Your Hometown: Baldwinsville
Baldwinsville is a small village in Onondaga County, but it is overflowing with history and that's largely due to the Seneca River that runs through it. In this edition of "Your Hometown" our Iris St. Meran takes us there and tells us why this body of water is an important part of the area's past, present and future.
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BALDWINSVILLE, N.Y. -- You can't talk about the history of Baldwinsville without first coming to the Seneca River. It flows right through the village which is home to more than 7,000 people. One of the first people to settle here was John McHarrie in 1794.
"He came from the west, actually, on the Seneca River, settled a little cabin on the bank of the river, thinking that he could ford people across the rapids of the river, source of power,” said Sue McManus, Shacksboro Schoolhouse Museum Director.
It would be almost ten years later, when the village's namesake arrived. Doctor Jonas Baldwin and his wife Eliza were just passing through on the river en route to other property and Mrs. Baldwin fell in love with the area.
"And said that she would follow her husband to his next destination if he promised to come back to this area and indeed they did. In 1808, the people of the area petitioned Baldwin to come back and settle on the area he purchased and development began,” said McManus.
McManus says Baldwin was popular because he had money and was already established as an entrepreneur and developer. He made things happen. Within a year of settling, he installed a dam, a bridge and a canal across the water.
"A private canal was opened in 1809 to circumvent the dam, to continue the opportunity to use the Seneca as a highway and 15 years before the Erie Canal, Baldwinsville had the Baldwin Canal. That gave ready access to Onondaga Lake and the Oswego River so we could get up to Lake Ontario,” said McManus.
Today, you have to cross the river to get from one end of the village to the other and back then this body of water was the only means of transportation and that help create jobs.
Morris Machine Works was a huge employer here for more than 100 years. The Centrifical pump was designed here and were shipped out on the water.
"They were able to dredge and pump out places that needed to be dried out such as the Panama Canal. They were involved in digging the Panama Canal,” said McManus.
This village also sparked a new way for churches to worship. Grace Episcopal Church was the first in the country to have lights using electricity and how that was possible all goes back to water.
"Seneca River produced hydropower. Morris Machine Works had an early hydro facility to convert the water power to electricity. Morris Machine Works was directly adjacent to the church property. Mr. Morris, we said, they were a very paternal organization, belonged to Grace Church and essentially, they ran an extension cord from the factory to the church,” said McManus.
Grace Episcopal Church still exists, but the original building built here burned down. All that's left is this historical marker where it once stood.
The locals take pride in their home and its history. Many have cottages nestled along the river banks.
On this winter day, only the ducks were out to play, but in the warmer months neighbors and guests take advantage of all this village and this river have to offer.