On my way to see the unveiling of a new historic marker in Syracuse, I passed a jogger with his dog and a proud grandfather walking with two adorable young grandsons. Two hundred years ago, I would have been waving to my neighbor Nicholas Mickles, the owner of a foundry in what is now Elmwood Park.
Of course, 200 years ago my house was not built yet and slavery was still legal in New York. It seems ages away. In 1808 before the Erie Canal and refrigeration, the Syracuse area was important for its ability to produce salt. The Mickles Furnace capitalized on this by producing cast kettles to be used for boiling brine in the local salt industry. The furnace also cast thousands of cannon balls for the U.S. Government during the War of 1812.
This past Monday, May 12, the history of Mickles Furnace was celebrated by the unveiling of a new historic marker in Elmwood Park near the creek that was named after the foundry, Furnace Brook. Officiating at the ceremony was Mayor Matthew Driscoll along with Executive Director Gregg Tripoli and staff of the Onondaga Historical Association Museum and Research Center (OHA).
After Dennis Connors of the OHA delivered a talk about the history of the furnace and the reason behind the marker, about 50 fourth graders from Elmwood Elementary School in the audience turned to watch a black powder firing of a light three-pounder cannon from the late 18th century. The crowd gasped with delight as the cannon erupted then wildly applauded at its conclusion. The cannon was manned by costumed members of the Royal Irish Artillery of New York, representing a British military unity that originally existed until 1801, just about the time that Mickles began his furnace operation.
Nicholas Mickles died in 1827 and is buried in Valley Cemetery not far from where his furnace once was. One of the foundry assistants, Thurlow Weed, grew up to become a powerful Albany newspaper publisher and the state political boss for the Whig Party before the Civil War.
The Mickles Furnace Marker was prepared by the OHA with the support of a grant from the William G. Pomeroy Foundation. Pomeroy, the founder and chief executive of CXtec, has an ongoing grant program to encourage the placement of historic markers within Onondaga County. He was also present for the ceremony.
The OHA is a private, non-profit local history center that operates both a public museum and the Richard and Carolyn Wright Research Center located at 321 Montgomery Street in Syracuse.
For more information about the OHA's museum and research center, visit cnyhistory.org.