New York History Net Menu

Central New York Freedom Trail

Preservation Association of Central New York

PO Box 1011 Syracuse, NY 13201
(315) 475-0119

Project Summary

Central New York State, between Rochester and Utica, was home to many of the most significant events and participants in the great reform movements of the nineteenth century. As the Congress prepares legislation to commemorate the National Underground Railroad Freedom Trail (New York adopted its own legislation in September 1997), the Central New York area prepares for several significant anniversaries of related historical events. Significant attention will be drawn to the Seneca Falls area next summer, as the nation celebrates the sesquicentennial of the first women's rights convention. Coupled with the state's current focus on development of history-related tourism, this presents a rare opportunity, and a strong set of incentives, to develop and promote the related assets of Historic Central New York.

The 1997 bicentennial of two of the great leaders of the movement to abolish slavery, Gerrit Smith, of Madison County, and Samuel J. May of Syracuse, is being commemorated with a series of events, including the October 1 celebration of the Rescue of Jerry, a fugitive from slavery liberated by the people of Syracuse in 1851. This event was attended by representatives of May's congregation, and that of Jermain Wesley Loguen, the General Superintendent of the Underground Railroad in the Syracuse area. The celebration was also attended by representatives of the Harriet Tubman Home in Auburn, the Madison County Historical Society, and the Women's Rights National Historical Park in Seneca Falls.

The 1998 sesquicentennial celebration of the first women's rights convention comes at the same time as Syracuse celebrates its sesquicentennial as a city. It is natural that Syracuse turn its own attention, and that of the nation, to the leading role that it played in the great social reform movements of the period. Next year is also the centennial of the death of Matilda Joslyn Gage, one of the leaders of the early women's rights movement. Gage, who was born in Cicero and lived in Fayetteville, published her own newspaper at Syracuse, and edited, along with Stanton and Anthony, their History of Woman Suffrage.

Many of the historical assets of the important Central New York area are unmarked, and have not been given the same attention that similar resources receive in other areas. Similarly, many of the most important records relating to this history are outside of libraries, and scattered throughout the region. The Preservation Association of Central New York has determined to work with local governments and historical societies, churches, tourism authorities and local communities to develop and preserve the historical records and assets of Central New York related to the Underground Railroad, and the Women's Rights movement of the 19th century. Toward that end, the Association is seeking partnerships in the creation of the Central New York Freedom Trail Project. The project is intended to focus primarily on the counties of Cayuga, Onondaga and Madison, with additional attention to sites in Oneida, Oswego, and Cortland counties. The project will involve identification of significant sites and events that are appropriate for preservation and interpretation, and will establish a uniform system of interpretive markers that will be compatible with systems to be developed statewide and nationally. By initiating action in 1997, it is intended to position the Central New York area in a leadership role in the state and national Freedom Trail efforts, and to develop the area's maximum potential for historical preservation, education and tourism in 1998.

Major Project Activities

The Central New York Freedom Trail Project will involve four key areas of activity, to be carried out simultaneously over a multi-year period. These include:

· Survey of historical records and sites related to abolition and women's rights

· Finding Aids for related historical records that can be continuously updated and accessed online

· Interpretive Markers for Underground Railroad and Women's Rights Freedom Trails

· Preservation of sites of significant value, including registration of landmarks and historic sites

Survey of Records and Sites

State and Federal preservation agencies publish manuals to guide the conduct of comprehensive surveys and registration of historic places. The Central New York Freedom Trail Project envisions a broad based effort that combines the resources of local governments and historical societies as well as other, non-traditional means of collecting and presenting survey data. This will include efforts to engage school systems in projects to identify and research local sites, events and persons, and to present their findings for public access on the world-wide web. A model of this type of presentation is presented by the Underground Railroad in NYS website at The Project will also incorporate a survey of historical records to initiate continuous development of region-wide finding aids for materials related to the Underground Railroad and women's rights movements.

Sites identified in the surveys of historical assets will be classified as appropriate for development of interpretive markers, and/or significant efforts at preservation and development.

Creation of Finding Aids

Because these histories have in the past been undervalued, the related historical documents have not always been given the attention they deserve. In order to assist researchers and promote document preservation, the Project will incorporate a historical records survey. This will involve collection of information on related documents held in libraries, historical societies and private collections throughout the region. Information will be compiled in a database structure that can be continuously improved, and made widely available through related institutions and over the Internet.

Creation of Interpretive Markers

The major integrating feature of the Project will be the identification of sites to be marked for interpretation on the Under ground Railroad and Women's Rights Freedom trails. The Project will sponsor the design and erection of interpretive historical markers for these site, many of which will be listed on both trails. Some sites would be marked with a single, site specific marker, while others would be served by centralized area markers. Based on the ongoing historical survey efforts, the Project would serve as a central site for coordinating the use of the Freedom Trail logos marking the trails, and for funding the erection of markers. The Project would also serve as a focal point for coordination of development efforts for local interpretive centers and preservation projects.

One proposed design for interpretive markers is based on those used in the Syracuse Urban Cultural Park. These durable outdoor markers provide rectangular display platforms on pedestals, allowing the presentation of photographic and textual information about a site and its history. A simpler design would be used for residential and commercial sites that warrant a less obtrusive marker, and which can be explained in trail guides.

Several sites have been initially identified for marking by the project. A summary of the sites initially identified is provided below. Other sites will be identified and marked as information and resources are developed.

Working List of Historic Marker Sites

Auburn Home of Martha Coffin Wright Women's Rights
  Home of William H. Seward Underground Railroad
  Harriet Tubman Home Both
Skaneateles Home of James Canning Fuller Underground Railroad
  Glen Haven Water Cure Both
Syracuse Jerry Rescue (Clinton Square Area) Underground Railroad
  Jerry Rescue (City Hall Area) Underground Railroad
  Wesleyan Methodist Church Both
  Plymouth Congregational Church Underground Railroad
  Home of Jermain Loguen Underground Railroad
  Home of Samuel J. May Both
Fayetteville Home of Matilda Joslyn Gage Women's Rights
Cazenovia 1850 Convention (Cherry Valley Apts.) Underground Railroad
Peterboro Historic Area (West) Both
  Historic Area (East) Both
  Smith Estate Both
  Presbyterian Church ( Smithfield Comm. Bldg.) Underground Railroad
Whitesboro Oneida Institute Underground Railroad
Utica Bleeker Street Church Underground Railroad
Oswego Edwards House, Fruit Valley Underground Railroad
Mexico Orson Ames House Underground Railroad
Cortland Cooper Farmhouse Underground Railroad


Based on the Survey of historical assets, efforts will be made to secure registration of historic sites and landmarks that are not already registered. Efforts will also be made to concentrate attention and resources on the preservation of sites of significant value, and, where possible, their integration into a network of interpretive centers. Four sites have been initially identified for immediate attention:

The Wesleyan Methodist Church in Syracuse, currently used as a restaurant, and in need of urgent attention. This is a site of major significance to both the Underground Railroad and Women's Rights movements, and is immediately threatened. Immediate efforts are needed to prevent removal of artifacts from the site. This location could well serve as a central interpretive site for the state.

The Matilda Joslyn Gage Home in Fayetteville, currently used for rental apartments. This site has major significance to the national women's rights movement. A foundation is being formed to promote awareness of Gage's work, and her life in Fayetteville.

The Harriet Tubman Home in Auburn, already developed for visitors, is a major site for both the Underground Railroad and Women's Rights trails. Additional support is needed to further develop the links between this and other Auburn sites and the Seneca Falls convention history.

The Peterboro Historic District in central Madison County is a major site significant to both movements. The Peterboro Area Museum is already developed for visitors, and also needs support to interpret the many related sites in the Peterboro area. There area several sites in Peterboro and nearby Madison County in need of marking and preservation assistance.




NY History Net Home | Contact | Search | Historians | Kids | Resources
New York History Net 1996-2015