Last week I visited Syracuse and ate lunch in Hanover Square. This was the first time I explored downtown Syracuse on foot.
Hanover Square is a triangular pedestrian plaza lined by historic buildings to the south, Water street to the north and Warren street to the east. The plaza is slightly sunken below street level and mostly concrete.
I found Hanover Square an engaging and humane. It was a delightful spot to observe the city and eat a burrito from Otro Cinco. (If it weren’t for the Covid-19 pandemic, I would have eaten in the restaurant and never found this place.)
At the time of my visit there were no cars parked in the square, and it did not appear as though vehicular traffic was permitted. However Google Street View reveals that parking is apparently allowed along the south edge.
The parking is unfortunate – there is an abundance of surface parking in Syracuse and adding traffic to the plaza would severely degrade the pedestrian experience.
Hanover Square featured several spacious terraces and sitting areas. A series of four large steps surrounded the sunken portion of the plaza and provided ample space for individuals or small groups to gather. The square also featured at least four heavy-duty chess tables permanently attached to the surface.
The buildings on the square seem to be well preserved and in generally good condition based on their façades. Indeed, historic photos and records show that the square has survived largely as it existed around the time of the Civil War.
A variety of interpretive signs were scattered throughout Hanover Square. Most notably a large double sided sign titled “The Freedom Trail” focused on Syracuse’s role as a hub at the northern end of the Underground Railroad and as a bastion of abolitionism in the 19th century. Specifically, the sign commemorated George Vashon, the first African American lawyer in New York, whose office was located here.
Like many places in Upstate New York, the development of this place has its origin in the Erie Canal. Buildings on Water street backed up to the canal and were built to handle barge traffic. The canal has long since been filled in and converted into Erie Boulevard.
Based on a presentation I saw last fall, I understand there is a plan to establish a new segment of the Erie Canalway Trail through Syracuse along the former route of the waterway. This is a part of a larger initiative to establish a 750 mile Empire State Trail. The segment in Syracuse is perhaps the most challenging link in the whole proposal.
While my visit to downtown Syracuse was brief, I was encouraged to find such a gem of a square. I feel like Syracuse too often has the reputation as a hardscrabble industrial snow globe. This small sliver of the city challenged that idea in a powerful way and left me wanting to explore more.