Many people enjoy barbecues during the warm months of summer, but in 1870 the largest barbecue held in Syracuse was actually held in winter. Executive Director Gregg Tripoli from the Onondaga Historical Association shares the story behind the Greenway’s Brewery New Year’s Barbecue.
As the city of Syracuse suffered from a depression in 1870, the number of poor residents climbed to alarming numbers. John Greenway, the owner of Greenway’s Brewery, decided to throw a party that would not only lift the spirits of the city’s population, but would also serve a practical purpose of feeding the poor. Greenway immigrated from England very poor but worked his way up to wealth and “remembered where he came from,” said Tripoli.
Reviving an old English New Year’s custom, a “feast for the poor,” Greenway’s party turned out to be the largest public barbecue in city history. Over 20,000 people were fed in Clinton Square with 2,300 pounds of roast beef, 5,000 loaves of bread, and 12 plum puddings, each weighing in at over 200 pounds. Not only the poor were there, but visitors from Binghamton, Albany and Rochester were also in attendance. While Greenway paid for the event, a lot of volunteering helped make the barbecue successful. Local celebrities helped serve food and restaurants helped make the food. For people who couldn’t make it to the event, Greenway set up a system where beef and loaves of bread could be delivered to them.
Although Greenway’s party was extremely helpful and successful, some people criticized him. People part of the temperance movement were especially critical of Greenway since he was a brewer and they claimed that the event was merely self-promotion. Despite the controversy, Tripoli said the event remains “a generous feat that brought the city together.”
The Onondaga Historical Association (OHA) is a nonprofit educational association of heritage related services, museums, research and educational Centers, and retail operations. Among its museums are the Onondaga Historical Museum, OHA’s flagship museum in downtown Syracuse, the Skä•noñh – Great Law of Peace Center, a Haudenosaunee Heritage Center located in Liverpool, and the Sainte Marie Mission Site Museum, a recreated 17th century Mission. Most of OHA’s resources are dedicated to collecting, preserving, processing, interpreting, storing, and exhibiting the history of Syracuse and Onondaga County. It hosts many events to promote Onondaga’s history ranging from fundraisers, trips, parties, member events, to their annual formal gala called “Our Glorious Workplaces.” OHA has been around for over 153 years and aims to preserve and share the stories of Onondaga County’s history.
If you’d like to learn more about this and other local history, visit the OHA’s Onondaga Historical Museum located at 321 Montgomery Street in downtown Syracuse. For more information, visit cnyhistory.org.