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


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