Onondaga County, New York

Onondaga County (/ˌɒnənˈdɑːɡə/ ON-ən-DAH-gə) is a county in the U.S. state of New York. As of the 2010 census, the population was 467,026.[1] The county seat is Syracuse.[2]

Onondaga County
Onondaga County Courthouse at Columbus Circle in Syracuse
Location within the U.S. state of New York

New York's location within the U.S.
Coordinates: 43°01′N 76°12′W
Country United States
State New York
Named forOnondaga people
Largest citySyracuse
  Total806 sq mi (2,090 km2)
  Land778 sq mi (2,020 km2)
  Water27 sq mi (70 km2)  3.4%%
  Density600/sq mi (200/km2)
Time zoneUTC−5 (Eastern)
  Summer (DST)UTC−4 (EDT)
Congressional district24th

Onondaga County is part of the Syracuse NY Metropolitan Statistical Area. J. Ryan McMahon, II (R) is the current County Executive.[3]


The name Onondaga derives from the name of the Native American tribe who lived in this area at the time of European contact, one of the original Five Nations of the Haudenosaunee. They called themselves (autonym) Onoda'gega, sometimes spelled Onontakeka. The word means "People of the Hills." Sometimes the term was Onondagaono ("The People of the Hills"). The federally recognized Onondaga Nation has a 9.3 square miles (24 km2) reservation within the county, on which they have self-government.

When counties were established in New York in 1683, the present Onondaga County was part of Albany County. This enormous county included the northern part of New York State as well as all of the present State of Vermont and, in theory, extended westward to the Pacific Ocean. It was reduced in size on July 3, 1766, by the creation of Cumberland County, and further on March 16, 1770, by the creation of Gloucester County, both containing territory now in Vermont.

On March 12, 1772, what was left of Albany County was split into three parts, one remaining under the name Albany County. One of the other pieces, Tryon County, contained the western portion (and thus, since no western boundary was specified, theoretically still extended west to the Pacific). The eastern boundary of Tryon County was approximately 5 miles (8 km) west of the present city of Schenectady, and the county included the western part of the Adirondack Mountains and the area west of the West Branch of the Delaware River. The area then designated as Tryon County now includes 37 counties of New York State. The county was named for William Tryon, colonial governor of New York.

In the years prior to 1776, most of the Loyalists in Tryon County fled to Canada. The Onondaga were among four Iroquois tribes that allied with the British against the American colonists, as they hoped to end their encroachment. Instead, they were forced to cede most of their land in New York to the United States after the war. Many Onondaga went with Joseph Brant and other nations to Canada, where they received land grants in compensation and formed the Six Nations of the Grand River First Nation.

In 1784, after a peace treaty ended the American Revolutionary War, the name of Tryon County was changed to Montgomery County. It honored General Richard Montgomery, who had captured several places in Canada and died attempting to capture the city of Quebec, and replaced the name of the hated British governor.

In 1789, Montgomery County was reduced by the splitting off of Ontario County from Montgomery. The actual area split off from Montgomery County was much larger than the present county, also including the present Allegany, Cattaraugus, Chautauqua, Erie, Genesee, Livingston, Monroe, Niagara, Orleans, Steuben, Wyoming, Yates, and part of Schuyler and Wayne Counties.

In 1791, Herkimer County was one of three counties split off from Montgomery (the other two being Otsego, and Tioga County). This was much larger than the present county, however, and was reduced by a number of subsequent splits.

In 1794, Onondaga County was split off from Herkimer County. This county was larger than the current Onondaga County, including the present Cayuga, Cortland, and part of Oswego Counties.

In 1799, Cayuga County was split off from Onondaga.

In 1808, Cortland County was split off from Onondaga.

In 1816, parts of Oneida and Onondaga Counties were taken to form the new Oswego County.

At the time Onondaga County was organized, it was divided into eleven towns: Homer, Pompey, Manlius, Lysander, Marcellus, Ulysses, Milton, Scipio, Ovid, Aurelius and Romulus.[4]

Central New York developed rapidly after the New Military Tract provided land in lieu of payment to Revolutionary War veterans. Migration was largely from the east, mostly from New England states. The Genesee Road, which became the Seneca Turnpike in 1800, provided access. Generally settlers preferred higher land, since they associated lowlands with disease. Over time, as early clearing and farming eroded hillside soil, valley lands were more fertile and highly prized for agriculture as well as for water power, which was the origin of many communities. An early settler of 1823 was James Hutchinson Woodworth, a native of Washington County, NY. He helped clear land for his family's farm in this region before he moved to Chicago where he became Mayor. The completion of the Erie Canal across New York state in 1825 accelerated trade, development and migration.

The city of Syracuse, New York developed relatively late, due to its marshy situation. It was incorporated as a village in 1825 and as a city in 1847; by contrast, the Village of Manlius, along the Cherry Valley and Seneca Turnpikes, was incorporated in 1813. The population of these rural towns was greatest in the late nineteenth century, when more people cultivated land and farms were relatively small, supporting large households.

Since that time, agriculture has declined in the county. Some Onondaga County towns like Spafford, New York were largely depopulated and many villages became veritable ghost towns. Onondaga County highlands now are more heavily reforested, with public parks and preserves providing recreation. Two Finger Lakes in the county, Skaneateles and Otisco, also attract visitors. The village of Skaneateles on scenic Route 20 has become a major tourist destination.

At the turn of the twenty-first century, population declined in the City of Syracuse while suburban communities generally grew, particularly with tract developments north of the city. Elsewhere, scattered commuter houses appeared, generally on fairly large parcels. The rapid development of the village of Skaneateles and shores of Skaneateles Lake led to increased demand for property and property values.


According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the county has an area of 806 square miles (2,090 km2), of which 778 square miles (2,020 km2) is land and 27 square miles (70 km2) (3.4%) is water.[5] The geographic dimensions of the county are illustrated as approximately 35 miles (56 km) in length and 30 miles (48 km) in width, and comprising 25 miles (40 km) of the New York State Barge Canal System, in combination with a number of lakes, streams and rivers.[6] Onondaga County is in the central portion of New York State, west of Albany and Utica, east of Rochester and northeast of Ithaca. Onondaga Lake is bordered by many of the larger communities in the county.

The northern part of the county is fairly level lake plain, extending northward to Lake Ontario. Oneida Lake three rivers, as well as the Erie and subsequent Barge Canals are in the lake plain. The main line of the New York Central Railroad and the New York State Thruway extend east and west across the county through the lake plain. The southern part of the county is Appalachian Plateau, with high hills rising at the southern edge of Syracuse. This is the eastern part of the Finger Lakes region. Skaneateles Lake and Otisco Lake are both in Onondaga County. US 20 extends east and west across the county, traversing dramatic hill-and-valley terrain. Between the lake plain and Appalachian highlands is a zone noted for drumlins, smaller, scattered hills formed as mounds of debris left by the last glacier. Tully is geologically noted for the terminal moraine deposited there by the glacier, filling the deep Tully Valley, which might have been another Finger Lake had the moraine been left closer to Syracuse, impounding water. Tully is at the divide between two major watersheds, one flowing northward to the Atlantic Ocean by way of the St. Lawrence River and the other southward to the ocean via the Susquehanna River.[7] Oneida Lake, the Finger Lakes, and smaller bodies of water provide recreation. The Appalachian hills have several ski areas, waterfalls and historic villages as well as large parks and forest preserves.

Lakes and reservoirs

Adjacent counties

Major highways


Historical population
Est. 2016466,194[8]−0.2%
U.S. Decennial Census[9]
1790-1960[10] 1900-1990[11]
1990-2000[12] 2010-2013[1]

As of the census[13] of 2000, the county had 458,336 people, 181,153 households, and 115,394 families. The population density was 587 people per square mile (227/km²). There were 196,633 housing units at an average density of 252 per square mile (97/km²). The county's racial makeup was 84.78% White, 9.38% African American, 0.86% Native American, 2.09% Asian, 0.03% Pacific Islander, 0.89% from other races, and 1.97% from two or more races. Hispanics or Latinos of any race were 2.44% of the population. About 17.5% were of Italian, 16.2% Irish, 12.4% German, 9.4% English, and 6.0% Polish ancestry according to Census 2000, and 91.4% spoke English, 2.4% Spanish and 1.1% Italian as their first language.

Of the 181,153 households, 31.90% had children under age 18 living with them, 46.90% were married couples living together, 12.90% had a female householder with no husband present, and 36.30% were not families. About 29.40% of all households were made up of individuals and 10.80% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.46 and the average family size was 3.07.

25.80% of the county's population was under age 18, 9.50% was from age 18 to 24, 28.80% was from age 25 to 44, 22.10% was from age 45 to 64, and 13.80% was age 65 or older. The median age was 36 years. For every 100 females, there were 91.70 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 87.70 males.

The county's median household income was $40,847, and the median family income was $51,876. Males had a median income of $39,048 versus $27,154 for females. The county's per capita income was $21,336. About 8.60% of families and 12.20% of the population were below the poverty line, including 15.50% of those under age 18 and 7.10% of those age 65 or over.

Demographic trends (2006): The county population has decreased from a high in 1970. The increasing number of housing units apparently is due to smaller family units and more individuals living alone. While the City of Syracuse population has declined, some suburban towns have grown.

Government and politics

Presidential elections results[14]
Year Republican Democratic Third parties
2016 40.1% 83,649 53.9% 112,337 6.0% 12,454
2012 38.5% 78,831 59.7% 122,254 1.8% 3,632
2008 38.9% 84,972 59.3% 129,317 1.8% 3,950
2004 43.8% 94,006 54.2% 116,381 2.0% 4,238
2000 41.1% 83,678 54.0% 109,896 5.0% 10,069
1996 37.8% 73,771 51.4% 100,190 10.8% 20,978
1992 36.1% 77,642 42.2% 90,645 21.7% 46,620
1988 51.9% 104,080 47.3% 94,751 0.8% 1,654
1984 59.6% 121,857 40.0% 81,777 0.3% 680
1980 50.7% 97,887 38.0% 73,453 11.4% 21,940
1976 60.0% 115,474 39.5% 76,097 0.5% 1,007
1972 69.2% 140,039 30.6% 61,895 0.2% 482
1968 50.5% 95,806 44.0% 83,576 5.5% 10,483
1964 32.9% 63,205 67.0% 128,630 0.1% 179
1960 54.1% 107,170 45.8% 90,836 0.1% 150
1956 73.4% 137,852 26.6% 49,918 0.0% 0
1952 65.0% 119,268 34.9% 64,022 0.2% 302
1948 53.9% 84,370 42.3% 66,295 3.8% 5,983
1944 52.1% 80,507 47.6% 73,562 0.4% 569
1940 57.3% 91,056 42.4% 67,481 0.3% 485
1936 55.0% 80,498 43.0% 62,945 1.9% 2,827
1932 49.8% 66,363 46.7% 62,227 3.5% 4,629
1928 57.0% 76,278 40.9% 54,706 2.0% 2,732
1924 64.9% 65,395 24.6% 24,773 10.5% 10,601
1920 66.3% 57,008 27.1% 23,308 6.7% 5,731
1916 55.4% 27,815 39.6% 19,892 5.1% 2,546
1912 35.3% 16,202 34.5% 15,827 30.3% 13,888
1908 58.7% 27,209 35.9% 16,643 5.4% 2,503
1904 62.6% 27,115 33.8% 14,633 3.6% 1,569
1900 59.4% 24,317 35.9% 14,698 4.7% 1,942
1896 62.4% 25,032 34.1% 13,695 3.5% 1,414
1892 52.9% 19,008 41.5% 14,900 5.6% 1,996
1888 57.7% 20,144 40.1% 14,001 2.3% 796
1884 54.9% 16,892 42.8% 13,166 2.3% 700

Onondaga County was governed exclusively by a board of supervisors until 1961, when voters approved the creation of the county executive.[15] In 1968, the board reorganized into a 24-seat county legislature.[16] In 2001, the legislature was reduced to 19 seats. The county executive is elected in a countywide vote. In a 2010 referendum, voters approved a measure to reduce the legislature to 17 seats. All 17 members are elected from individual districts. Currently, there are 11 Republicans and 6 Democrats.

Historically, Onondaga County was a Republican stronghold: from 1884-1988, the GOP carried the county in all but one presidential election. Beginning in 1992, the county has gone Democratic in presidential elections. At the state and local level, it is a swing county. Democratic strength is concentrated in Syracuse, while Republicans do well in the suburbs.

Onondaga County Executives
Name Party Term
John H. Mulroy Republican January 1, 1962 – December 31, 1987
Nicholas J. Pirro Republican January 1, 1988 – December 31, 2007
Joanne M. Mahoney Republican January 1, 2008 – November 1, 2018
J. Ryan McMahon, II Republican November 1, 2018 –
Onondaga County Legislature
District Legislator Party Residence
1 Brian F. May Republican Baldwinsville
2 James J. Rowley Republican Clay
3 Tim Burtis Republican Cicero
4 Judith Tassone Republican Liverpool
5 Debra J. Cody Republican Liverpool
6 Julie R. Abbot-Kenan Republican Marcellus
7 Mary T. Kuhn Democratic Syracuse
8 Christopher J. Ryan Democratic Syracuse
9 Peggy Chase Democratic Syracuse
10 Kevin Holmquist Republican East Syracuse
11 John McBride Republican Onondaga Hill
12 David H. Knapp, chairman[17] Republican LaFayette
13 Kenneth L. Bush Jr. Republican Syracuse
14 Casey E. Jordan Republican Clay
15 Bill Kinne Democratic Syracuse
16 Vernon M. Williams, Jr. Democratic Syracuse
17 Linda Ervin Democratic Jamesville


Syracuse, the county seat, is the only city in Onondaga County. The following is a list of official towns, villages, and hamlets:[18]



Census-designated places


Native American reservations

See also


  1. "State & County QuickFacts". United States Census Bureau. Archived from the original on June 7, 2011. Retrieved October 12, 2013.
  2. "Find a County". National Association of Counties. Archived from the original on 2011-05-31. Retrieved 2011-06-07.
  3. McMahon, Julie. (2018, November 1). "Ryan McMahon officially sworn in as Onondaga County's 4th executive," Syracuse.com. Accessed: November 2, 2018.
  4. History of Onondaga County, Professor W. W. Clayton, 1878, archived from the original on 2012-09-27, retrieved 2010-08-25
  5. "2010 Census Gazetteer Files". United States Census Bureau. August 22, 2012. Archived from the original on May 19, 2014. Retrieved January 6, 2015.
  6. "Onondaga County Sheriff's Office website, October 12, 2015". ongov.net. Archived from the original on 5 November 2016. Retrieved 30 April 2018.
  7. Kappel, William; Miller, Todd; Hetcher, Kari. "Hydrogeology of the Tully Lakes Area in Southern Onondaga and Northern Cortland Counties, New York" (PDF). U.S. Geological Survey. Archived (PDF) from the original on 2016-12-21. Retrieved 2016-04-04.
  8. "Population and Housing Unit Estimates". Archived from the original on May 29, 2017. Retrieved June 9, 2017.
  9. "U.S. Decennial Census". United States Census Bureau. Archived from the original on April 26, 2015. Retrieved January 6, 2015.
  10. "Historical Census Browser". University of Virginia Library. Archived from the original on August 11, 2012. Retrieved January 6, 2015.
  11. "Population of Counties by Decennial Census: 1900 to 1990". United States Census Bureau. Archived from the original on February 19, 2015. Retrieved January 6, 2015.
  12. "Census 2000 PHC-T-4. Ranking Tables for Counties: 1990 and 2000" (PDF). United States Census Bureau. Archived (PDF) from the original on December 18, 2014. Retrieved January 6, 2015.
  13. "American FactFinder". United States Census Bureau. Archived from the original on 2013-09-11. Retrieved 2008-01-31.
  14. Leip, David. "Dave Leip's Atlas of U.S. Presidential Elections". uselectionatlas.org. Archived from the original on 23 March 2018. Retrieved 30 April 2018.
  16. Board Executive Office (1967), "LOCAL LAW NO. 2—1966", Journal of the Board of Supervisors of the County of Onondaga for 1966, Syracuse, New York, pp. 182–187
  17. Knauss, Tim. (2018, October 9). "Dave Knapp unanimously confirmed as Onondaga County Legislature chairman," Syracuse.com. Accessed: November 2, 2018.
  18. New York State Gazetteer, Albany, NY: New York State Department of Health, 1995 Available at New York State Library Digital Image Project Archived 2006-10-02 at the Wayback Machine.

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