The City of Syracuse is nearly 27 square miles. But before it annexed surrounding villages and towns, it was much smaller and mostly swamp land. Just to the northeast of downtown is a heavily wooded area with rich soil. In this edition of Your Hometown, our Katie Gibas tells us how that wooded area became the "village within the city."
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EASTWOOD, N.Y. -- Welcome to Eastwood, the village within the city. Long before it was annexed by Syracuse, this rural area was full of cedar and pine trees. It came to be in 1790 when 600 acres of land was granted to Revolutionary War soldier, James Salisbury, as a bounty for his service. It changed hands a few times before it was eventually divided up into small lots, mostly used for farming.
Eastwood historian Margaret McVicker said, "The village itself didn't really take off until about 100 years after the original grant was made."
Eastwood really began to grow 1893 when two manufacturers moved in on Burnet Avenue.
Stickly-Simonds Company was the first business in Eastwood. In 1901 they designed the "Eastwood Chair." The second company to move in was Pierce-Butler-Pierce Company, making heating and radiator equipment. Between the two, they employed nearly 500 people.
McVicker said, "It brought a lot of people in, so it required a lot of schools and churches, businesses, stores, plus the hotels for people to live."
In 1895, 28 residents decided to incorporate as a village.
McVicker said, "They would have a mayor. They would have a volunteer fire department. They would have more benefits from being a village. I think it got its name because it was East of Syracuse and it was a completely wooded area. So it just sort of seemed logical that Eastwood would fit."
With the manufacturers came more stores and businesses.
McVicker said, "There were many bars in Eastwood and Saloons. And there were a group of ladies that held prayer groups. They decided one night there were too many bars and no churches, and that brought about the development of the Wesleyan Methodist Church which was the first one."
Businesses continued to move into Eastwood, including Killian Manufacturing - the only one of which is still in Eastwood today. Gradually, the main business district switched from Burnet Avenue to James Street.
McVicker said, "James Street sort of bisected the north and south of the Eastwood area, and it was easier for people to get to because there weren't as many cars."
After WWI, Syracuse began annexing small communities, and in 1926 Eastwood residents voted overwhelmingly to join the city.
McVicker said, "Part of it was that we had a volunteer fire department and the city could offer their paid department. They could pave the roads. There were just a lot of advantages that the city of Syracuse could afford to do that the village couldn't."
Still it was the village feel that kept people moving into the area. Eastwood had rich soil for growing, and farming continued until the late 1900s.
McVicker said, "We had two plum trees, two peach trees, two grape vines and he grew vegetables and that was just a small area. Between Hillsdale and Woodbine, where I used to walk through, that was all fruit trees."
For years, Eastwood was pretty self-sustaining with the farming and shops, but eventually most of the manufacturers moved out of Eastwood for one reason or another.
McVicker said, "It was devastating, but we coped with it."
And in time, the small businesses along the James Street Business Corridor closed their doors too.
Eastwood Neighborhood Association President Aaron Wood said, "It took on a new, different identity in the 70s and 80s. And it kind of got away from that neighborhoody feel."
Despite Eastwood's changing nature, many life-timers choose to stay in the village within the city.
Wood said, "What we're seeing in Eastwood is the evolving of back to where we've come from back in the 30s and 40s where you had the general stores and the drug stores where people had soda fountains, and that type of approach where we're building that back up."
Today, the Eastwood Neighborhood Association is working to make sure the village within the city returns to its roots and stays that way.
One other little-known nugget about Eastwood - gold was discovered there in 1896 by the Central Land Company while digging a well near Pierce-Butler. However, that did not lead to an Eastwood Gold Rush. If you'd like to know more about Eastwood's History, Margaret McVicker has written two books that also feature memories from longtime residents.