These aerial photos from the Cornell University Library may represent the last visible link between the eras of farming and of suburbia in Fairmount Hills.
The first photo was taken in September 1938, and shows that the Fairmount Hills area was laid out for modern suburban tracts before World War 2 (note the curvier streets compared to Old Fairmount’s straight avenues, at top of photo).
This photo probably shows the borders of the Geddes family farm, even though they had been gone from the area for several decades. One of the tree lines on the left side of the picture seems to conform roughly to the border of Lot 38, much of which they owned. (Without further research I couldn’t tell you exactly where their holdings were, though.) It also shows the Brockway Tavern (aka Whelan’s Funeral Home, circled in red) and one of the Geddes farm’s outbuildings (which still exists in back of Fairmount Animal Hospital, circled in yellow). The purple X is approximately the location of the house George Geddes lived in later in his life (son James Jr. lived in the big family mansion on Fairmount Corners). The blue X is my street.
It’s interesting to walk through the neighborhood these days and understand a little more about what was what back in the early 20th or even the 19th century. It’s easy to find out the location of the Geddes family’s ice pond (hint: it’s still a swamp). But everything has changed visually – the only thing that hasn’t changed is topography. So if you want to figure out which route the farmers of yore took to get to their back forty, you can get insights by walking, more than you can get from consulting a map of streets invented for cars.
The Syracuse Herald’s report on the demolition of the Geddes mansion (December 1929, part 1, part 2) discusses the upcoming development of the land into residential and business space, so this photo shows streets that were likely laid out even earlier than 1938, with their development probably stalled by the Depression. Still, this fancy and oh-so-suburban configuration (for prewar) begs the question: who did they expect to live here? It’s not as if they could have been fully anticipating postwar baby boomers.
Let’s jump ahead to 1951:
The war is long over, and Fairmount Hills (aka “Lake Lawns”) is on the verge of a building boom. Fairmount Fair is still a gleam in Eagan’s eye, but already the streets off Onondaga Road have started to see some action, and within five years the rest of the neighborhood will be filled with ranch houses and Cape Cods built by Liverpool’s Bud Stanley.
Flash forward to 1966, and the transformation is almost totally complete:
Not shown in this picture is the now-fully-developed Terrytown area in back of swinging Fairmount Fair, where the dots (er, houses) are spaced out more than they are in Fairmount Hills. They figured out that people wanted bigger homes, bigger lots, and that they wanted a shopping mall with plenty of parking — even though, for a suburban mall, FF is bizarrely easy to walk to.
The whole Fairmount area is really like a suburban history laboratory, where you can trace fine gradual developments in the whole concept of sub-village and sub-urban housing. (I say “sub-village” because I suspect Old Fairmount, laid out in the 1890s, was really meant to be a suburb of the village of Solvay.) The last major building spurt in Fairmount happened in the 1990s, so conceivably you could take an hourlong stroll through one hundred years of suburban history. (Yes, there’s still one guy finishing his new mini-McMansion up on Jane Drive, but he’s very late to the party.)
And that’s really the oddest thing of all: a history of suburbia that you don’t need to drive through!
For further reading on the characteristics of prewar vs. postwar suburban development: Interpreting Post-World War II Suburban Landscapes as Historic Resources.