The Wesleyan Methodist Church is the oldest religious building in the city.  It was built in 1874 in the simple style of a Greek Revival Meetinghouse.  The congregation was formed in 1843 by a group of Methodists who separated from the parent church because it would not take a stand against slavery.  Many abolitionists had a hand in organizing the congregation.  Alterations were made to the building in 1877 and in 1910.  The brick was painted and stained glass was put in the windows.  The tower was added later. 

Examples of carvings found in the cellar walls of the Wesleyan Methodist Church

During renovations in 1994, African-style carvings were found on the cellar walls, lending credence to the theory that this building was a stop on the Underground Railroad.  The carvings are now on display at the Onondaga Historical Association Museum.

Read More

This modest brick structure, built in 1846 as a church, was constructed to house a congregation whose members were active abolitionists, campaigning against slavery in America.  Some members even participated in illegal Underground Railroad activities, including the pastor, the Reverend Luther Lee.  He aided as many as thirty fugitives a month in the mid-1850s.

Reverend Luther Lee

This building regularly hosted anti-slavery gatherings.  One, held in 1854 to raise money for the cause of abolition, included the opportunity to meet a man named “Solomon,” a fugitive slave recently arrived in Syracuse via the Underground Railroad. 

The church membership appears to have included former slaves.  In October of 1851, just a few days after the famous Jerry Rescue, when local citizens forcibly freed a fugitive from federal authorities, four members of this church fled Syracuse and headed to Canada.  Surviving church records state that they left to "escape from the slave catchers".  Likely, all four were former fugitives, themselves.

Wesleyan Methodist Church membership ledger

On the day in 1859 that radical abolitionist John Brown was hung for his raid on Harpers Ferry, this church hosted a prayer service in his memory.  They considered him a martyr for the anti-slavery cause.

Then finally, on January 20, 1863, this church was the site of the local African-American community's first celebration of Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation.  They met at the Wesleyan Church when local "conservatives" threatened to prevent any such gathering at city hall.