Emergency Documentation

I do a good bit of documentation photography here in Syracuse on a volunteer basis, much of it on behalf of the Onondaga Historical Association. In most cases, I have a decent amount of warning, and can plan my visits to get the best possible images. Sometimes, however, I have little warning of an impending problem. Such was the case with two buildings in the past few months: the George Geddes Stone Barn in Fairmount, and the West Genesee United Methodist Church in Syracuse.


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A view of the Chapel, which was constructed at the rear of the church in 1912.

The West Genesee United Methodist Church was built in 1870 as the Geddes Methodist Episcopal Church. The Methodist church emerged in the 1770s as an off-shoot from the Anglican Church in England. Methodism gained ground in the American colonies in the late 18th century, and throughout the new nation in the early 19th century. A number of different strains of Methodism emerged in the tumultuous American frontier, with a variety of names, but the core of the movement remained as the Methodist Episcopal Church. This denomination built several churches throughout the Syracuse area in the 1870s and 1880s, all of them architecturally ambitious, and many of which remain standing. In November 2013, however, I heard word in the local newspaper that the church and its contents would be auctioned within a week. Not knowing what would become of the building, I contacted the agent handling the auction, Terri McGraw with Terri Peters Associates, about getting access to the building. She graciously made it possible for me to get in while they were setting up for the auction, and I took such photos as I could in a short time. The conditions were not ideal, but at least we have a basic record.

I had even less notice regarding the George Geddes stone barn in Fairmount. George Geddes was the son of James Geddes, one of the most important early leaders in the development of the salt industry in Syracuse and who was one of the supervising engineers for the construction of the Erie Canal. His son George continued to live at the family farm in Fairmount, between Syracuse and Camills, and became an influential agricultural reformer. Among his proteges was the young landscape architect, Frederick law Olmsted. The stone carriage house on Chapel Drive, just west of Onondaga Road, is all that remains of George Geddes’ farm. Dennis Connors, the Curator of History at the Onondaga Historical Association, sent a notice on a Monday morning in April, 2014 through a list-serve that he had seen backhoes at the building on Sunday, looking like they meant business. I had my large-format camera in the car that day, and was able to swing by in the early afternoon as the demolition was in process. I could do only so much, since it was by then an active construction site, but I was able to get at least a basic record of the place, including an “action shot” of the backhoe in motion.

If you would like to comment on this post, please feel free to send me an email: bgharvey@me.com. I’d love to hear from you!

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