Updated 01/06/2013 09:51 AM
Your Hometown: Liverpool
The salt springs that bubbled up near the shores of Onondaga Lake helped Syracuse earn the nickname "Salt City." But they also led to the founding of other communities along its shores. This week's edition of Your Hometown takes us to the Village of Liverpool. YNN's Sarah Blazonis tells us that historians say salt may have started it all, but it's not the only feature of the village that's left a lasting legacy.
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LIVERPOOL, N.Y. -- Before keeping food fresh was as simple as opening and closing your refrigerator door, there weren't a lot of options when it came to preserving perishables. Towards the end of the 1700s, salt was your best bet. That made it valuable, which made the future site of the Village of Liverpool rich with possibility.
"Liverpool was founded because of greed, sheer and simple," said Village Historian Dorianne Gutierrez.
Gutierrez says it was 1794 when settlers first made their way to the village. They may have been after money, but life along the shores of Onondaga Lake was anything but luxurious.
"Salt was so valuable in that time it was called 'white gold.' So people would brave just about anything, including disease, swampy land, not always friendly neighbors, to boil that salt," Gutierrez said.
The Syracuse area was the nation's biggest salt producer during the early 1800s. People in Liverpool also benefitted from the economic impact, especially after the Oswego Canal opened in 1828. The canal ran along the lake shore and connected the Erie Canal and downtown Syracuse with the City of Oswego. It was a bustling time for the village and it was officially incorporated in 1830.
"It became known for taverns, for brawling, just busy," said Gutierrez. "And if you wanted work, this is where you came."
But just as money from the salt industry helped build the Erie Canal, the canal helped open the rest of the state and country to development. Other salt sources were found and CNY no longer had a monopoly. But yet another industry grew up from the banks of Onondaga Lake that helped keep Liverpool on the map.
In the mid-1850s, a German immigrant named John Fischer came to Liverpool to find work in the salt business. He noticed a plant known as swamp willow growing in the area. That's when he decided to combine the plant from his new home with a craft from his old country: Basket weaving. Soon after, about 30 interrelated clans also immigrated from Germany and the industry took off.
"In the mid-1890s, Liverpool weavers turned out three quarters of all the laundry baskets used in the United States -- 360,000 of them a year. There were no factories. These were in little backyard shops with whole families working at the trade," Gutierrez said.
Many villagers found work in weaving, along with trades like boat making and canal-related jobs. In the 20th century, Liverpool's economy switched from a mercantile focus to an industrial one.
"Right after World War II in the 1950s, General Electric on Electronics Park just boomed and the population changed here, became better educated," said Gutierrez.
The Chamber of Commerce's director, Lucretia Hudzinski, says today, the village isn't defined by just one industry. It's home to a number of restaurants and small businesses, and the chamber regularly hears from others looking to move in.
"It's close to the Thruway, it's close to 690, it's a good place to do business because everything is so central and it's easy access and it doesn't have sort of the high speed that maybe the city does," said Hudzinski.
Chamber officials say they're looking forward to what the clean-up of Onondaga Lake could mean for the area, but while residents look to the future, you can still find echoes of its past at the Willow Museum and Salt Museum, signs that the industries that started it all won't be soon forgotten.
To learn more about Liverpool, visitwww.villageofliverpool.org or www.liverpoolchamber.com.