Site of William R. and Mary L. Edwards House
1113 Ashworth Place
(119 Gazelle Street)
Syracuse, New York
1867-1876 (House constructed c. 1877-79.)
In the late 1960s and early 1970s, urban renewal destroyed the core of the nineteenth century African American community buildings on the east side of Syracuse. This house represents the only two blocks that survived. It also represents a neighborhood that contained both African American and European American residents. William R. Edwards and Mary L. Edwards, who purchased a vacant lot here from Jermain and Caroline Loguen in 1867, built a small house, and lived here until 1876, represent a second generation of African Americans who settled in Syracuse. William R. Edwards listed his birthplace as Canada, so either he or his parents may have been freedom seekers.
Sometime between 1850 and 1855, William R. Edwards settled in Syracuse with his mother, Harriet Edwards. In the 1855 census, Harriet, aged 46, mother of four children, and a widow. Harriet listed her birthplace as Connecticut, while Edward, aged 20, listed his birthplace as Canada and his occupation as “none.” It is possible that he was enrolled in school. Harriet Edwards apparently kept boarders, for Phebee Smith (aged 25, born in Ontario County) and David Winner (aged 60, a Pennsylvania-born widower and whitewasher), both African Americans, also lived with this family. (1855 and 1865 censuses)
William perhaps became apprenticed to David Winner, for by 1859, he listed himself as a whitewasher in the city directory, living at 243 East Fayette Street with his mother, a washerwoman. In the 1860 census, he still lived with his mother, Harriet, and listed his occupation as day laborer.
Two years later, in 1862, he married Louisa Bakeman, of South Onondaga, perhaps a daughter of Benjamin Bakeman. They were married by Rev. William A. Cromwell, then minister of the AME Zion Church and Jermain and Caroline Loguen’s son-in-law. (Journal, August 29, 1862) In the directory for that year, William Edwards was listed as a whitewasher, living at 13 Chestnut Street (now South Crouse). He was still there in 1864.
In 1864, two Edwards children, aged five months and six months, perhaps twins born to William R. and Louisa, were buried in Rose Hill cemetery in July and September. (Clark, 27)
There is no mention of Louisa’s death, but she may have died in childbirth, for, one year later, in 1865, William Edwards, now thirty years old, was again living with his mother. The census noted that he had been married once and was now a widower with no occupation. The Edwards family shared a house with John Henderson, his family, and a boarder named James Butticee (?), born in Chenango county, also with no occupation listed. (1865 census) Could John Henderson have been William R. Edwards’ brother-in-law?
By 1867, William Edwards was listed in the city directory as a porter (colored), living at 53 Genesee Street. In that year, with the help of a mortgage from the Onondaga County Savings Bank, he purchased lot 125 on block 222 from Jermain and Caroline Loguen for $250 (Deed book 164, page 142). He probably married Mary L. Edwards about this time, since an 1876 deed lists her name as well as his.
According to the 1870 city directory, William R. Edwards continued to work as a whitewasher. By that time, he had moved into his new house, listed at 21 Gazelle Street. His mother Harriet (widow of William) boarded with him.
William R. Edwards also took part in community affairs, including a celebration of the passage of the Fifteenth Amendment, giving all (male) citizens the right to vote. (Journal, May 31, 1870)
In December 1872, an obituary in the Journal noted that “Jennie E, Edwards died at the residence of her parents, No. 22 Chestnut Street, December 25th, 1872.” She was 18 months old and was buried in Rose Hill Cemetery. (Journal, December 28, 1872; Rose Hill cemetery records, as noted in Clark) Were Jennie’s parents William R. and Mary L. Edwards? Probably not, since William Edwards was still listed in the city directory of 1875 as a whitewasher who lived on Gazelle Street (now #19) in 1875. By that time Harriet had either died or moved somewhere else.
By 1876, the Edwards’ family was forced to sell their home at a Sheriff’s sale. According to city directories, William continued to work as a whitewasher and laborer in the near eastside neighborhood.
The Edwards family moved to 11 Chestnut Street in 1877-78. They had several more children, including William R., Carrie S., Edith, Grace, Sarah (b. 1879), George (b. 1880), and John (b. 1885). William Edwards died sometime before 1900. Mary L. Edwards died in May 1927, aged 78, at her home at 204 Walnut Avenue. Services were at the AME Zion Church, and she was buried in Oakwood Cemetery.
When the Edwards family left this house, George Meeks and his family moved in. The Meeks family bought the property in 1888 and lived here until 1904, when Daniel Engel, sign painter, and Carrie Engel bought the property. It remained in the Engel family until Carrie Engel's death about 1949. Bishop Charles Payton and Mother Maddie Payton, leaders of the Church of God in Christ and founders of Payton Temple in Syracuse, lived here from 1959 until Mrs. Payton's death in 1969.
The house is a small jewel, a classic French Second Empire style, complete with dormers in Mansard roof and decorative details such as small brackets under the eaves, narrow corner pilasters, moldings over the door, and front windows, and sidelights on either side of the front door. Assessment records suggest that George Meeks built this house between 1877-79.
The house stands at 119 Ashworth Place (once Gazelle Street) on the east side of lot 125, block 222. The west side, also owned by Jermain Loguen, was probably empty when the Edwards family lived there, since the house that currently stands on the east side of lot 125 was built in the 1870s or early 1880s. On the east side, a simple Italianate house may have been there when the Edwards family lived on this block.
The two blocks along Ashworth Place are the only remaining sections of the city south of the Erie Canal where African American families who were freedom seekers, as well those born in New York State, that still retain any of their pre-Civil War character. African Americans also bought property and lived in what is now downtown Syracuse and in the university section, but both of these have long ago been built over. Homes in the area east of South Crouse Avenue between Water Streeet and Fayette Street, the old Eighth Ward, were destroyed in urban renewal campaigns in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Only these two blocks along Ashworth Place, formerly Gazelle Street, escaped.
In 1876, J.L. Bagg, a lawyer whose office in 1880 was at 5 Onondaga County Savings Bank, bought the Edwards house for $367.54. Bagg owned many properties in the city and may have rented them or bought them on speculation. He sold the Edwards house in 1880 to A. (perhaps Alfred) Wilkinson.
What does this property tell us about Jermain Loguen and his land investments, as well as about the financial stability of African Americans in Syracuse after the Civil War?
Church and marriage records relating to African Americans in the OHA newspaper files from the 1860s might tell us more about Mary L. Edwards. What was her maiden name? Did other siblings of Harriet, William R., or Mary live in Syracuse or Onondaga County?
Finally, further research in files relating to urban renewal might yield some photographs of the area surrounding the Edwards house, destroyed in urban renewal.
All newspaper articles, insurance maps, city directories, and obituaries are from the files of the Onondaga Historical Association. Deeds and censuses are located in the Onondaga County Clerk’s Office. Copies of Sylvester Clark’s Early Black Syracusans are in the OHA and the Onondaga County Public Library.
Thanks to Judy Haven for her assistance with research on this property.