Hanover Square was the site of the village well and Syracuse’s first commercial district. It was the main recruiting area during the Civil War, and the site of a spectacular bonfire made from recruiting booths at the War’s end. In 1871, a huge crowd gathered here to witness the first recorded hot air balloon ascension in the Syracuse area. Now designated a Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places, the Square contains a variety of 19th century buildings, some dating back to 1834 when a fire leveled the original Square. Extensive renovation of the Square was completed in 1981.
For much of the 19th century, Hanover Square was where horse-drawn wagons could be rented by the day, to transport goods from canal docks and railroad warehouses to local merchants and businesses.
As an open area, it was used for civic gatherings, such as the formal eulogy and memorial services for Abraham Lincoln when his funeral train stopped briefly in the city in 1865.
In 1899, the wagons were moved out and a small landscaped park added, christened Veterans Park. But, due to the popularity of adjacent Clinton Square, Hanover Square’s Veterans Park became somewhat obsolete. Shortly thereafter, the city fathers decided to install large, underground public restrooms, referred to as “comfort stations” in the square.
Hanover Square Comfort Stations
The design was by local architects Merrick & Randall and opened in 1915. There were two separate entrances, one for women and one for men.
Down a flight of stairs, the finishes were of enameled brick and marble. The local press reported that the underground building was heated, lighted and carefully ventilated.
These public restrooms stayed in operation until the early 1960s, when they became an expense the city could not afford. They were demolished in 1962 for the creation of a more modest landscaped park. That, in turn, was removed in 1980 to create the present fountain and sitting area. Almost all the surrounding buildings date from the 19th century, giving Hanover Square the character that led to its designation in 1976 as Syracuse’s first official historic district.