I toured upper Onondaga Park with Paul Pflanz, the former head of the Onondaga Historical Society (2000-2006), Onondaga Park Association (OPA) member, a trustee of the Syracuse Parks Conservancy and a raconteur of merit. This is a continuation of Onondaga Park's story.
It has been written that the human embodiment of Hiawatha was many things to the Iroquois Nation. Ultimately, this Native Amercian is most noted for aiding in the consolidation of the five Indian Nations of the central belt in Upstate New York: Onondagas, Mohawks, Oneidas, Senecas and Cayugas.
It makes sense that the Indian's aquatic namesake, Hiawatha Lake (formerly Wilkinson Resevoir), plays a central role in the 67-acre Onondaga Park on the city's Southwest side.
Hiawatha is a tranquil body of water that has played many roles, first as city of Syracuse reservoir, then as an actual water playground, and today, as a thought provoking oasis between the city's south side and west side neighborhoods.
Wilkinson Reservoir's water was pumped up from Onondaga Creek. This became problematic in regard to quality in the 1800s. OPA member Paul Pflanz said Syracuse actually had a couple of typhoid outbreaks, which prompted city officials to look for another water source. Skaneateles Lake became the ideal solution for fresh water. The city created Wood Lawn Reservoir up the hill from Wilkinson pumping water in from Skaneateles. Today, Hiawatha Lake is fed from Wood Lawn (not Onondaga Creek).
At the time of Wood Lawn's conception, Wilkinson transitioned to Hiawatha Lake, lowering the water at least 10 feet to create a swimming pool. This made it an active centerpiece to the developing Onondaga Park.
Once, boating was a prominent activity on the lake. There was an additional outdoor pavilion near that former gatehouse for entertaining by the water, and a slide for swimming.