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Montgomery Street-Columbus Circle Historic District

Syracuse City, Onondaga County, NY

The Montgomery Street-Columbus Circle Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1980. Text below was selected and adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [1]


The Montgomery Street-Columbus Circle Historic District is located in the heart of the Syracuse downtown business district. It begins at Columbus Circle, encompassing the monumental civic and religious properties that border that prominent pedestrian area, and extends northward, taking in civic, religious and cultural institutions housed in nineteenth and early twentieth century structures on both sides of Montgomery Street. The Montgomery Street-Columbus Circle Historic District is visually terminated in the north by the Richardsonian Romanesque City Hall (NR8-27-76). The Montgomery Street-Columbus Circle Historic District is surrounded by more recent government buildings to the east and southeast, and commercial properties in all other directions.

The Hills Building is the northern terminus of the Montgomery Street-Columbus Circle Historic District and was designed by Melvin King in 1928. With its vertically striated walls rising through a series of setbacks, it is a unique example in Syracuse of the semi-modern skyscraper. The most significant buildings on Montgomery Street are St. Paul's Cathedral (NR12-1-78, a Gothic Revival church, built of Onondaga limestone in 1885; the building that now houses the Onondaga Historical Society (NR4-3-73), which is adorned with a handsome brick and terra-cotta facade; the New York Telephone Building, a Renaissance Revival structure; and the Syracuse Public Library. The latter was designed by James Randall in 1901-02 in the Beaux Arts style and was constructed of Indiana limestone and granite.

Adjacent to the library and located on East Onondaga Street which bisects the circle in a NE-SW direction, are the Monroe Building and the building that houses the YWCA, a three-story rectangular structure with a Georgian Revival facade. The properties bordering Columbus Circle include the First Gospel Church, a Greek Revival brick building of 1846-47 which was given a tower and art glass windows during the latter part of the nineteenth century, and the Beaux Arts structure of the Fourth Onondaga County Courthouse, designed by A. Russell and M. King in 1903-06, built of Indiana limestone and granite and featuring ornate interior details.

The courthouse faces the Gothic Revival structure of the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception of 1886 with its rectory added later and complementing St. Mary's in design and materials; and the First Baptist Church to the north of the Cathedral, a good example of the late Gothic Revival style, designed by the Syracuse architect Gordon Wright and built of tile blocks in 1912.


The Montgomery Street-Columbus Circle Historic District maintains a strong link with the past through its architecture, which is predominantly of the nineteenth and early twentieth century. The Montgomery Street-Columbus Circle Historic District consists of Columbus Circle, a sensitively landscaped open area, the Christopher Columbus statue which serves as a focal point and architecturally significant buildings which surround the open area and line Montgomery Street as it enters the circle. Despite some intrusions and alterations to buildings, the Montgomery Street-Columbus Circle Historic District retains the scale and character of a city which grew rapidly from a small settlement to a booming industrial center due to its location on the Erie Canal, its diversified industry and the opening of a railroad in 1839.

Located on an east-west route, Syracuse was a stopping point for settlers from New England, many of whom settled in Syracuse for a number of years before moving further west. St. Paul's Episcopal Church on Montgomery Street (1885) was built to resemble mid-nineteenth century English churches. The First Gospel Church, formerly the Wesleyan Methodist Church (1846-47) was originally built in the tradition of the New England Meeting House. The First Baptist Church and Mizpah Tower is unusual in that it unites a place of worship and apartment units under one roof.

In the 1880s a wave of Italian immigrants who worked on the West Shore railroad increased the existing Catholic population of Syracuse who were of German, Irish, and French descent. The Diocese of Syracuse was formed in 1887 and in 1904 St. Mary's Church was consecrated the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception.

The civic importance of Syracuse is perhaps best expressed in the architecture and the location of its courthouse. Onondaga county has had four courthouses. The location of each expressed the growth and importance of Syracuse. When, in 1902, Archimedes Russell was called upon to design a new courthouse to replace the overcrowded "Anglo-Norman" courthouse by Horatio Nelson White on Clinton Square, he drew plans for a new impressive structure, "a great temple of justice." It is located in a central location surrounded by landscaping to set off its imposing Beaux Arts facades. Its architectural complement diagonally across Columbus Circle, the Syracuse Public Library (1901-02) was the first structure in Syracuse designed for this particular purpose.

The Montgomery Street-Columbus Circle Historic District thus reflects the character and development of Syracuse during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. It is the only architecturally coherent group of commercial and public buildings remaining in Syracuse to do so.


Files of the Onondaga Historical Association, Syracuse, Montgomery Street.

Architecture Worth Saving in Onondaga County. Syracuse: Syracuse University, 1964.

Chase, Franklin H. Syracuse and Its Environs. New York and Chicago: Lewis, 1924.

Onondaga Landmarks. Syracuse: Cultural Resources Council of Syracuse and Onondaga County, Inc., 1975.

  1. Hardin, Evamaria, N. Y. State Division of Historic Preservation, Montgomery Street-Columbus Circle Historic District, nomination document, 1979, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.

Nearby Neighborhoods

Street Names
Fayette Street East • Jefferson Street East • Montgomery Street East • Onondaga Street East

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