Hill” or “Onondaga East Hill”. Dr. Beauchamp’s history of the area tells the story of one little boy who said the woods on the hill looked “like a toothbrush”, so some began calling it “Toothbrush Hill”. But the people who lived in the area always spoke of them as “The Woods” until the summer of 1916 when Mrs. Emaline Seymour was spending the summer there and decided to paint a picture of the woods. She thought “They stand there like sentinels. I’ll call my painting The Sentinels.” Then she said to Miss Morton, “This place ought to be called Sentinel Heights. It’s much more appropriate than East Hill.” They began to use that heading on their letters and correspondence, and so Sentinel Heights got the name we know today.

 

Continue on Bull Hill Road to Kennedy Road. Turn right on Kennedy Road

 

 

Kennedy Road runs very close to the eastern boundary of the Onondaga Nation and Route 81. Just before you get to the left hand turn on Kennedy Road to get to South Salina Street and Nedrow, look across Route 81, and perhaps you can see a large stone house. This is one of a group of old stone houses built in this section of town by the family of the stonecutter, John Kelly. If we turned right back up the hill, on the left we would see a limestone house built in 1840 from blocks cut from a quarry on the Onondaga Nation. The cellar floor is a one piece rock ledge. The property was originally part of the Onondaga Nation. In 1817 NYS bought this additional 4,000 acres for $1,000, an annuity to the Onondagas of $430 and 50 bushels of salt. Descendants of the stonecutter John Kelley, who did the original stonework, owned the house for more than 125 years.

 

Continue on Kennedy Road, to a left on Sentinel Heights Road, which bears right into Rockwell Road

 

 

Rockwell Elementary School is on the left on Rockwell Road. On this site there was originally a one room school that by 1911 had been enlarged to four rooms. The current school was built in the early 1950s. On the right is a large home which housed a “Baby Camp” from about 1912-1930, operated by the Visiting Nurses Association of CNY, where children went to the camps to recover from undernourishment, crippling from infantile

 paralysis (polio) and convalesce from pneumonia, measles and influenza.

 

Continue on Rockwell Road to the stoplight at South Salina Street. Turn right and continue on S. Salina Street to Dorwin Avenue (Green Hills Farms will be on your right)

 

Nedrow borders the northeast corner of the Onondaga Nation, surrounded by The Valley and Sentinel Heights, and is mainly composed of the original Farm Lots #161 and 162. They called it Onondaga Castle, then Rockwell Springs, and now it’s Nedrow. The Onondaga Castle post office was established September 22, 1849. Onondaga Castle was loosely translated as “The Place of the Onondagas”. The name castle can be found in several place names throughout NYS, e.g. Oneida Castle in Oneida County and Castle Creek outside of Binghamton, Broome County. From about 1897 to 1917 the area was called Rockwell Springs, named for the springs which bubbled out of the east hill farm land of William Rockwell and which was a gathering place for picnics in the area near the springs. By 1917, the name of the hamlet had to be changed because the post office said it conflicted with a nearby Rockwell Mills. In searching for another name, residents decided to honor a local landowner and relative of the original landowner, Cassius M. Worden. It seems Mr. Worden was embarrassed but agreed to the use of his name reversed – WORDEN/NEDROW. One of the first area businesses, Green Hills Farms, was started back in 1930 when Keith Hawkin’s grandmother, Carrie, set up some tables along old Route 80 and put out produce fresh from her garden. This was during the Depression and Carrie was a widow who needed an income. The road used to be the main route for summer traffic to Otisco Lake, so her fresh vegetables sold out every day.

 

Turn Left onto Dorwin Ave, drive past Kelly Park on your left and turn right onto Valley Drive.

 

Upon making your turn onto Valley Drive, notice the large home on the left. It was built by Edwin I. Rice, a prominent coal and ice dealer in 1906, to look like a Spanish hacienda. The property contained 11 ½ acres stretching up South Onondaga Road to where Dorwin Brook enters Onondaga Creek. The water from Dorwin Springs, on the property, was so pure that it was bottled and sold as drinking water by the Dorwin Brothers. Picnics and excursion parties were held on the grounds. Owners of the estate have included: Dr. Willis Carrier, the father of air conditioning, Keith and Mary Hawkins of Green Hills Farms and the Rescue Mission’s Lydia Center. It is currently back into private family ownership.

Next on the left is Onondaga Valley Cemetery, chartered on land granted to Ephraim Webster in 1795 by the Onondagas. It was part of “Webster’s Square Mile”. The land passed to J. Brown and then to Polaski King, whose large brick home once stood north of the cemetery. Earliest dated burial in the cemetery is Benjamin King who died in 1806. Polaski King was buried there in 1828. The King family graves probably formed the basis for the cemetery which, by 1873, was full. Within 5 years the citizens of the Valley had organized a rural cemetery association and in 1904 the office and chapel were built. Parcels have been added over the years and it now contains about 160 acres. Many early town names appear in this cemetery: Forman, Stolp, Sabine, Beebe, Meachem, Hopper, Slocum, Alexander and Webster. Actually, Ephraim Webster is listed on his family monument but it notes that he died in 1824 and is buried in Towanda.

On our right, the tour is approaching the Caleb Alexander house. This area was the site of a fort built for the Iroquois in 1756 by Sir William Johnson, and then destroyed in April 1779 by an expedition of colonial soldiers led by Colonel Van Schaick, who burned the fort, destroyed the Indian village, killed 12 and took 33 prisoners, to punish the Onondagas for giving assistance to the British during the American Revolution. This land was also part of the original “square mile” given to Ephraim Webster by the Onondagas for his aid and friendship.

Proceeding down Valley Drive/Route 80, Webster Pond will be on the left as well as the Oliver Bostwick Cobblestone house that was built in 1830. It took 10 years to complete and contained 20 rooms. Until the 1950s, the field next to the house was used as farmland and many Valley natives recall picking berries where Webster Pond now lies. Webster Pond was formed from Kimber Brook which runs along the western hill of the valley. The source of the brook is the spring head in the Onondaga Hill area. One theory on the formation of the pond is that each spring the farmers along Kimber Brook would use their horses to plow and dredge the stream which tended to silt up over the winter. When the area was annexed to the city of Syracuse in 1926, the silt was no longer cleaned out and water began to overflow and run down hill to a low spot, where, over a period of years, it settled. It was a gradual change that was unnoticed in aerial photos in the 1930s, but the pond is very clear in photos from 1959. Trees and bushed covered the area from the road and the pond was hidden until it was too large to be overlooked. We are now in the city of Syracuse as we head back to Onondaga Hill.

 

 

Turn left at West Seneca Turnpike/Route 173, and go up the hill.

In 1823, Isaac W. Brewster, a surveyor who lived up on Onondaga Hill, prepared a map that showed each of the houses and businesses down West Seneca Turnpike from Onondaga Hill to the Valley. It was impressive the number of homes and businesses that had grown up along this road in only 25 years since the town was incorporated in 1798. There were 87 places noted on the map, of which one half or 44, were houses. There were 3 churches, 3 schools, 1 burying ground, and 1 courthouse. The rest were all businesses of various sorts: 9 Inns or taverns, 3 offices, 19 stores or shops, 1 distillery, 1 mill and 1 blacksmith shop.

 

At the stoplight at the top of the hill, turn right onto Broad Road. Proceed down Broad Road to South Avenue/Route 175. Take a left at South Ave and go up that hill.

At the corner of Tenterden Drive, where it meets South Ave. sits the large white house built around 1854 by Noah Knapp. His son, Judson Knapp, enlarged the house after his marriage in 1862, probably so that it would accommodate both families. Judson was known as a true naturalist and an expert orchardist. He began a 15 acres apple orchard behind the house and every year he would send barrels of apples to King George of England. His daughter lived in the farmhouse until it was sold to Evan B. Evans in early 1929. Mr. Evans sold some lots off starting in 1935 and Judson Knapp’s apple orchard became the Bryn Mawr area of homes.

 

Continuing up the hill, on the right hand side is the Walnut Grove Cemetery, 1790 to the present. It’s the oldest operating cemetery in the town.

 

At the traffic light turn right then proceed straight on West Seneca Turnpike/Route 175.

Onondaga Hill in its’ earliest years was a thriving village. People moved to the Hill to escape the illnesses brought on by the swampy lowlands. The 1799 map of the village of Onondaga by J. Geddes, shows the village consisting of 22 lots surrounding the Village Square (where the former town hall on West Seneca Turnpike was located). In 1802, the community of Onondaga Hill had 4 frame buildings, 7 or 8 huts and 2 log taverns. Then the Seneca Turnpike was constructed through the little community and by 1810 Onondaga Hill had 7 public houses, 8 stores and 40 homes. With its’ cluster of taverns and inns, Onondaga Hill must have been a welcome stop for travelers after journeying up the steep path from the Valley. There are several village homes on both sides of the turnpike. To the left of the library sits the Josiah West house, next is the Onondaga Free Library on the site of the Daniel Strong house. On the corner of Makyes Road is the large brick house built by Josiah Bronson, Jr. in 1813. Two doors up is the Geddes house, now St. Michael’s Rectory, built by George Geddes for his daughter Mary and her husband, Davis Cossitt. This farm originally stretched west to the Marcellus town line. The first Onondaga County Courthouse was built on the Village Square and in 1803 court was first held in the new building. The business of the court and increased travel on the Seneca Turnpike aided in the growth of the hill. One of the most noteworthy events in the history of the Hill was the visit of General Lafayette in 1825. This event is portrayed in George Knapp’s painting, the original of which hangs at the OHA in downtown Syracuse. Knapp’s painting depicts the arrival of General Lafayette in a horse-drawn coach preceded by a mounted guard of honor with torches lighting the way. He is welcomed at dawn by Generals Hutchinson, Wood and Ellis, former Revolutionary War comrades. The buildings shown in the painting are the first County Courthouse (where the town hall formerly was located – now in the vicinity of Byrne Dairy), and the Bronson Tavern, which stood in the area also currently occupied by Byrne Dairy. The opening of the Erie Canal in 1825 contributed to the growth of the city of Syracuse. In 1829, after more than 20 years on the Hill, the seat of county government was moved to the city.

Continuing up West Seneca Turnpike, on the right we will pass Adlai Wheel’s Pet Cemetery, which was started in 1930. This cemetery includes 8 people buried with their pets.

Further on up the road, also on the right is the Inn of the Seasons, originally known as the General Hutchinson House, built in 1824 by Orrin Hutchinson who purchased the 50 acres across the road from his father, James. After his marriage to Susan B. West, Orrin lived on Onondaga Road at Onondaga Hill, near the Seneca Turnpike intersection. Then in 1824 he began building the stately home we see today and not much has changed as it is viewed from the front. Orrin was named Brigadier General of the State Militia and was a Supervisor of the Town of Onondaga from 1829-1831. He died in 1842 and is buried in Walnut Grove Cemetery. Hutchinson House has been accepted on the State and Federal Register of Historic Places.

On the left, across from Harris Road, in the side yard of a home, is the Levi Pitts Burial Ground. This was a family cemetery from 1830-1890 and is “reserved in the deed.

Past Bussey Road, a few houses down on the left side of the turnpike, with a tiny house next to the driveway, is the “Currier and Ives looking” house built about 1801. This home was used as an Inn for travelers on Seneca Turnpike, as most were large homes. It’s also said that this house served as a trading post with Indians and that town meetings were held on the second floor. From 1875-1945, the prominent dairy farmer John Linksky and his family lived here. The small house at the roadside was originally built as a “petrol station” in the early 1900s as automobiles began to appear on the turnpike.

 

You have reached the end of our town tour but not the end of the history of the Town of Onondaga. This tour has highlighted the many areas of the town. There is much more to learn about the Town of Onondaga and you are welcome to visit the Town of Onondaga Historical Society’s museum located at the Town Hall, 5020 Ball Road.

 

 

 

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last updated June, 2019