The east shore of the Great Salt Lake was surveyed in October 1855, and included land that later was to become the city of Syracuse. It was part of the "big range" of northern Davis County, which was a good place for raising sheep and cattle. However, the area did lack water, with only two springs between Kay's Creek and the Weber River.
With the Homestead Act of 1862 the land became available for settlement; however, the first person to plow and sow land in the area was David Cook in 1876. Joseph Bodily also homesteaded eighty acres and built the first log cabin in 1877. David Kerr, Joseph Hadfield, John Sheridan, and others came in 1878.
By 1884 the extended Hooper Canal brought water from the Weber River to the area. With water, homesteads developed near the lake shore. Soon hay and grain grew in abundance. Dairy farming became important when a group of farmers built a cheese factory. Within twenty years of the first settlers, most of the available land was under cultivation. It did not take long before farmers near the lake realized that some of the land was suited for fruit growing. Artesian wells with cement holding ponds in conjunction with the Hooper Canal irrigated several hundred acres of apples, pears, peaches, and plums. By the turn of the century, this area had become the largest producer of fruit in Davis County.
On the bench above the bluff, dry farming appeared about the year 1878. Alma Stoker, Richard Venable, and Richard Hamblin were some of the first who cleared the land. Deep wells were dug to water their livestock and small gardens. In about 1894 the Davis-Weber County Canal brought water to part of the land.
Syracuse was always a farming community. With irrigation, new row crops were introduced: sugar beets in 1893, potatoes in 1894, tomatoes in 1898, and peas in 1902. The Syracuse Canning factory started up in 1898, canning tomatoes, pickles, and all kinds of fruits.
William Galbraith, who manufactured salt from the lake, printed the name "Syracuse" on his salt bags. The name came from a salt company he knew in Syracuse, New York. The name was later used by the Syracuse Bathing Resort, built in 1887 by Daniel C. Adams. He was determined to have the finest resort on the lake, which for a time it became; it was the only spot along the shore of the lake with a natural grove of trees. The Union Pacific Railroad branch, constructed in 1887 as the Ogden and Syracuse Railway, linked the Syracuse resort to the main line between Ogden and Salt Lake City. It also served farmers and the salt works.
The first general store in town, which also adopted the name Syracuse, was built by Isaac Barton in 1888. In 1891 he sold his store to the Walker brothers. At one time the community also had a post office, which was commissioned on 10 November 1891. John Coles was the first postmaster, and the post office was set up in a room at the front of his home. Thomas and Clara Schofield later bought his farm, and Mrs. Schofield became postmistress until 15 May 1905 when the post office was discontinued. The general store and post office were located a mile east of the bathing resort.
In 1882 the LDS Church created the Kaysville-South Hooper Branch, with William Beazer as presiding elder. Meetings were held in a one-room school built below the bluff in 1885, and later in 1892 in a red-brick school built in 1892 on the bench. On 1 December 1895 the Syracuse LDS Ward was created. David Cook served as bishop, with James G. Wood and James T. Walker as counselors. Three years later an elegant meeting house was built where the center of town is today. A central school, an amusement hall, and several businesses sprang up, including Syracuse Mercantile, Rampton's Blacksmith, Homer's Barbershop, Kaysville Canning Factory, and the Bountiful Lumber Yard. These helped unify the community, and the population growth shifted from lower Syracuse to the bench.
From the very beginning, baseball was the community's favorite sport. The first known ballfield was across the street west of the church. Baseball was significant in unifying the community; every business would close on Saturday afternoon and the entire town would turn out to cheer the team on.
With most of the land irrigated, the community of Syracuse took on a new look. Instead of log cabins, new frame and brick homes dotted the landscape. Gravel roads linked Syracuse to nearby communities. Goods and services improved, and almost anything a family needed could be ordered or purchased at the Syracuse mercantile store.
After the turn of the century, the building of homes and barns continued to boom, and with the advent of World War I, good produce prices brought prosperity. The LDS Church played a prominent role in local "culture" through its amusement hall, which brought drama, band concerts, and athletic events to the community. The first telephone came in 1903 to the Walker brothers' store in lower Syracuse. In 1913 electricity lighted the meetinghouse and amusement hall.
In the fall of 1909 permission was granted by the Davis County School Board to open North Davis High School in Syracuse. It was an extension of the old red-brick school. But in 1925 school buses began hauling students to Davis High School, and the Syracuse school was closed.
School principal Arthur Anderson introduced the first scouting program into the community, and in 1921 Eli Rentmeister organized the famous Syracuse Scout Band, which played at Fourth of July celebrations and at the state fair.
The Japanese people first came to Syracuse in 1914. Most farmed on the John R. Barnes property. They built a Buddhist church and also had several good baseball teams. Several served in the armed forces during World War II. The Japanese culture has contributed much to the community. In addition, a few Greek families moved to Syracuse and became excellent farmers. Several Hispanic families also moved into the community and worked either at defense plants or on the farms; however, only a few became permanent residents.
The Depression years were hard, but the community survived with plenty of flour, salt pork, potatoes, and bottled fruits. Almost everyone had a garden, chickens, pigs, and a cow. World War II brought more change. Jobs were plentiful at defense plants; many farmers worked their farms only part time, taking full-time jobs at Hill Field or the Naval Supply Depot. One hundred twenty Syracuse young men served in the armed forces.
In 1935 Syracuse formed a town board with Thomas J. Thurgood as the first president. The first services offered were beautification of the cemetery and the providing of culinary water. Syracuse became a third-class city on 13 September 1950. New community services were provided as needed: garbage dump and pickup, natural gas, sewer lines, and fire and police protection. As the city grew, services enlarged. The city boundary line did not extend below the bluff until recent years.
Tractors gradually replaced horses after World War II. Tomatoes, peas, and sugar beets were gradually phased out; but alfalfa, grain, corn, string beans, and onions still played an important role. Slowly, some agricultural land gave way to housing projects and businesses; zoning laws became a necessity.
At the present time, eleven LDS wards exist in two stakes with four LDS meetinghouses. Those of other faiths attend churches in nearby communities. There are at present two elementary schools, a junior high school, and land purchased for a future high school. A new city hall and fire station are on the drawing board. R.C. Willey furniture store is the largest area business; but a branch bank, a grocery store, two cafes, two garages, and a plumbing-and-heating company help make up the nucleus of the city. In 1990 the population of Syracuse was 3,702.
Syracuse became linked to Antelope Island State Park in 1969 with the construction of a causeway. Although the road was flooded in the 1980s, a new improved road to the island opened in 1993 brings tourists through the heart of Syracuse.
Clayton J. Holt