Sunday, February 24, 2013

Next House to Save: The Northside's Murray House on Danforth Street

Syracuse, NY.  Murray House.  406 Danforth St.  Decorative Detail. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2009

Next House to Save: The Northside's Catherine Murray House on Danforth Street?
by Samuel D. Gruber

Now that work is finally beginning on the Babcock-Shattuck house on the Eastside, we can begin to think about the NEXT great Syracuse house to save.  At the top of anyone's list would be the Murray House on Danforth Street on the Northside, still standing stately - though dilapidated - across the from Grosso (formerly Bennett) Park.  Dick Case wrote about the house last year in an article about the city's vacant properties.

According to Dick:
"... the house was built about ...1849-1850. It remains one of the grandest houses in the neighborhood, despite the fact it’s been empty for years. We’re told the house was built for James Noxon, a prominent Syracusan who was elected to the state Senate twice. Perhaps the house is best known as the home of the Murrays, a well-known local couple, Catherine and Michael, who were wealthy salt-makers during the years Syracuse was the “salt city.” Michael was a big-time salt manufacturer. He died in 1866, only two years after the Murrays bought the home. Catherine Murray inherited an extensive estate, most of it salt holdings, which she managed successfully. When she died in 1908, she was called one of Syracuse’s wealthiest women, one of the few of her sex ever to run a major salt-manufacturer in this town." 
Catherine Murray was just one of many strong and successful women active in Syracuse and Central New York at the turn of the 20th-Century.  Some of these other women are already remembered by well-preserved monuments and buildings.  The Harriet Tubman House in Auburn has been the scene on continuing restoration and educational workThe Harriet May Mills house at 1074 West Genesee Street was saved from the wrecking ball a dozen years ago, and the Matilda Jocelyn Gage House in Fayetteville has also been restored. Many monuments created by Syracuse-born sculptor Gail Sherman Corbett adorn the city, including the Kirkpatrick Monument at Washington Square, not far form the Murray House.

The house was in relatively good condition within recent memory.  Here is a view from the files of the Preservation Association of New York taken in 1987.

Syracuse, NY. Catherine Murray House, 406 Danforth Street.  Photo: PACNY 1987.

 This is what the house looks like today  - or even worse - since this picture was taken a few years ago.

Syracuse, NY. Catherine Murray House, 406 Danforth Street. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2009.

According to Dick Case, the owner of the Murray Home last year was listed in Syracuse tax assessment records as Crystal Flowers and Surprises. Water bills as mailed to Myra Ortiz of Yonkers.  Apparently taxes on the house have not been paid since 2008.  I hope that this property is an early candidate for recovery and restoration by the newly formed city Land Bank - it was not included in the first list of 200 properties for which notices were sent in November 2012.  I have never been inside the house but I have heard reports that it is gutted.  If so, the house can still be adaptively reused for apartments, offices, a youth hostel, or many other functions - and the exterior preserved.

The Murray House is a fine example of  the Italianate style popular in the mid-19th century throughout Central New York, but especially amongst the North Side "Salt Barons"  and others of the newly wealthy manufacturing and merchant class. This a large example of the Italianate style and boasts most of its signature features, including a near-square plan for the main building block, an ample and publicly visible front porch, a rooftop cupola, wide eaves with prominent brackets, and tall windows with - in this case - decorative hoods. There is a substantial rear section to the building that was probably added (I'd have to look for closely to be sure), but it was certainly in place when the house is shown in plan in the 1892 city atlas. The rear wing would have housed the kitchen and other service areas and probably rooms upstairs for live-in servants.  A two-story balcony, facing North Salina Street would have been used for airing clothing and bedding and other household chores.

Syracuse, NY. Detail of 1892 City atlas showing the Murray House set within its original half-block lo (lower left)t.  Unfortunately, the side that bordered North Salina street is now occupied by an ugly Wilson Farms convenience store and gas station.  Still, this can be screened form the house in any reuse scheme. 
Syracuse, NY. Catherine Murray House, 406 Danforth Street. View showing rear wind and porches. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2009.

Syracuse, NY. Catherine Murray House, 406 Danforth Street. Front porch. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2009.

Syracuse, NY. Catherine Murray House, 406 Danforth Street. Damaged eaves. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2009.

Syracuse, NY. Catherine Murray House, 406 Danforth Street. Cupola. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2009.


  1. I used to ride past this house a few times each week and always wondered about it. Indeed, so beautiful, so much potential!

  2. My mother ( parents, siblings, aunt, uncle) grew up in this house.

  3. Your mother is my great aunt Anna. The house belonged to the children of John and Mary Mueller (originally Johann and Marianne, I think, both born in Germany) Schmitt. They lived there with their mother after their father's death: "John Schmitt. 56, died at his home,
    1209 N. Sallna (sic) St., about 6 o'clock
    last evening. The deceased was born
    in Germany, coming to this country
    at the age of 10. His parents settled
    In this city and became' residents of
    the North Side... Surviving
    are his widow, Mrs. Mary
    Schmitt; three sons, Albert and Leo
    of this city and Frank Schmitt, in
    France: two daughters, Matilda and
    Anna Schmitt; one brother, Frank
    Schmitt. and one sister, Miss Eva
    Schmitt." Syracuse Journal, Tuesday, Sept. 17, 1918
    "Mrs. Mary Mueller Schmitt widow of John
    Schmitt, died last night at her home, 406 Danforth Street.
    She is survived by two sons, Franks and Leo Schmitt, both of Syracuse:
    two daughters: Miss Mathilda Schmitt and Mrs. John Estes, also of Syracuse
    and seven grandchildren." Syracuse Herald-Journal, 1944
    Frank Schmitt b. is the father of my mother, Mary Katherine Schmitt Schwing, born 1925.
    There it is: more than anyone wanted to know!