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A History Buff’s Guide to Downtown Syracuse

A History Buff’s Guide to Downtown Syracuse

As an International student, when I first came to Syracuse, I didn’t find much to do in this small city. I went to the Erie Canal Museum, the Syracuse zoo and other places on TripAdvisor’s Best of Syracuse list but nothing really attracted me until I took the Syracuse tour with Michael John Heagerty. He is like a walking book of downtown Syracuse.

I love history and I truly believe that places and structures have the ability to tell stories of the people and the community to which it belongs. Heagerty’s NOexcuses Tours are very special in this way. The tour leads you through Syracuse’s history and it is a magnificent one at that.

Tip: At the beginning of every semester, the Syracuse University will offer a free tour with NOEXcuse. We highly recommend that you grab this great opportunity for an adventure.

After taking one of the tours, we did our own exploring and have created a personalized route for you to enjoy. Whether you are a student studying in Syracuse or you are a business traveler who has some time on your schedule, this article will definitely serve as a handy guide.


Tour Stop A: Clinton Square

In the past: Named after DeWitt Clinton, Governor of New York State, the Clinton square was a dock for Erie Cannel boats.

Today: Standing in the middle of Clinton Square with the birds dancing over your head, the water sparkling in the sunlight and the buildings buzzing with people inside them, you feel as if you are standing with one foot in the past and one foot firmly in the now. The buildings that once surrounded the square in the mid-1900’s have been replaced by newer ones over time like the Onondaga Saving Bank. But you will occasionally find the conspicuous monument standing as a mark of respect to history.

One thing that has stood the test of time has been the snow spell. Once winter comes and the water freezes, people always gather in the square and turn the place into the bustling open-air Clinton Square ice rink. Be it 1890 or 2016, Clinton square has always been an integral part of downtown Syracuse.


Soldiers and Sailors Monument

In honor of 12,000 Onondaga County Civil War veterans. Originally this monument was planned for Hanover Square, but it was too majestic for that triangle space and had to bee shifted to Clinton Square instead.


Jerry Rescue Monument

On October 1, 1851, William Henry (Jerry) a former slave was arrested. At the same time in the area, the liberty party was holding its state convention. When news of Jerry’s arrest broke, hundreds of abolitionists from the convention rushed to the jail where Jerry was being held and broke him free. The Jerry rescue monument is a beautiful reminder of the freedom struggle that Upstate New York has been a part of.

Hanover Square

Tour Stop B: Hanover Square

Just a block away from Clinton Square is a small but classically exquisite triangle-shaped park. Hanover Square was and still is a gathering place for citizens. over the years it has been witness to many political and social rallies. Back in 1861, Samuel J. May and Susan B. Anthony spoke at the square against slavery. Their speech riled up the mobs, so much so that they took to violence and burnt effigies of May and Anthony in the streets.

Tour Stop C: The City Hall

Moving down the route, Syracuse City Hall is to your left. The white brick building and the bell tower have an interesting story to tell.

Back in 1858, the hall’s first bronze bell was an integral part of community life. Years later, the bell tower was built and a controversy arose around shifting the bell into the tower. It was such a hot topic of public debate that the Mayoral election of 1891 pivoted on it. In the end, the bell, which rang when Lincoln’s funeral train passed through, did go into the tower. It was eventually removed and melted down for the allied troops in World War II. In 1987 the Rotary Club donated electric carillons and a bronze plated aluminum bell to city hall that still stands.

Tour Stop D: Columbus Circle

This park was originally a traffic circle, called library circle. Over the years, it was paved over and made into a proper enclosure. The traffic was rerouted and this quickly became a pleasant place to relax.

Armory Square

Tour Stop E: Armory Square

The one stop shop for all things food and music. Armory square has always been a busy commercial area. Over the years it has become a hub for shops, pubs and restaurants.

You can check out what this bustling community space has to offer here.

Don’t forget to go behind Armory Square. You will find walls riddled with simple graffiti right behind the MOST (Museum of Science and Technology). These are no ordinary walls. They are a segment of the Berlin Wall. Since its fall in 1989, its segments have been given to various institutes.


Tour Stop F: Funk ‘n Waffles

After a long walk in downtown Syracuse, a great place to sit and enjoy some music and have some great food is Funk ‘n Waffles on Armory Square. Different local bands play every night here. You can find the schedule for Funk ‘n Waffles events here. The idea of the place came to two students who used their neighbor’s waffle maker while throwing parties for friends. They soon turned this into a business with help from the Whitman School of Management. It is a great place to experience Syracuse’s local culture.

Have anything to add to the tour? Tweet to us at @LivableCNY

About The Author


This site celebrates the people places, and culture that make Central New York one of the most vibrant and livable regions in the country. From Auburn to Utica, from Syracuse, to Ithaca, this is LivableCNY.

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