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The History of Syracuse's founding.

Updated on January 21, 2012

The Salt City


Here's why-

In 1654 a French Jesuit Priest named Simon LeMoyne traveled to neighboring areas we now call Syracuse, Jamesville and Liverpool (Town of Salina). He came to spend time with the Onondaga Indians. Since he was friends with Chief Garaconti, The Tadadaho, LeMoyne came to visit in hopes to establish a peace treaty between the French and The Haudenosaunee, in light of the massacres in Auriesville N.Y. He also scouted the area to find a good place to set up a Catholic Mission to be named Ste Marie among the Iroquois. That mission was built in 1656,on the eastern shore of Onondaga Lake (it's full size replica is still operational seasonally), and was also used as a trading post. Incidentally, the very month that this Mission/post was built, Kateri Tekakwitha was born in Auriesville, N.Y. in the Osserneon Village.

During his 10 day visit, the Haudenosuanee came to trust Fr. LeMoyne and share some of their superstitions with him. One of the fears they had was that anything bad or strange was the work of an evil spirit. One of the streams flowing into Onondaga Lake tasted fowl and they believed that an evil spirit inhabited it causing it to taste bitter. When they told Fr. LeMoyne, he tasted it and knew that it was salt. He boiled it and showed his Onondagan friends how to do the same. He also brought samples back to Canada.

In those days salt was known as "white gold" because it was very valuable. Years later the salt Industry caused a sizable boom in this area and brought about the construction of Syracuse and the birth of the Erie Canal! Before Syracuse was built HarveyBaldwin (yes, an ancestor of the actors) became the first mayor. He got a law passed to lower Onondaga Lake by 2 inches, so that the swampy land in Downtown Syracuse would drain. Then the construction increased and the Salt City was built.

Later, when brine salt was harvested steadily, the salt workers would bring lower quality potatoes with them to work since they were inexpensive. At break time they would throw the little white potatoes, skin and all in the boiling free flowing salt brine. These "Salt Potatoes" came out coated with salt and were dipped in melted butter. This type of potato is easily grown and still a big part of the local cuisine. The legend is that this all started when potato farmers would bring their "salt " potatoes by and throw them in the hot water coming off the machines to get the dirt off of them. The small "breed" of potatoes would come out coated with salt. I have not been able to confirm the latter story however. Hence the name. The Salt Industry, Salt Potatoes, and the amusement parks on Onondaga Lake made Syracuse a popular place to live and visit.

In Sicily near the "boot" of Italy, there is a city named Syracuse. It too has a fresh water lake surrounded by salt springs. This is the city that Syracuse N.Y. was named after. Onondaga county is very rich in history and volumes on top of volumes were written and more will be. My intent was to simply explain how Syracuse got it's proper name and knick name "The Salt City".

Below is a group of books that will explain more.


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    • Sparklea profile image

      Sparklea 5 years ago from Upstate New York

      Oh, Mike! I NEVER knew this history about Syracuse NY! WOW!

      Terrific information about a place I have traveled to SO MANY TIMES. My husband and I have been going to the New York State Fair EVERY year since 1983! LOVE the pizza there from Twin Trees and Patrician's Bakery chocolate chip cookies not to mention the dinosaur barbeque!

      We also go to Crackerbarrel every time we are in Cicero...but we have one here too, in Binghamton!

      Voted UP, USEFUL and INTERESTING! Blessings, Sparklea :) and THANK YOU for this great history of Syracuse.