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Early Onondaga County History
- ln few States have the Indian names been so perpetuated as they were by the early settlers of New York. The very word Onondaga takes one back centuries to that time when all of the territory was under the dominion of the red race. The Onondagas were one of the powerful tribes in New York. Although they had only fourteen of the fifty chiefs that ruled the Confederation, the vote in council was by nations, each having one. Their great advantage lay in the fact that they had the great council fire of the Five Nations, to which came all envoys, Indian or white.
It was through this necessity of coming to make peace or to seek favors that the white man so early became acquainted with the country now within the borders of Onondaga County. As early as 1648 the location of this tribe of Indians was known and described; a dozen years before this both the Dutch and French had dealings with them; Champlain is supposed to have attacked an Onondaga village in 1615, but this is doubtful, although he passed through the present county on his way to an Oneida town. The Frenchman, Radisson, in 1652, captured and adopted by the Mohawks, was the first white man to stay for a time in this region, he to be followed shortly by many of his nationality, Jesuit priests and soldiers. The first chapel was erected within the limits of the town of Pompey, November 11, 1655, and the first colony, French, settled on Lake Onondaga one week later of the same year. Frontenac invaded and burned Onondaga in 1696.
So much for early dates. While there were many who settled here before the Revolution, the great development of the county area did not begin until after that great event. In concluding peace with this new nation, the English made no provision for their Indian allies. In 1784 the great council at Fort Stanwix was held and an endeavor made to placate the tribes was unsuccessful. But two years later a treaty was made at the same place whereby the Onondagas ceded to the State of New York all their lands except certain reservations.
Although having no legal title to the land they preempted, men like Asa Danforth had established themselves and family in 1788. Others soon followed. On September 16, 1776, Congress had promised bounties for 88 battalions. In 1783 New York added the promise of lands to their troops. This was the genesis of the "Military tract," a land grant constantly referred to in State history. On January 1, 1791, drawing for the lots laid out in this tract began, and the land was quickly disposed of. Many of the soldiers did not settle on the acres, but sold to others. Much was bought up by speculators. But in the main, many came and stayed and by 1799 there were known to be 879 people in the present county limits. In 1920 there were 241,465.
Meanwhile, Onondaga had organized as a county on June 6, 1794. Formed from Herkimer, she embraced much of the military tract and benefited by its distribution. Cayuga County was taken off five years later, Cortland in 1808, and Oswego in 1816, leaving it as it now exists, an almost square body of land thirty by thirty-four miles, or in terms of square miles, 781. The first court was held in Asa Danforth's house in Onondaga town. It was not until 1805 that the county's business was cared for in an unfinished building on Onondaga Hill. This courthouse was completed two years later and used until new buildings were erected in Syracuse in 1830, the county seat having been removed to a location half way between this place and Salina. A new penitentiary was built near by in 1854, and after the burning of the courthouse, 1856, another was erected on the north side of the canal the next year. The present fine structure was completed in 1907.
Onondaga County is in a somewhat elevated district, the lowest point being 350 feet above sea level, and ranges to hills well over 2,000. Five valleys cross the county from north to south and there are many, and some large, lakes. The country was originally well forested and the products of the forest supplied the first industries. The trapper and the digger of ginseng first ranged the region. When the settlers began to clear the woodlands the timber was a loss until they began to burn the log heaps and export potash. Later the saw mill disposed of the timber to greater profit. At one time, 1826, Baldwinsville had fifteen saws in operation; now there are none. Hemlock and oak were plentiful, hence came the tanneries. These made a market for hides, and cattle and sheep were brought in. Weaving and spinning at one time attained a real importance, but the mills have long since disappeared.
Agriculture has had its changes. The grains are now grown more cheaply elsewhere, a return to the cattle industry came about. But this time it was the dairy cow that was grown; milk, with the increasing large cities, proving profitable. Fruits, vegetables, poultry, for the same reason took on new values. Salt was the main mineral resource from Indian days, the Onondagas reserving rights to the "salt lakes." When the white man began to evaporate brine, all manner of industries grew up about it. Woods were needed to boil the brine, barrels in which to pack the salt, means of transportation to get it to market. This salt industry has held its own amid the changes time has wrought in other industries.
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Each of these sections has different books on the same region:
- Town & County
- Native American
- Trains & Steamboats
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Copyright © 1996 by Richard Frisbie -- All rights reserved.