Clinton Square was one of the busiest spots in the city during the 1800s.  The Erie Canal intersected the village crossroads here, and the Square teemed with canal boat crews loading and unloading cargo, farmers’ wagons, peddlers’ carts, hawkers, and street entertainers.  

Culverhouse painting of Clinton Square at night

After the turn of the century, Clinton Square was transformed from a cluttered docking and market place into a public park.  In 1917, the Erie Canal was officially closed to navigation and replaced by the Barge Canal, which bypassed downtown Syracuse.  In 1923, the engineering wonder of the 1820s was filled, graded, and turned into a parking lot.  Clinton Square has been redesigned several times since then; the most recent change in 2001, when Erie Blvd. was closed permanently to traffic between South Clinton and South Salina Streets.  

Clinton Square in the present day

A reflecting pool and fountain now form the centerpiece of the park.  Once again, this public square is a gathering place for Syracusans who come to ice skate in the winter and attend many festivals and events held throughout the year.

The Greenway Barbecue at Clinton Square on New Year’s Day in 1870

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As the city was suffering through a depression, John Greenway, of Greenway Brewery offered a free barbecue to be held in Clinton Square on New Year’s Day 1870.  He reportedly fed around 10,000 people.  

Greenway’s Brewery located in Syracuse

The north bank of the Erie Canal was the site of two immense ovens – each 9 feet high- that were constructed out of sheet metal.  Hardwood logs were piled on iron grates and burned for 10 hours before two very large beef cattle were arranged on heavy rods 14 feet in length.  The animals were turned slowly while huge basting pans, each measuring 12 feet long, caught all the drippings underneath.  Five thousand loaves of bread were placed on a long table where they were eventually joined by 12 plum puddings, each weighing 200 pounds.  Unfortunately, while the beef was being carved, one of the butchers tripped and fell into one of the basting pans.  Luckily, he slid in feet first and his thick leather boots prevented him from being severely scalded by the hot drippings.  He was rescued immediately by his fellow carvers and escorted to his nearby home, where he made a full recovery.  Despite the accident, the juices were subsequently used for the hot roast beef sandwiches served to the public.  Sanitation was obviously not a big priority at the time.  This barbecue was only one example of Greenway’s benevolence.  He continued to aid the city’s poor until his death in 1887.

An illustration of Greenway’s Brewing and Malting facility