Land Use and Infrastructure in Syracuse 1850-1943

Industrial expansion in the late 19th century and early 20th century was made possible through the development of effective transportation infrastructure. In the early 1800’s the Erie Canal was introduced to the state of New York, creating a continuous trade connection between Albany in the east and Buffalo in the West. The Erie Canal brought unimaginable economic growth to all bordering cities, especially Syracuse. Syracuse is located directly between Albany and Buffalo on the canal corridor so it was frequently visited. This opportunity allowed for Syracuse to expand its economy, developing an industrial backbone along the Erie Canal.

Near Westside 1892_analysis _jpeg

Syracuse Land Use Vignettes

land use analysis 1943_jpeg


As early as 1892, industrial growth is visible along the Erie Canal corridor in Syracuse, however most factories were located still within downtown limits (armory square). In a later map from 1943, the industrial sector had branched westward along the corridor, all the way to Solvay. By 1943, the Erie Canal had been abandoned and a system of rail lines was implemented along the same corridor. In 1892 rail lines were relevant, but the Erie Canal was still phasing out. After the canal was scrapped, the rail lines became more tailor-fitted to the factories. Some factories began to develop their own rail line branches connecting them directly to the main lines, making distribution much more effective. This also reveals that the canal was present for a long period of time before industry followed its path. It is possible that the factories realized what shortcomings the canal gave, and fixed them when transitioning to a rail line distribution system.


In 1892, the Near Westside was also a residential zone, transitioning into a more industrial sector of the city. The typical residential block included 2 story single family housing units, with various commercial stores on the four corners. The residential blocks were in very close proximity in 1892, but it seems that most of the industrial expansion illustrated in the 1943 took over much of the residential blocks closest to the “canal corridor”. It seems that in 1892 the Near Westside was almost exclusively a suburb of the central business district, however at some point, industry seemed to break away from the business sector and become its own branch off of the downtown core. As illustrated in the map from 1943, you can see a hierarchy of different performance zones radiating from the downtown core; business/commercial – Industry – residential or industry – residential.


As it was, Syracuse was a major pit stop along the Erie Canal, and nearly all of its original industrial growth can be attributed to this. Because of its pit stop nature, all major industrial plants were located along the Erie Canal, and even after many years of infrastructural changes, Syracuse’s industrial area has remained in the same location. Although the industry almost exclusively switched to railroads as the main mode of transportation, Syracuse’s main production area, the Near Westside, remained unaffected because the major rail lines introduced ran along the Erie Canal. Ultimately the abandonment of the Erie Canal, did not hinder further manufacturing growth, but it’s presence helped form a more effective railroad system in its place.





 At some point the Near Westside declined as the main production area in the city of Syracuse. At what point did this happen, and why?


Would I find the same situation in similar cities within in this time period?


What types of factory technology were introduced during this time period, which would also affect this transition?


Since I-81 was introduced at a perpendicular axis to the “canal corridor” did this disrupt the economic and industrial growth of the city, or was industry already slowly phasing out?



Works Cited

NY_Syracuse West_1898_USGS

Bird Library Map Room – Call Number: G3804.S

all drawings produced by Sean Morgan

Industrial Growth in Syracuse, New York

aerial 01

Through the course of the semester I aim to further analyze the development of industrial factories and their relation to infrastructure in Syracuse, New York. The Erie Canal was a main contributor to the initial start up of Syracuse and was a continued success. The city then transitioned to a railroad transportation infrastructure which was also successful for a period of time.

I would also like to dive into the production and distribution process of these factories. I believe that having a detailed understanding of these factories will help myself identity how and why these different forms of transportation infrastructure were successful to the industrial sector of Syracuse.

erie canal 1838

Initially I will focus on gathering maps of Syracuse, from the early 1800’s to the mid 1900’s, to further understand the location and growth of industry. An analysis at a macro-scale will enable myself visualize patterns of development related to infrastructure. Then, zooming in to the micro scale, I will begin to understand the more prominent industries west of Downtown (Clinton Square) and individually analyze each factories contextual condition. I am hoping to achieve this from first hand analysis of the sites, as well as gathering of other maps and articles.

Now that I am beginning to narrow my research further I would like to raise a few more questions. What specifically made each of these transportation systems successful to the growth of industrial architecture? How successful was the transition from the Erie Canal to the railroad system? What social and economic conditions were created from this relationship? What social and economic conditions formed this relationship? Were there downfalls between this relationship? I hope to answer these questions, and through this gained knowledge I might be able to apply this same method of thinking towards the creation of the I-81 corridor in downtown Syracuse and ultimately answer the same questions.




Bird Library Map Room – Call Number: G3804.S

Hardin, Evamaria, and Jon Crispin. Syracuse Landmarks: An AIA Guide to Downtown and Historic Neighborhoods. New York: Onondaga Historical Association, 1993. Print.

Analysis of Commercial Revitalization Potentials: Salt Springs Business District, Syracuse, New York. Washington, D.C.: Hammer, Siler, George Associates, 1976. Print.

Syracuse Planning Commision. A General Plan – Syracuse, New York.  1959. Print.

Research Basis

erie canal 01

Since its completion in 1825, the Erie Canal may be considered the most fundamental part of Syracuse’s history. The canal ran straight through the center of the city, allowing for the city to expand along its path. The canal gave Syracuse a direct trade link between Albany, Buffalo, and many other cities. Although much of Syracuse’s growth and economic prosperity can be attributed to the Erie Canal, in the 1920’s little funding was left to maintain it. The city eventually filled the canal with hard landfill and soda ash, creating, what is today, known as Erie Boulevard.

I am interested in analyzing Syracuse’s infrastructural shift away from the Erie Canal. What social, political, and economic events caused the abandonment of the canal? What social, political, and economic impacts resulted from the abandonment of the canal? How did this affect the buildings which were built along the canal? How did the city of Syracuse adapt to the rise of the railroad?

As a platform for my research, I would like to begin understanding the timeline of factories which were erected because of the canal.