The location variously known as Market Square, Market Hall, and the first Syracuse City Hall was the site of two noteworthy reform events: a National Woman's Rights Convention in September 1852 and the inaugural convention of the Radical Abolition Party in June 1855.
1852 Woman's Rights Convention. The 1848 Woman’s Rights Convention at Seneca Falls had been followed in 1850 by the first in a series of annual conventions designed to raise the profile of the woman’s rights movement. (Nineteenth-century practice was to use the singular, woman's, when referring to women as a class; later practice was to use the plural, women's.) This event took place at Worcester, Massachusetts. The second annual convention (1851) was held in Worcester also. On September 8–10, 1852, the Third National Woman’s Rights Convention was held in Syracuse at the newly named City Hall (see below). A capacity crowd—two thousand people from eight states and Canada—attended. Because the site was nearer to Seneca Falls than Worcester had been, a record number of delegates who had signed the Declaration of Sentiments adopted at Seneca Falls were able to attend.
1855 Abolition Convention and Formation of Radical Abolition Party. On June 26–28, 1855, the Radical Abolition Party was formed at a convention at City Hall. This short-lived party arose as efforts by abolitionists to run candidates for high political office were being abandoned. The Radical Abolition Party resulted from a coalition between the old Liberty League, championed by Gerrit Smith and downstate abolitionists including Lewis Tappan. Frederick Douglass, William Goodell, and other high-profile abolitionists attended. The event was chaired by Dr. James McCune Smith, an African American abolitionist from downstate New York. So far as is known, this marked the first time an African American chaired a political convention in the United States.
The Building and Site. The venue for both conventions was first known as Market Hall. It was a two-story structure on Market Square, located at the junction of the Erie and Oswego Canals. The building initially contained marketplace stalls. In 1852, the year of the woman's rights convention and four years after Syracuse was incorporated as a city, the market stalls were replaced by municipal offices, and the building was renamed City Hall. By the end of the Civil War, it was clear that a vibrant Syracuse had outgrown this structure, but it was not until 1889 that a commission was empaneled to oversee construction of a replacement. The new City Hall opened in 1892, designed by architect Charles Erastus Colton in the Richardsonian Romanesque style, built of local limestone and anchored by a dramatic 165-foot bell tower. The structure continues to serve as Syracuse’s seat of government today.
Thanks to Norman Dann for research assistance.