As cities grow, room is sometimes made for new homes, businesses and even roadways. The neighborhoods that once stood in place of some of today's landmarks in Syracuse are hard to remember for longtime residents, and for newcomers, are even harder to imagine. In this week's editions of Your Hometown, YNN's Erin Clarke takes us back to a neighborhood that residents remember as the Sugar Hill of Syracuse, the 15th Ward.
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SYRACUSE, N.Y. -- It's hard to believe that where Interstate 81 now spans between downtown Syracuse and the SU Hill, there was a neighborhood. Almond Street was not a corridor darkened by an overpass, it and the surrounding streets were instead busy with businesses and homes lining them.
"I grew up right on Adams Street which I call ground zero as far as the 15th Ward, Adams and Townsend. And than a block to the north of that, which would be Townsend and Harrison was the ground central of the 15th Ward in terms of everything, happenings, and entertainment. The pool halls were there," said Emanuel "Manny" Breland, former 15th Ward resident.
The 15th Ward was a neighborhood described as diverse.
"In terms of ethnic groups, Greeks, Italians. Mostly the Jewish people owned most of the businesses," explained Breland.
Blacks moving from the south, in search of better life, though still faced with racism, made their home in the 15th Ward.
"They arrived in places like Syracuse and realized that in terms of housing options, there were very few, and the one housing opportunity really was the 15th Ward," said Dennis Connors, Onondaga Historical Association Curator of History.
Despite being forced to live there, life in the 15th Ward was good. It was a tightknit community, and fun.
"On Friday nights and Saturday nights, they would get dressed up, and they would dress up and they would have maybe Stacy Adams shows," remembered Breland. "One we used to marvel at because he wore his pants very high with suspenders and he had pinstripe pants on and he would be immaculate."
A young Breland would sit on the doorway of one of the spots that these dapper young men used to frequent. But, just as hard as they played, the 15th Ward residents worked.
"There were a lot of African American families that owned their own homes, they had businesses," said Kitty Rice, Black History Preservation Project Member.
Facts that members of the Black History Preservation Project want to make sure are not lost.
"African American history is very limited, and I think I've talked to a lot of young people that kind of feel that sense of hopelessness, or like they don't belong," said Rice. "You know, you read two or three lines about Harriet Tubman and Nate Turner, and that's the end, and you're walking around saying what did I do, or what did my people do?"
The group hosted a bus ride throughout what was the 15th Ward, prompting folks who used to live there, to tell stories about the past. Those stories were recorded, made into a documentary, and many of them along with pictures, live in a virtual museum online. A museum that is constantly growing.
"As a result of the documentary, we got a lot of people that voluntarily came forward to record their stories," noted Rice.
The project gets hits from Syracuse residents all over the world, preserving the history of the 15th Ward in a way that will never die, through storytelling.