The pioneer of this town and the man from whom it was named was James Geddes, who was born near Carlisle, Pa., July 22, 1763, of Scotch ancestry. He was well educated for the time, and taught school much of the time until he was nearly thirty years old. In 1793 the spreading fame of the Onondaga salt springs drew him hither and the prospect was so gratifying to him that he returned home, organized a company for the manufacture of salt, and early in 1794 came on by way of Seneca Lake to the site of Geddes, bringing with him kettles, etc., and began the first operations of the salt industry in that locality. The other members of the company followed in June of the same year, and the little settlement thus formed was given the name of Geddes. The salt works were located near the lake shore, which then overflowed a large area of the present lowlands. In 1798 Mr. Geddes removed to Fairmount, in the present town of Camillus, where he settled upon land acquired by him from the State, which remained his home until his death. Very soon after his settlement, Mr. Geddes was called upon to fill a public station, and from that time forward his energies were almost wholly given to official work of various kinds. Being employed by the surveyor-general as an assistant, he took up that profession and made it his chief lifework, in which he rendered the State the most valuable services in surveying the canal, as elsewhere described. He was appointed a justice of the peace in 1800 and in 1804 was elected to the Legislature. In 1809 he was appointed associate justice and in 1812 a judge of Onondaga County Common Pleas. In 1813 he was elected to Congress and in 1821 was again sent to the Legislature. After a life of great usefulness he died at his home August 19, 1838. He was the father of seven children.
George Geddes was a son of James, and was born on the Fairmount homestead in 1809. He was educated in the Pompey and the Onondaga Academies, and graduated from a military school in Middletown, Mass. He read law for a time in Skaneateles, but did not adopt that profession, preferring to follow his honored father as an engineer. He was directly connected with many important public works in this and other States. His natural qualifications led to his being called to fill many official stations of honor and responsibility. He was twice elected to the State Senate, was superintendent of the Salt Springs seven years, and held other places of trust. He never lost his interest in agriculture and made the home farm one of the most noted in this section. His first wife was a daughter of Dr. Porter, of Skaneateles. Their children were the late James Geddes, and the wife of Davis Cossitt, of Onondaga. His second wife was Mary Chamberlain, of Red Hook, N.Y. Mr. Geddes died at his home in 1883.
James Geddes was born November 10, 1831. He enjoyed full opportunity to obtain an excellent education in the Homer Academy and Cazenovia Seminary, and afterwards studied civil engineering in which profession he became proficient before he was eighteen years of age. He followed this vocation a few years, but his natural love of agricultural pursuits drew his attention to farming. Under his liberal and intelligent direction the home farm continued to be one of the most beautiful and productive in this county. Mr. Geddes took an active interest in the State Agricultural Society and was a member of the executive committee. Elected to the Assembly in 1882 and 1883, he was instrumental in the creation and passage of the present game laws. When the State Experimental Station was organized at Geneva, Mr. Geddes was appointed its general manager by the governor. Mr. Geddes was a whole-souled, warm-hearted and generous man, beloved by all who enjoyed his friendship. His death took place May 16, 1887. He left two children, George Geddes and Mrs. W. Judson Smith.
It will be noted that the settlement at the head of the lake was begun only a few years after that at Salina, and long before any one had thought of a village on the site of Syracuse. At the time of the settlement, Judge Geddes found a rude road extending from Salina to Onondaga Hollow. This was the only means of communication with either that point or Salina and Judge Geddes and his associates saw the necessity of connecting with it by a new road. By the aid of a fund then in the hands of commissioner, and by large contributions, a good road was constructed from his settlement connecting with the Salina and Onondaga Hollow road. Mr. Clark in his Onondaga, p. 151, says of another early road attributed to Judge Geddes:
One of the earliest, and greatest improvements about the village of Geddes, was the making of a road from that place to Salina. The ground over which the road was to pass was a perfect quagmire, filled with thick cedar timber and low brushwood. It was so miry, so thick with underbrush, and so much covered with water that it was completely impassable and could not be surveyed by the ordinary methods. In this case the surveyor set his compass at the house of Samuel R. Mathews, at Salina, and took the bearing of Mr. Hughs's chimney, above the trees, and from this observation the route of the road was commenced by cutting brush and laying them crosswise on the line of the road and covering them with earth. The process was slow, but time and perseverance has accomplished the work, and an excellent road, perfectly straight between the two villages, is the result.
In these works, which were more or less for the general public good, the people who had located at Salina evinced no interest, and it was recorded that they were somewhat jealous of the incipient salt works of the Pennsylvania Company at Geddes. If this be true it could not have endured long, for the market for salt was soon found to be greater than could be supplied. But the Indians were certainly jealous. They claimed an exclusive privilege of the use of the salt springs at the head of the lake. Through the influence of Ephraim Webster a council was called and Judge Geddes was present. After due deliberation he was adopted into the tribe and given the name of "Don-da-dah-gwah," thus solving the problem in a peculiarly Indian fashion.
The next settler at Geddes was Freeman Hughs, who came from Westfield, Mass., when eighteen years of age. There was then not a single house in the town of Geddes, except at the salt works, and they had been abandoned. Mr. Hughs became a prominent citizen, especially in the later operations in salt, and was a justice of the peace. He built the house where Col. W. R. Chamberlin now lives. He died in Geddes at the age of seventy-five years, on the 29th of August, 1856. His son James was the first child born at Geddes.
In 1807 Judge Geddes made the first map of the village showing the pasture and marsh lots. This map was made for Dr. William Kirkpatrick, then salt superintendent, and is on file in the surveyor-general's office. It also shows twenty lots on both sides of what is now Genesee street. The village was resurveyed and mapped by Judge Geddes in 1812, and in 1821 the map was enlarge. In 1822 John Randel, jr., laid out the village substantially as it appeared when annexed to the city in 1887. The streets were laid out one hundred feet wide.
Isaac Pharis came to Geddes in 1811 while young and afterwards married Lavina Root. He subsequently bought a lot on Emerson avenue (formerly Orchard street), and spent his life there. He died July 14, 1845, aged forty-nine years. His sons were Charles E., Isaac R., Mills P., and Sheldon P. The first three of these have been prominent in the history of Geddes. Mills P. Pharis, who still lives there, was connected with the salt industry nearly forty years, during nineteen of which he was in State employ as inspector. He manufactured quite largely and built blocks. I. R. Pharis was also prominently identified with the industry and was a man of ability. He died in October, 1889. Charles E. was also in the salt business and one of the leading men in the American Dairy Salt Company. He died September 13, 1877, aged fifty-eight. Sheldon P. was engaged in boating a few years, when he went to California.
Jacob Sammons, a veteran of the Revolutionary war, lived at Geddes in the early part of the century, and died there in 1815. His son, Thomas, served in the war of 1812, and was a boatman and saltmaker at Geddes. He died in 1876 at the age of eighty-two years.
The Root family, into which Isaac Pharis married, had an eventful experience. The father with his family started for the Western Reserve from Connecticut in 1810 with an ox team. Reaching Buffalo, an acquaintance induced them to hire a farm and remain there. Two years later, when the British came across and sacked Buffalo, the family fled to Batavia and Mr. Root soon returned to Connecticut. He afterwards went west to the Reserve, but his sons, Jesse, Erastus, and daughters, Nancy, Lavina (who married Isaac Pharis), Sally and Maria settled at Geddes. When the village was mapped the public square was laid out and a lot was reserved for school purposes east of the park. There, in a primitive school house, Nancy Root taught a very early, if not the first school in the village, in 1803. The old school house was displaced ere many years by a brick one and there Simeon Spaulding taught in 1825. Mr. Spaulding was an early resident of the place, was justice of the peace and highly esteemed.
James Lamb settled at Geddes in 1803 and built the first frame house in that year and kept a tavern until after the war of 1812. It stood on Genesee street. He came from near Seneca Lake and died in Geddes.
Simeon Phares was a soldier of the Revolution and located at Geddes in 1803. He was a brother of Andrew, who settled in Salina. Simeon built a log house on the site of the Lake Shore House, and lived there until his death about the year 1820. His wife was Anna, daughter of James Lamb, the pioneer tavernkeeper. Simeon Phares engaged in salt-making with Thomas Orman, another Salina pioneer. Orman used to go back and forth, as others doubtless did, between Geddes and Salina in a canoe, and the place where he habitually moored his craft near the site of the present pump house, was then called "Orman's Landing." John Y. Phares, who is still living at Geddes, son of Simeon, was born August 22, 1810, and was the second child born at Geddes, and has always lived there, doing business as a shoemaker. He learned his trade with John Sanborn, who was the first resident shoemaker in the place. Andrew Phares, a brother of John Y., also learned the shoemaker's trade and died at South Onondaga. But long before he began shoemaking he taught either the first or the second school at Geddes, in a log house that stood near the site of the present school house.
One of the earliest merchants in Geddes was John Dodge, who had a store where Dr. E. H. Flint's house now stands. Dodge afterwards, and before 1824, built a store on the line of the canal, where the Gere block now stands, and carried on business there. He subsequently removed from the place. Charles L. Skinner in company with Joseph Shepard kept a store in the Dodge building after Dodge left it, and in 1831 Skinner built for himself on the site of the Geddes House. In 1825 Sheldon Pardee kept a store at the end of Furnace street (now West Fayette), and in 1831 Charles Pardee, his brother, put up a building on the site of the street railroad building. He was a resident of Skaneateles. Joel Dickinson, son-in-law of James Mann, was an early merchant in the old 'Green' store on the canal. He failed and James H. Mann, his son-in-law, joined him and continued the business for a time; but both finally gave up.
David Vrooman was a very early settler. He was a carpenter and hewed the timbers used in the construction of the old salt reservoir before 1812. He married Nancy Root. Noah Smith was another pioneer in the salt industry at Geddes, locating there before 1812. He removed to Phoenix in 1833 and died there in December, 1861.
In 1819 a road was opened running from the site of the present Methodist church to Onondaga Hill. This highway was ultimately abandoned.
Charles Carpenter came to Geddes first in 1812, but went away and afterwards returned and took up his permanent residence in 1816. He was prominently identified with the salt industry, was inspector for a period, and was a justice of the peace. He first lived in a log house that stood directly in what is now Willis avenue, very near the line of Genesee street.
Capt. John G. Terry was an early settler. He had five sons: John, Erasmus, Ralph, Norman, and Griswold; and four daughters named Sabrina, Louisa, Phoebe, and Chloe. Captain Terry died in 1838 at the age of sixty years.
We have thus named most of the early settlers and business men of Geddes. The village amounted to almost nothing, except as a station for the manufacture of salt, until the opening of the canal in 1825. This gave it quite an impetus, the population increased, several new places of business were opened, and the limited agricultural area in the town was cleared and prepared for cultivation.
William W. Tripp located at Geddes very soon after the opening of the canal and began boat-building. His yard was at the old canal basin. He died at Geddes August 2, 1884, aged eighty-eight years. Harvey Stewart came in at about the same time and opened a grocery in the old brick building near the bridge, where Nathaniel Kelsey, son-in-law of Mr. Stewart, recently carried on business. Mr. Stewart afterwards engaged in the salt industry. This building was erected by Mr. Stewart and Simeon Spaulding just before 1850.
Joseph M. Willey founded about the first manufacturing industry here, aside from salt, by making the small, round wooden boxes in which fine salt was formerly packed, and he did quite an extensive business in that line. He died in 1857, aged sixty-three years. Joseph Shepard, who died in Geddes in June, 1867, at the age of eighty-eight years, came there about the year 1831. His son Joseph bought the stoneware pottery not far from 1855. This pottery was started some years earlier by William H. Farrar, for the manufacture of "red ware" from the clay found at Geddes. This was afterwards given up and gray ware (was) made from clay brought from New Jersey by boat. The pottery was burned in a recent year. Oliver Barker located in Geddes about 1825 and kept a grocery in a building erected by Mr. Pardee, before alluded to. He lived to be more than ninety years old and died in November, 1888.
In the spring of 1824 Robert Gere settled on a farm about one and a half miles west of Geddes village. His two brothers, William S. and Charles, also located there on adjoining farms. At a later date Robert Gere became an extensive manufacturer of salt and engaged largely in the lumber business. In 1835-36 he was a large contractor and associated with Elizur Clark in supplying ties for the railroads of the State. In 1843 he removed to Syracuse and associated himself with William H. Alexander and C. C. Bradley in the foundry and machine shop business. He was superintendent of the salt springs from 1848 to 1851 and also filled other stations of honor and trust. With the late Horace White he founded the Geddes Coarse Salt Company, situated west of the village, of which he was president, and for many years he was widely engaged in active and prosperous business pursuits, and was in every sense a representative citizen. He died in 1887 at the age of eighty-one years. His sons, the Hon. R. Nelson Gere (deceased), George C. Gere, Hon. W. H. H. Gere, and the late N. Stanton Gere, have all been prominently identified with the manufacturing interests of Geddes, Syracuse, and other places. Robert Gere's only daughter is the wife of the Hon. J. J. Belden.
For many years the Gere farm, the Geddes farm at "Fairmount" and the celebrated Smiths & Powell Stock Farm, on the lake shore, have been among the best in Onondaga county. The latter farm is on the lake shore a little west of the city line, and was established by William Brown Smith (deceased), and Edward A. Powell. Wing R. Smith and W. Judson Smith are members of the firm, which has a large nursery interest, besides their heavy importation and breeding of Holstein and other blooded cattle, Percheron and other select breeds of horses and other stock. A post-office named "Lakeland" is maintained near the head quarters on the farm.
Among other farmers of this town who have been prominent in the development of the rural districts should be mentioned John Cowan, James Knapp (father of P. Schuyler and Dr. J. Willis Knapp), Henry Jerome and his son James, Abraham Ward (former owner of land on which has been built the mansion of F. R. Hazard), Silas Babcock and his father, Robert Andrews, William Tanner, Hamlet Worker, Silas Corey, Horace Draper, Myron C. Darrow and his father, M. M. Armstrong, Thomas Dean and others.
Capt. John G. Terry was a Geddes pioneer who died in 1838. His fifth son was Griswold Terry, whose widow died in April, 1895, at the age of ninety-four years. Among their children are Guy Terry, who has been a successful farmer and is still living; Mrs. James Geddes, and another daughter living in Michigan.
Ferris Hubbell came to Geddes about 1827 and became somewhat conspicuous in the community. He was connected with the salt industry and at a later date with other manufacturing interests of the place. He was father of Charles E. Hubbell, president of the Onondaga Pottery Company. He died in Geddes in January, 1885. Charles Woolson was a resident of Geddes and father of Albina Woolson and of Gardner Woolson, who was a contractor.
Benjamin Avery took up his residence at Geddes before 1830, and was engaged with Parley Howlett, of Howlett Hill, in buying and slaughtering cattle. His slaughter house stood on the bank of the canal and a large business was carried on. After the canal was opened Mr. Howlett established a packing house opposite the present weigh lock and did a large business there. There are men living who remember his hanging fresh hides on the rude fence then surrounding Fayette Park, but this was soon stopped by the authorities. Cyrus Avery was a son of Benjamin, and his daughter married Col. W. R. Chamberlin. The cattle and packing business was afterward carried on by Alfred A. Howlett, son of Parley, on the site of the Sanderson steel works.
Stephen W. Smith who came to Geddes about 1829, kept a tavern soon afterwards, just west of the Methodist church site. He died there in 1864.
In 1831 Messrs. Platt & Durkee built the large brick structure near the canal bridge, with pillars fronting the first story. This was intended for stores, but very little was done there in that line. Cyrus Thompson the founder of the so-called "Thompsonian" system of medicine, came to Geddes some time before 1830 and began his business of manufacturing remedies. He afterwards bought the large building and used it as a sanitarium on his plan, and accumulated wealth. He died in the west, though his residence continued in Geddes until his death. At the same time that this building was erected (1831) Jonas Mann had a large grist mill built where Genesee street crosses the canal, but his death put an end to the enterprise and the mill was never operated.
C. T. Longstreet carried on a tailoring business in Geddes for about three years, beginning with 1832. Edwin R. Smith, born in Geddes in 1819, learned his trade with Mr. Longstreet and followed that business down to recent years.
The history of the school taught by Miss Root is obscure down to about 1825, at which time Simeon Spaulding was teaching in a brick building which had been erected a few years earlier on the corner of School street and Lowell avenue. In 1846 a two-story brick structure was erected, which became and now is a part of the Porter school. The school takes its name from Dr. W. W. Porter, who was in charge of it one year (1851-52) and was an enthusiastic friend of education. Dr. Porter practiced medicine in Geddes from 1853 until near his death in 1885. At the date of the annexation of part of Geddes village to Syracuse (1887) the town of Geddes was divided into three school districts.
In the early history of Geddes village, burials were made in a lot which is now the Sackett Tract. In 1854 a beautifully situated tract on the highlands overlooking the village and the lake was secured and the cemetery established thereon.
The village of Geddes was incorporated by act of Legislature passed April 20, 1832. The first election of village officers was authorized to be held on the first Tuesday in June, 1832. All of the village records down to 1850 were destroyed by fire on the night of the 8th of February, 1850; consequently no proceedings of the village authorities, or list of officers, can be given for the interval of eighteen years. Following is a list of trustees down to the time of its admission to the city, in February, 1887
Trustees--1850, Simeon Spaulding, Stephen W. Smith, Isaac R. Pharis, Albina Woolson; 1851, Daniel D. Smith, R. Nelson Gere, Edgar Vrooman, Daniel W. Coykendall, Albina Woolson; 1852, Thomas Sammons, Joel F. Paige, Hiram Slade, Sullivan H. Morse, John Whiting; 1853, Joel F. Paige, Albina Woolson, Joseph Shepard, jr., Thomas Robinson, William W. Tripp; 1854, Elijah W. Curtis, Daniel Coykendall, Edgar Vrooman, William J. Sammons, John Y. Phares; 1855, Elijah W. Curtis, Daniel W. Coykendall, William J. Sammons, Mills P. Pharis, William Boulian; 1856, Thomas Sammons, R. N. Gere, Isaac R. Pharis, Henry Duncan, Elijah W. Curtis; 1857, James W. Patten, A. Cadwell Belden; Henry Case, John D. Stanard, Henry Duncan; 1858, B. F. Willey, E. R. Smith, William J. Sammons, Norman Vrooman, William W. Tripp; 1859, William H. Farrar, Burlingame Harris, R. N. Gere, Francis H. Nye, Ferris Hubbell; 1860, Francis H. Nye, R. Nelson Gere, Gardner Woolson, Harvey Stewart, Joel F. Paige; 1861, Joel F. Paige, R. Nelson Gere, Francis H. Nye, Gardner Woolson, Harvey Stewart; 1862, Joel F. Paige, Harvey Stewart, Francis H. Nye, R. Nelson Gere, Isaac R. Pharis; 1863, Joel F. Paige, Harvey Stewart, Stephen W. Smith, Perry C. Rude, Hiram Slade; 1864, Thomas Robinson, Mills P. Pharis, Richard G. Joy, W. H. H. Gere, William D. Coykendall; 1865, Thomas Robinson, Mills P. Pharis, Richard G. Joy, W. H. H. Gere, W. D. Coykendall; 1866, Samuel E. Barker, Harvey Stewart, Charles F. Gere, Gilbert Sweet, John Y. Phares.
Under New Charter--R. Nelson Gere, 1867; Mead Belden, 1867 to 1874 inclusive; Samuel E. Barker, 1867-68-69; Charles E. Pharis, 1868 to 1873 inclusive; Reuben C. Holmes, 1870 to 1875 inclusive; Terrence E. Hogan, 1874 to 1877 inclusive; George A. Cool, 1878 to 1881 inclusive; A. M. Smart, 1879; Austin G. Ward, 1880; Henry C. Day 1881-83; Barnard Wente, 1883-84-85; Philip Gooley, 1884-85-86; James C. Rann, 1885-86; Martin Lawler, 1886.
The first town election in Geddes was held on the fourth Tuesday in March, 1848, when the following principal officers were chosen: Supervisor, Elijah W. Curtis; town clerk, Edward Vrooman; justices of the peace, George E. Teft, Henry G. Stiles, James H. Luther.
Until after the war of 1861-65 Geddes still remained a small village, having a population of less than one thousand in 1868; but the impetus given to all kinds of manufacturing and business operations by the close of the war and the general feeling of confidence incident thereto, with shipping and other advantages of the place, contributed to give it a very rapid growth. Its population had reached nearly 7,000 at the date of its annexation to the city (1886-87). Several large manufactures were founded, among them being the Onondaga Iron Company, the Onondaga Pottery Company, Sanderson Brothers Steel Company, the Syracuse Iron Works, the Sterling Iron Ore Company, and several small companies. Nearly all of these passed into the city limits and are elsewhere described.
The annexation of Geddes and territory adjacent thereto was authorized by an act of Legislature passed on the 17th of May, 1886, and embraced all within the following described boundaries:
All that district of country being the territory of the village of Geddes and all that part of the town of Geddes in the county of Onondaga which lies east of the line described as follows: Beginning at the intersection of the south line of the town of Geddes and the west line of the highway known as the Geddes and Onondaga road; running thence northerly along the west line of said road to the south line of the village of Geddes; thence westerly along the south line of said village and the Geddes Cemetery to the southwest corner of the cemetery; thence northerly along the west line of said cemetery to the northwest corner thereof; thence east along the north line of said cemetery to the west line of said village; thence northerly along the west line of said village and the continuation thereof so far as to intersect the west line of farm lot number 143; thence northerly along said west line to a point intersecting the continuation westerly of the north line of Sixth North street to the west line of Quince street; thence northerly along the west line of Quince street and the continuation thereof to the intersection of the northerly line of farm lot number 54, and thence easterly along the north line of farm lot number 54 and the north line of reclaimed lot number 39 to the low water line on the southerly shore of Onondaga Lake.
The building of the great works of the Solvay Process Company a little west of Geddes village in 1881-2, and their immense extension since that time, attracted around them an army of employees, many of whom desired to live nearer their labor. Dwellings began to be built, groceries and shops were opened and the nucleus of a village soon arose, in all of which the company evinced a deep and liberal interest. So rapidly grew the settlement that in 1893 measures were adopted for incorporation, which plan was carried out and the first village election held May 15, 1894. Frederick R. Hazard was chosen president and is still in the office. The other first officers were William B. Boyd, William Cross, James Matthews, trustees; M. C. Darrow, collector; C. O. Richards, treasurer and secretary.
Solvay Union School embraces Districts 2 and 3, and a small part of District No. 1 is in the village. There are three school buildings in the Union School, all under C. O. Richards, principal, with fifteen teachers. There are two kindergartens and a graded system from them to the High School. The schools have been under the supervision of the Regents of the University since June, 1894.
A water supply has been established, the water being taken from pure springs by pumping, and 100 hydrants protect the village from fire. The post-office was opened March 8, 1889. Emmet Davidson is postmaster. A post-office has long existed in the extreme north part of the town on the D., L. & W. Railroad, under the name of Stiles Station. T. B. Grace is postmaster.
Building in the town of Geddes, just outside of the city limits, and at Fairmount has been considerably promoted within the last five years through the operations of several land companies and real estate firms, who have purchased tracts, divided them into building lots, and sold them, if desired, on long time.
The summer resorts of Pleasant Beach, Long Branch, Maple Bay, and others of less note, are situated on the lake shore in the town of Geddes, and attract hosts of visitors from city and country during the season.
The following statement shows the population of this town as given in the various census reports:
1850, 2,011; 1855, 2,066; 1860, 2,528; 1865, 3,240; 1870, 4,505; 1875, 5,703; 1880, 7,088; 1890, 1,717; 1892, 1,776.
Following is a list of the supervisors of Geddes, as far as they are obtainable:
1848, Elijah W. Curtis; 1849-51, Henry D. Stiles; 1851-53,
Stephen Smith; 1853-55, Henry Jerome; 1855-56, James W. Knapp; 1856-59,
R. Nelson Gere; 1859-60, Stephen W. Smith; 1860-64, Joel F. Paige; 1864-71,
William H. H. Gere; 1871-73, Charles E. Hubbell; 1873-80, N. Stanton Gere;
1880-82, Webster R. Chamberlin; 1882-84, Daniel W. Langan; 1884-85, John
Scanlan; 1887-92, P. Schuyler Knapp; 1892-96, Frederick M. Power.
Submitted 3 July 1998