The M&T Bank Building is a ten-story “skyscraper”, and was one of Syracuse’s first steel frame structures, built in 1897.  The ornate Renaissance ceiling on the main level is the work of Angelo Magnanti, who designed the interior of the U.S. Supreme Court Building.  The ceiling was painted by William Schwartz in 1931, with a replica of a 15th Century astronomer’s map.  The arched murals by Schwartz document important events in the history of Onondaga County.

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The M&T Bank Building, erected in 1897, occupies the same ground where once stood a hotel known as the premier lodgings in the city.  Since the early 1880’s, the Syracuse House was host to famous visitors passing through the Salt City including Charles Dickens and presidents John Quincy Adams, Millard Fillmore, and Martin Van Buren.

The Syracuse House in 1820

The Syracuse House in 1830

In October of 1839, the Davenport family from Mississippi, took residence in the hotel’s finest rooms while visiting relatives here in Syracuse.  They were owners of a beautiful young light skinned slave named Harriet Powell, who accompanied them on this trip.  While here, Harriet was approached by African American hotel employee and local Underground Railroad station master, Tom Leonard.  He presented her with the opportunity to escape to freedom by way of the Underground Railroad here. 

Despite the terrifying prospect of never seeing her family again, Harriet agreed, and a complicated plan was carried out involving the aide of Syracuse abolitionists on October 7th.   A reward of $200.00 was offered for her capture and pursuers searched the city and surrounding countryside.

A reward posting for the return of Harriet Powell

With the help of many sympathizers, from Syracuse to Peterboro including Garret Smith and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, she was able to stay one step ahead of her pursuers, and finally after weeks of hiding and running, the woman, who at 14 years old was sold at auction into slavery, would arrive safely in Canada to live her new life, free from bondage.  Written from her new home in Canada, her gracious thank you letter to Garret Smith was full of profound gratitude to the many people who helped her.

The Syracuse House in 1849

The Syracuse House