The Piper Phillips Block was constructed around 1872 as a residential hotel for railroad employees. Originally, a horse stable connected the building with the Bentley-Settle Building on Walton Street. The two structures remain connected through an interior corridor. After the railroads left downtown in 1930s, this building and many others were left vacant for years. Extensive renovations were completed in 1987 creating upgraded office and retail space.
This Piper-Phillips Block illustrates the architectural style and building mixed use associated with the railroad. It reflects the Italianate / Second Empire styles, and has pressed metal window hoods and cornice, as well as first floor cast iron posts. The first floor consisted of three storefronts. The upper stories were a hotel for railroad employees. The hotel was abandoned when the railroads left the streets of Syracuse in the 1930’s.
Originally, there was a horse stable connecting this building with the Bentley-Settle building facing Walton Street. The Bentley-Settle Co., the wholesale grocery brokers, used the central and eastern storefront as their main office until 1973.
A number of accounts indicate that this was an important building on the Underground Railroad. Syracuse was known as the “great central depot” of the Underground Railroad in New York State. Here, thousands of freedom seekers found help from a biracial group of men and women – centered in Congregational, Unitarian, Quaker, and African Methodist Episcopal Zion churches.
In Syracuse, an officer of the New York Central Railroad gave them free passes to continue their journey. Many freedom seekers went to Canada, but many settled in Syracuse and bought property on the north side or near east side.
By the 1850s, the Underground Railroad operated openly in Syracuse. People celebrated Syracuse as a “free city” and the “Canada of the United States.” When federal marshals captured Missouri freedom seeker William “Jerry” Henry in October 1851, two thousand Syracuse citizens successfully rescued him, and the federal government never again tried to capture a freedom seeker locally. Newspaper notices regularly carried notices of fugitives who passed through the city on “this valuable and mysterious Railroad.” In 1857, the Syracuse Standard reported that “this road was never doing a better business than at this time.”