SYRACUSE, N.Y. (WSYR-TV) — Have you ever wondered why some places are named what they are in Central New York? Maybe you finished watching this video where people (hilariously) failed to pronounce Skaneateles, or maybe you were enjoying a walk around Cazenovia Lake and wondered — where the heck did this name come from? It turns out there’s a rhyme and a reason, and we are here to tell you why!
Onondaga County was named after one of the five original nations of the Haudenosaunee, also known as the Iroquois Confederacy. Scholars say that the Haudenosaunee was formed around 1142, but the Haudenosaunee believe that their League was formed much earlier. The Haudenosaunee was formed on the shores of Onondaga Lake, after the Peacemaker brought the Seneca, Cayuga, Onondaga, Oneida, and Mohawk Nations together. The Tuscarora nation later joined and became the sixth nation.
Cortland County (and the city of Cortland) was named after Pierre Van Cortlandt, the first lieutenant governor of New York. Pierre helped create the state’s political structure during the Revolutionary War and lived until 1814, when he was 93. The county was formed on April 8, 1808.
Oswego County and Oswego
Oswego County and Oswego were named after the Haudenosaunee phrase for “pouring out place” — osh-we-geh — because the Oswego River pours into Lake Ontario at Oswego.
Madison County was named after the the nation’s fourth president, James Madison. There are 20 counties in the United States that share this name!
Many residents of Syracuse know that our city’s namesake is an ancient Italian town on the east coast of Sicily. But why?
Syracuse went through many names before the one we know today. The area was first known as Salt Point and Webster’s Landing, after one of our original settlers Ephraim Webster’s first trading post, before being referred to as Bogardus Corners and Cossitt’s Corners. Bogardus and Cossitt were both proprietors of the first village tavern.
Afterwards, early Syracuse was called Milan and later, Corinth. It was at this time, in 1820, when residents decided that they would apply to the federal government for a post office — the same time when the Erie Canal had reached Syracuse.
Unfortunately, the name Corinth was ineligible: New York already had a Corinth post office. In response, residents formed a committee, including John Wilkinson, a studious man. Wilkinson suggested Syracuse after reading about Siracusa and finding many similarities between the ancient city and ours. It was unanimously selected and the town was granted their post office!
Baldwinsville was named after early area settlers, Dr. Jonas Baldwin and his wife, Eliza Baldwin. In 1798, the couple came through the area as travelers on the Seneca River and fell in love with the area’s beauty. They returned to the area in 1808 and helped develop a community for travelers and explorers by creating a dam to harness energy and a canal to protect the river’s integrity. The community was named after Dr. Jonas Baldwin and Eliza Baldwin as thanks to their devotion.
Brewerton was named after a historic British fort called Fort Brewerton, which was strategically placed between Fort Stanwix in Rome and Fort Ontario in Oswego during the French and Indian War. The fort was built in 1759 and named after Major George Brewerton Jr., a British officer, who is believed to have been in charge of the fort’s construction.
The Town of Camillus is named after a Roman general, Marcus Furius Camillus and was founded on March 8, 1799, as part of the Military Tract of Central New York — a program that granted land to Revolutionary War veterans. (It was originally known as Township 5, which the mixed-use shopping area is named after!) According to to cnyhistory.org, Robert Harpur, assistant to Simeon De Witt, named many of the unnamed tracts after significant figures of ancient Rome because “learned citizens were quite enamored with ancient Greek and Roman culture.”
In 1793, John Lincklaen, from Amsterdam, purchased 64,000 acres for the Holland Land Company and founded a settlement on the lake’s outlet on Chittenango Creek. He named this settlement after Holland Land Company’s general agent, Theophile Cazenove. According to the Dictionary of American Biography, Theophile Cazenove was a “man of pronounced spirit, but slow, timid, of a strongly careless character.”
Chittenango derives its name from the Oneida name “chu-de-naang,” which means “where the waters run north.” It refers to the direction that Chittenango Creek travels from Cazenovia Lake to Oneida Lake.
Cicero is named after the famous Roman statesman, lawyer, orator, and philosopher, Marcus Tullius Cicero. Cicero, like Camillus, was part of the Central New York Military Tract and probably named by Robert Harpur. Cicero was Township 6.
Marcus Tullius Cicero’s name comes from the Latin word for chickpea, cicer. The name was given to him as his ancestors likely farmed and sold chickpeas for a living.
Oh, and there’s another town on this list named after the same person. Can you guess which one?
Clay is named after Henry Clay, a notable American known as “The Great Compromiser” for forging the Compromise of 1850 which helped maintain the Union. Clay was originally part of the Town of Cicero, but Cicero petitioned to have the town split and the western half called Bolivar. Bolivar was already taken by another town, so the group in charge of the split decided to name it Clay, without any input from its inhabitants. Clay residents supposedly petitioned to rename the town Euclid, but the bill was never presented or passed.
DeWitt was named after Major Moses De Witt, a judge, surveyor, and soldier. Moses was the nephew of Simeon De Witt — who you might recall from the naming of Camillus — and assisted him in surveying the area. Moses also received many acres from the military tract program and was considered one of the largest land owners in the area. DeWitt was formed in 1835 through a division of Manlius. The group in charge of the division chose the name.
Elbridge was named after Elbridge Gerry, a Founding Father and U.S. Vice President. Elbridge Gerry was a friend of one of Elbridge’s original settlers, Captain William Stevens. Stevens was a Revolution soldier and a member of the Boston Tea Party with Elbridge Gerry.
Fabius is another CNY town named after a classical figure, likely chosen by Robert Harpur. Fabius is named after Quintus Fabius Maximus Verrucosus, an ancient Roman statesman and general who opposed Hannibal. According to Sandy Beglinger, the president of the Fabius Historical Society, there is no information on why Fabius was specifically chosen. It may have been lost when town records burned in a fire around December 1882, according to Past and Present of Syracuse and Onondaga County by Rev. Beauchamp.
Like many Central New York locations, Fabius was settled in as part of the post-war military tract program. The town originally included Truxton and Cuyler, but they were separated on April 8, 1808.
Fayetteville was named after Marquis de Lafayette, a hero of the American Revolution. The name was made official after the village’s incorporation in 1844. There are no official sources saying why Lafayette was chosen, but it is possible that it was chosen for the same reason that the town of LaFayette chose him as a namesake: he was traveling through the area in June 1825.
The Town of Geddes is named after James Geddes, an early settler of the area, who helped developed the salt industry that was critical to our early history. He also helped survey the area and assisted with the construction of the Erie Canal. The town was incorporated on April 20, 1832 and annexed to the City of Syracuse in 1886.
LaFayette was — along with Fayetteville — named after Marquis de Lafayette, a hero of the American Revolution. According to Past and Present of Syracuse and Onondaga County by Rev. Beauchamp, Lafayette was passing through the area in June 1825 — just a few months after the town was organized.
Liverpool is named after the city of Liverpool in England. Originally, the area was known as “Little Ireland,” because many Irish settlers immigrated to the area to work in the booming salt industry. However, the name was changed with the village’s incorporation on April 20, 1830 — speculation says it may have been from English influencers or for the area’s parallels to Liverpool, England.
Liverpool, England was originally recorded as ‘Liuerpul’, which was a combination of the Old English words ‘lifer’, meaning thick water, and ‘pōl’, meaning a pool or creek.
Manlius was, like Camillus and Cicero, probably named by Robert Harpur after a Roman, but which specific Manlius is no longer known. Manlius encapsulated the original area of Township 7 in the Military Tract program. The town’s original layout made it the largest town in the county, according to the History of Manlius Village.
Mattydale was named after a farm owned by Frank Matty in 1922. The area was originally unnamed farmland and frequently referred to by different landmarks, such as “over the city line” or “right near the Skiff farm.” (Yes — Skiff, as in Beak & Skiff Apple Orchards) However, Frank Matty chose a simple name for his farm — Mattydale — and the convenience of referring to a one-word location stuck.
Nedrow was named by reversing the last name of a local landowner, Cassius Worden.
According to L. Jane Tracy, author of “God’s Green Acres” and previous Town of Onondaga historian, the area was referred to as Onondaga Castle on early maps.
By 1897, however, the area was called Rockwell Springs, after a spring that “bubbled out of the east hill farmland of William Rockwell, and were fresh sweet water and sulfur springs.”
While Rockwell Springs grew, worries about confusion with a nearby post office in Chenango County –Rockwell Mills — necessitated a name change in 1921. Residents decided to honor local landowner and relative of settler, Cassius M. Worden. Apparently, Worden was embarrassed about the idea of being the town’s new namesake, but agreed to be honored if his name was reversed.
According to news clipping shared by the Town of Onondaga Historical Society, there was even a campaign to return to the name Rockwell Springs in the 1970s.
Salina is derived from the area’s original name, Salt Point. Salt Point was part of the Salt Springs Reservation. When the state took over the reservation, an area was carved out upland and called Salina around 1791, according to Onondaga’s Centennial, Vol. 1.
Salina comes from the Latin word for salt, “sal”, and the Latin suffix -ina, which refers to possession of or resemblance. Literally, Salina means “place of the salt.”
Did you know? The word “salary” also derives from the Latin world for salt. Roman soldiers were sometimes paid with salt instead of money, and the monthly allowance was called “salarium.”
Skaneateles, according to the Town of Skaneateles, comes from the Haudenosaunee word for long lake. While rumors existed that it came from words meaning “beautiful squaw” or “female of graceful form,” two Onondaga chiefs apparently wrote to the Skaneateles Chronicle in 1862 correcting the rumors, according to William Beauchamp in “Indian Names in New York, with a selection from other states and some names of Onondaga names of Plants, etc.” Chiefs Totwahganeo and Honoeyahteh clarified that the Onondagas knew the lake as Skeh-ne-a-ties.
Solvay is named after the Solvay Brothers, Ernest and Alfred, who were Belgian inventors who improved the process of manufacturing soda ash and created the Solvay process. The Solvay Brothers were assisted by Americans William Cogswell and Frederick Rowland Hazard, who helped open the first soda ash manufacturing plant in the country, right here in Syracuse. Hazard and Cogswell secured the rights to the Solvay process in the United States and created the Solvay Process Company.
Solvay Process Company discharged around 6 million pounds of salty wastes during its life, including chemicals like chloride and calcium. This discharged polluted Onondaga Lake.
You might already know this from reading Cicero’s entry, but Tully is also named after Marcus Tullius Cicero! Tully, which was originally Township 14, had its first annual town meeting on April 4, 1803.
A little bit further back in history, (around 420 million years, actually, in the Devonian period) the land that would make up present-day Tully was under a shallow sea and was very limy. This limy rock would later become the Tully Limestone and is still full of Devonian-era fossils.