VILLAGE OF JORDAN HISTORY
Jordan Village is a distinctive concentration of nineteenth and early twentieth century architecture. The historically and architecturally significant residential, commercial and ecclesiastical structures illustrate the Village's nineteenth century growth and prosperity, particularly during the 1830-40's and 1870-85's when the Erie Canal made Jordan a principal commercial, industrial and transportation center of western Onondaga County. There are also many structures, which represent the Village's growth in the early twentieth century, when Jordan enjoyed railroad and trolley service. By 1930, the Erie Canal took on new significance by being converted to a landscaped park as a W.P.A. Project and remains a visual tool for understanding the canal and aqueduct construction. A variety of architectural styles, detailing and methods of construction are represented in the cohesive district. The historic character of the Village, relatively undisturbed by the affects of post 1930 modernization, remains an important example of a nineteenth and early twentieth century village in Central New York.
In 1797, Zenas and Aaron Wright built the first house within the present boundaries of the Village of Jordan. By 1800, a mill had been erected on the bank of Skaneateles Creek, which runs north through the Village. Bessie Sharp, in her unpublished history of Jordan in 1938 told of how Jordan received its name.
According to a clipping from a scrapbook belonging to Mrs. J.C. Babcock, Jordan was named as follows: After Zenas and Aaron Wright had completed a plank house, they then built a saw mill just south of the present White Mill; the water for this mill was obtained by building a dam across the flats from the mill east to the bluff, now the property of Thomas F. Kent, on what is known as Hollow Road (Valley Drive). This flooded the flat or swamp, which was one unbroken growth of dense cedar trees, to a depth of three or four feet. There was no road to Elbridge at this time, only a footpath, which ran along the bluffs on the west side of Skaneateles Creek. After the work was completed, the race was found to be too shallow to discharge the water, and David Munro of Camillus came with oxen to scrape it out. After the work was completed, the water was let out, and the following men were all standing on the bank looking at its flow: Zenas and Aaron Wright, Samuel Powers, Reynolds Corey and elizur Hills. One of them remarked that the water was just as clear as River Jordan and Mr. Hills said, "Why not name this place Jordan, after my native place, Jordan Lane in Connecticut." This meeting the views of the others, it was decided to call it Jordan.
According to Sharp in her history of the Village of Jordan, "These are the peculiar circumstances under which Jordan received its name. Whether or not these facts are accurate, it is the most creditable story to befound for the naming of Jordan."
In 1805, the Genesee Turnpike (Route 5), a major east-west highway, was constructed through the present Village of Elbridge. Despite this, Jordan became a major transportation center after one of the earliest sections of the new Erie Canal was constructed through the Village in 1819. The Jordan Feeder, which fed the canal via Skaneateles Creek, had its source in Skaneateles Lake, located about twelve miles south-southwest of the village. Several dams were erected along the creek to regulate the flow into the canal and to provide a tremendous impetus to the Village’s early nineteenth century growth. By 1825 there were three mills; a post office opened in 1831, and the first local newspaper, the Jordan Courier, was published. Commerce and industry expanded and flourished during the 1830’s until Jordan had 3 gristmills, 3 saw mills, a sash factory, a distillery and a clothing shop, as well as 5 taverns, 7 general stores, 2 drug stores and 5 grocery stores.
Several distinct architectural examples dating from the era remain substantially intact and are included in the district. The White Mill is the surviving mill from the early development. The former gristmill is still used as a grain and feed store and retains its simple Greek Revival detailing and some original equipment. The mill’s setting is also remarkably intact with the millrace and millpond located to the southeast.
Other examples of early commercial structures include one hotel, which was built to accommodate canal travelers. The Jordan Hotel (originally called the Clinton House) was only two stories high when first constructed in 1820. Located close to the canal, the Hotel enjoyed excellent business, and added a third floor and a rear wing when the canal was enlarged.
Jordan experienced a second period of economic expansion between 1870 and 1890 due to improvements made on the feeder canal and the advent of rail transportation. The originally small and narrow Jordan Feeder (section at Jordan) had been widened and deepened in 1860. Between 1865 and 1885 the old canal was eliminated altogether, the canal bed was straightened, a new double lock was constructed west of the Village, and a larger aqueduct over Skaneateles Creek was built. The existing masonry foundations of the wooden aqueduct in the east end of the Canal Park date from this period. By 1855 the New York Central and Hudson River Railroad had been extended to Jordan with the tracks running north of the historic district and parallel to the Erie Canal. In 1884 a second line, the West Shore Railroad, arrived, continuing to aid in Jordan’s prosperity.
Jordan’s economy suffered in the late nineteenth century when the importance of the Erie Canal, as a major transportation mode, and rail transportation declined. However, the Rochester, Syracuse, and Eastern Electric Train Co. had a line to Jordan providing easy access to Syracuse for commuters. The trolley station has now been converted to a garage, but serves as a reminder of the line, which was popular until the 1930’s.
The canal was drained in 1917 at the end of the season and never filled again. The new Barge Canal was opened on the northern edge of the Town of Elbridge in the spring of 1918, after the Richmond Aqueduct on the Seneca River at Montezuma was taken down to allow the proper flow of water down the river. The new canal was located through the Seneca River and Cross Lake.
Jordan became increasingly isolated during the twentieth century as modern transportation routes bypassed it. The New York State Thruway decided not to give the Village of Jordan an exit.
*This account of Jordan's history was documented in "A Stroll in Jordan, New York", by John G. Horner, Village of Jordan Historian.