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Originally, the Onondaga Indians inhabited the land that is now Syracuse. They were part of the Six Nations, also known as the Iroquois Confederacy, and are still the oldest living participatory democracy on earth. The Founding Fathers based many of their ideas for the representative democracy of the United States on this Confederacy. As New York City grew and Europeans were increasingly moving inland, the original inhabitants were eventually forced into "reservations" (undesirable land) and also suffered from health problems caused by the plethora of European viruses to which they had no resistance. While areas East of today's Syracuse, such as Manlius and Fayetteville, were thriving towns in the early 19th century, Syracuse was but a small collection of houses in low-lying, disease-ridden wetlands.
The construction of the
Erie Canal began in 1817 and by 1825 the canal was open from Albany to Buffalo, joining what is now Syracuse with those two cities and, in effect, New York City via the Hudson River. Population grew precipitously and soon enough a community was built. While the indigenous populations had been making salt from the local salt springs for centuries, salt production really took off once there was an inexpensive way to transport it. In 1820 the city was named by John Wilkinson after the Italian town of the same name in Sicily.
It has been said that, without Syracuse salt, the North might not have been able to preserve the food it fed its soldiers and therefore might not have won the Civil War. In 1848, the village of Salina, on the shores of
Onondaga Lake and the main salt producing town, was incorporated into the city of Syracuse. With the construction of railroad systems throughout the state, the city's population took off. Its growth didn't begin to reverse until the 1950's.
Syracuse developed a diverse manufacturing industry, continued to be a transportation hub that eventually included the automobile, and became a center for education and health care. Syracuse and the surrounding area was also a hub of
Underground Railroad activity in the 19th century. However, with the decline of first the salt industry and then manufacturing, Syracuse has lost population to both its own suburbs as well as to warmer climates. Currently it is developing its
high-tech industries, is still the home of
Syracuse University and the
SUNY Upstate Medical Center, among other institutions and businesses, and is beginning to experience the return of some of the people who left but want to
come home to Syracuse. Its great educational, recreational and medical facilities coupled with dozens of parks, fascinating history, charming architecture, cultural attractions and low cost of living make it
an appealing city in which to live .