The House That Aaron Built

By Pamela A. F. Priest

In January 2012, former Syracuse Post-Standard columnist and current OHA volunteer Dick Case sent an email to OHA inquiring about “The Lyons Settlement” of Syracuse.  Research yielded a booklet entitled Home Beautiful:  The Transition of a Shabby House.  This booklet detailed the history and renovation of resident Aaron Hoyt’s “Shabby House,” originally located at 10 Baker Street (now Clinton Street), a very short street off W. Adams Street in 1851.  Imagine my surprise when I realized Aaron Hoyt was my four great-grandfathers!  This fact served to make my research and the story even more interesting and personal.

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Anna E. Lyons crayon drawing from her 1909 journal, showing the homes built on West Adams street, including Aaron Hoyt’s home in the mid-right foreground.   A newspaper caption read, “Fourteenth Ward in 1854, Old Crayon Showing the Old Sixth Ward from Baker Street to Stearns Factory, With Binghamton Depot to the Right.”

Aaron Hoyt built his home on Baker Street probably using lumber cut from the land he owned in Sentinel Heights (then called East Hill).  All the lumber was hewn and scored by hand and the entire structure was put together using handmade wooden pegs.  According to Newton King, former Town of LaFayette historian, Aaron Hoyt was a local carpenter who also was responsible for the construction of several of the larger buildings located in the Village of Syracuse during the early 1800s.  Unfortunately,

Aaron Hoyt died suddenly of “ague” in 1847, as noted in his son William Hoyt’s diary:  “1847 August 26, Father & family return to Syracuse, father get down with ague”; “September 1 go to Syracuse & dig Potatoes for father”; “September 10, 11, 12 Father very Sick. Life despaired of. Sick with Summer complaint and Child Fever. Weather variable hot & cold. A sickly season in Syracuse”; “September 20 Aaron Hoyt, Sen. departed his life this Day at 4 o’clock PM in the full hope of a blessed immortality.”

Block 120 Sanborn 1882-1890 plate #2 showing 1882 portion
1882 Sanborn Map showing Aaron Hoyt’s home at 10 Baker Street on the corner of West Adams and Baker Street.

Aaron Hoyt’s wife, Sophia (Brooks) Hoyt, had her niece, Miss Mary S. Hoyt, a photographer, move into the home with her after her husband’s death.  However, shortly thereafter, Sophia decided to rent the house. She eventually moved to Lexington, Kentucky, with two of her daughters, where she died on  August 26, 1872. Son William Hoyt continued to collect rent for his family’s home.  In 1880, he chose to sell the house and property to Mrs. William Lyons for $2,500, as documented once again in his diary.  In 1882, Lyons built a concrete house in front of the little frame house erected by Hoyt so many years earlier.  Unfortunately, the original house remained vacant and became very rundown.  In 1934, after being given the moniker “Shabby House,” the Syracuse Home Improvement Campaign moved it to James Square, where it was totally renovated.  That city program was created to provide work for local labor using local materials.  Design features such as electric switches, phone outlets, washable wallpaper, rubber kitchen floor and clothes closets were included.  Renovation costs came in at $3,850 with furnishings, appliances and decorative elements adding another $1,876.  Local architect Webster Moulton oversaw the renovations.  Decorations were provided by another local business, G.W. Richardson and Son, Inc., and a local landscaper provided the landscaping plan.  Once completed, the public was invited to view the end results and thousands passed through the newly designed front entrance.

2012.109D Aaron Hoyt Home aka Shabby House original home

The house at James Square (James and North Warren Streets) so people could watch its transformation.

Several publications continued to follow the intriguing story of the “Shabby House.”  In February of 1976, the Syracuse Herald-American featured the house, which was then owned by Dan and Jo-Anne Murphy, and in January of 1997, the Syracuse Post-Standard covered it.  While rummaging in a shop in Seattle, Washington, one of the This Old House  magazine writers found a copy of the 1934 booklet produced to detail the rebirth of the house.  The booklet intrigued the writer to conduct further research resulting in a feature article for the Jan/Feb 1997 edition.


 Illustration from article published in the December 1934 issue of Good Housekeeping magazine.

2012.114D Aaron  Hoyt Home aka Shabby House at James Square

Aaron Hoyt’s home transformed from “Shabby House” to “House Beautiful.”

Today, Aaron Hoyt’s “Shabby House” still stands on Ashdale Ave. – a testament to the outstanding construction abilities and methods of its original builder and owner, Aaron Hoyt, in 1838.

Unedited version here!

2013 New York State Fair

Last night was a beautiful night and we decided to go the NYS Fair. I like going with a list of things to do so I don’t forget anything. First up, the OHA Onondaga Lake exhibit along with the other Onondaga Lake exhibits.

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OHA’s Exhibition

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A dredge cutter head – Onondaga Lake is in the process of being dredged.

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Examples of fish in Onondaga Lake. Wow.

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A bald eagle. Poor eagle, sitting all caged up.

Then on to the sand sculpture – which was still being created. Hmmm, I was kind of disappointed that it wasn’t ready for the fair, but at least I got to see most of it.

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One side a guitar. . .

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The other side produce, and. . .

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A farm scene.

Then to the Empire Theatre where we were hoping there was going to be organ music, but no, now it’s limited to Mon & Tues. So we skipped out of there and went to see the model train display.

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A great model of the 4th New York Central Railroad train station on Erie Blvd. in Syracuse.

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I love the circus posters!

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Beautiful roses in the Horticulture Building.

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The butter sculpture, which is always fun to see.

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Then the history of the New York State fair, which has some of OHA’s images in it.

They had models of previous years’ butter sculptures:
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Then eating at P-Z-O’s, which is only at the fair, which is too bad, because the red sauce is good. A family sat at the same picnic table next to us, and the kid spilled her water all over me. At least it was just water.
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Then we’re done, and as we’re walking back to the gate, we saw cows being walked.
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And the daily parade. Which I just realized this morning, while I was watching it, I was being televised, so I was on TV. If I find the clip, I’ll post it here!

Tales From the Crypt. . .

This isn’t really about a crypt, but I like the title, so I’m sticking with it.

OHA had its annual Ghostwalk at Oakwood Cemetery, and this year included a trip into the Oakwood Cemetery Chapel, as a surprise to our guests!  Everyone always asks “can we go inside the chapel?”  And this year they did.  Well, I did, too, before the Ghostwalk started, and without any lights on – in complete darkness in the vault in the back, I snapped flash photos –  not knowing what I was pointing at.  The inside of the chapel wasn’t much better, but at least it had a couple of windows so I didn’t go falling into the holes in the floor.  This chapel was designed by architect J. Lyman Silsbee.

Here is the inside of the chapel, looking from where a priest would stand to the doors leading to the outside:
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Going up the wall toward the ceiling – mind these were taken in darkness, so they are not all lined up beautifully like I like:
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Here’s one side of the chapel:
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And the other side:
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And towards the front of the chapel – don’t mind the nervous actor in the photo:
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And the front of the chapel towards the ceiling. Yo, I need to clean that camera’s lens!
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More details. I love Silsbee. Did you know Frank Lloyd Wright worked for Silsbee?
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This place needs some serious TLC!
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Floor details at the front between the chapel and the vault (keeping in mind I could not see anything while snapping photos!):
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Cool door, I hope there was more of a door than this between the chapel and the vault. Ack!
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Light fixture between chapel and vault:
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And the vault:
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Hallway leading out of the vault – to the light of day!
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And now I know what the inside looks like – and so do you. Here’s a stone on the outside of the building:
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I love Silsbee’s details:
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I’ll leave you with the beautiful garden planted in front of the chapel:
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Octagon Schoolhouse Cemetery aka Otisco Southern Cemetery

I was processing a photographic collection a couple of weeks ago – photos taken by Charles A. Billings, who was a member of the Syracuse Camera Club.  Some photos were taken in Onondaga County, and some outside Onondaga County (the Camera Club traveled around the state).  When I came to the end of the collection, I found two photos of a tombstone and war marker belonging to Leavitt A. Billings, buried in Octagon Cemetery.  To myself, I thought, he’s not in Onondaga County, so I moved on.  But then it bugged me.  In the back of my brain, I knew I had seen Octagon Cemetery before, so I went to my extensive cemetery list at rootsweb, and saw Southern / Octagon Cemetery located in Otisco, and the website didn’t have anything on the cemetery, except it’s location on Octagon Rd.  I went to Google Maps to see if I could find the exact location of the cemetery, and I didn’t.   So I took note that Octagon Rd. was off of Route 80.

Last Friday night I had to take a photo at Onondaga Community College for OHA’s upcoming newsmagazine (which is going to be another great magazine) and at the intersection of something and Route 80, I turned my car south onto Route 80.  I drove through the beautiful hills of the southern part of Onondaga County (where I grew up, and those hills are in my very being) and eventually came to Otisco, and kept going until I saw Octagon Rd.  Immediately I saw a cemetery on the southwest corner of Route 80 and Octagon Rd.  This had to be it.  But why was it so far back away from the road? And was it Octagon Cemetery?  There is no sign.

Looking west.  Photo from the Archives of Onondaga Historical Association

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View looking south towards cemetery from Octagon Road.

There was an Octagon Schoolhouse located on the same lot 4 north of the cemetery:
Deed from the Archives of Onondaga Historical Association

Octagon Schoolhouse, Photo from the Archives of Onondaga Historical Association

I took photos of the tombstones located on the east end close to the road, where there is a World War II veteran buried:
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And then headed back towards the original cemetery. I started taking photos of all of the tombstones on the east side and completed four rows. I found Revolutionary War soldier Christopher Mott. Then I found Leavitt A. Billings and Anna his wife, and his Revolutionary War marker, the reason why I was there:
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I skipped ahead some more and found Revolutionary War soldier Ebenezer French:
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And Revolutionary War soldier Ira Pomeroy:
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It was humid so I stopped photographing tombstones after finding not just one, but now four Revolutionary War soldiers and one WWII soldier. And what really irked me, besides the fact the cemetery is unmarked, is there are no American flags next to these soldiers.

Saturday I had to work in the Research Center for Sarah (who is on vacation) and one of our patrons came in (Lee) and mentioned she had to do some research on Otisco. I started asking questions about Otisco, their historian, etc. and after she answered my questions, I told her that I had investigated the Octagon Cemetery and there is no sign and no American flags next to the soldiers, etc. Interestingly enough, SHE had just been to the SAME cemetery and noted the same things, while she was looking for one of the Pomeroys. And her director, Nancy, had been to the cemetery previous to this. So, since there are Pomeroys buried in this cemetery, Lee suggested I write to Nancy about how to go about getting a roadside marker put up for this cemetery. Which I will do, but first I need to finish photographing the cemetery.

I dug into some files at OHA and found there are seven Revolutionary War soldiers, two War of 1812 soldiers, three Civil War soldiers, one WWII soldier, and Militia Colonel Stephen Pomeroy. Where are the rest of the markers?  And why no American flags?

Beauchamp in his “Revolutionary War Soldiers Resident or Dying in Onondaga County, NY,”  calls this cemetery Octagon Schoolhouse Cemetery.  On the deed above the association is called Otisco Southern Cemetery Association.

I have started adding my photos to the rootsweb website here, but I still have a way to go.  Next time it isn’t raining, I’ll be driving there again to take more photos and updating the website.

Syracuse City Hall Bells

After reading Dick Case’s article that the bells were going to chime in time for Christmas at Syracuse’s City Hall, I’ve been waiting to hear them. Yesterday, I made a point of going out at noon to capture them on video. You may remember my blog post about church bells on Montgomery Street. So what you’ll hear in the background (and the end of the video it shows St. Paul’s Episcopal Church) are these two churches. Syracuse City Hall is north of the churches and the OHA on Montgomery Street.  The snow that we got last week (45.1″) was melting (thankfully) over the weekend!  Enjoy!

Syracuse City Hall’s bells

Badly Damaged Negatives

I have inherited quite a backlog of collections to accession at work, and spend a little bit of time each week going through them to create the necessary paperwork and put them in the archives.  This past week I came across a small collection of negatives.  Anyone that knows anything about me, knows I *love* photographs, and this you may not know, but their associated negatives.  We have so many cool negatives in our collections, but that’s a subject for another day.  This week, I was concerned about this collection, because some of the negatives are badly damaged.  I carefully carried them home with the intention of scanning them using my HP scanner (which will scan in almost any sized negative).

These are two examples of the negatives.  I was not sure I was going to be able to get anything out of them.

Ugh, please excuse the blurriness of this photo, but you get the idea of the condition of the negative:

Are these sad, or what?

But I stuck them on my scan bed, and here’s what I ended up with! Here’s the first one:
Courtesy of the Onondaga Historical Association

And the second one:
Courtesy of the Onondaga Historical Association

So my point is, please don’t give up on these scary looking negatives!! You may be able to scan them and then store the originals in the appropriate achives. The only Photoshop tools I used on these photos is to make them grayscale and to crop them. That’s it. Not too bad, huh?

‘The Printseller’s Window’

Today I went to the Memorial Art Gallery because working in a museum the days I do, I don’t *ever* get to visit a museum unless I have the right day off. I wanted to see the exhibit last fall on The Printseller’s Window since this is an interesting painting, but I didn’t get to see it. I found out they published a book based on the exhibit and a print which I purchased.

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The Printseller’s Window by Walter Goodman

I was asking the very nice, helpful lady in the museum’s gift shop where I can purchase CD’s at wholesale for OHA’s gift shop, and she gave me the names of three places. And then she gave me a “reciprocal” discount for my purchases. Turns out, if I show identification that I work at a museum, I can receive discounts at other museums, and sometimes even get in for free! This is so cool to me, because I plan on visiting more museums on vacation!

Girder and Panel Building Set

OHA has it’s yearly toy exhibit up again this year, Toys From Your Childhood:  The Psychedelic Sixties! Yes, this is my childhood time period, and I must say, we had some awesome toys!  This is part of the pre-‘keep your children safe from everything that could possibly hurt them’ era.  What we do to “build” this exhibit is ask the public to lend us their toys.  We got in many, many toys, which brought back many memories!

However, when the front desk attendant told me someone came in to donate the Girder and Panel Building Set, my heart started beating fast!  My brother used to have this set, and of course, I played with it, too.  I took the set up to the fifth floor and opened the box and started playing with it.  Tom, the Curator, decided to put it out on the floor for children (and adults like me) to play with, and indeed, they are playing with it, as this pic shows!

Girder and Panel Building Set at the OHA Toys From Your Childhood: The Psychedelic Sixties!

These Are Some of the Exciting Pix I Take These Days

I have a desire to get back outside and take tons of photos.  I haven’t been able to do that very often lately, due to driving so much.  These are the types of photos I have been taking lately.  Building photos.  Photos to send to people to obtain help to redo one of our stairwells at work.  Don’t get me wrong, I love these old architectural details.

Marble with wood. Too bad the tiled floor is covered with that gross tile.

Nice and thick marble and wood

Detail underneath the stairs

Very tall walls with window wells that have been filled in.

Long wooden banisters


Ceiling to . . .

Floor Metal Molding

Detail of molding. Wouldn’t this look good in different colors?

The stairwells used to be open with marble stairs, in fact, they still are in the back staircase, and I’ll have to take photos of that sometime. Ohhh, I know, I’m sooo exciting.

I also take pix of oak molding in the 2nd floor exhibit area – covered up by years of paint:

Christmas in the ’30’s

The latest article I wrote and photo from the Onondaga Historical Association’s archives, appearing in the Dec/Jan Central New York Business Exchange magazine:

2009-Dec--2010-Jan Business Exchange-Santa's Arrival_sm

Unfortunately the Sears building now stands empty on Salina Street in Syracuse.

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