The Syracuse and Onondaga Railroad was chartered in Syracuse, New York, on May 13, 1836, and was granted approval by the State to build a road from Syracuse to local quarries in Split Rock, New York.
The road was incorporated on the same day as the Syracuse Stone Railroad which was organized for the same purpose. Both roads were consolidated before the construction of the road was complete on October 16, 1838.
The small railroad joined with the Auburn and Syracuse Railroad from Geddes into the city proper and the depot at Vanderbilt Square in Downtown Syracuse.
The Syracuse and Onondaga Railroad Company was approved after the passage of two acts by the New York State Legislature on May 13, 1836, incorporating two companies, each with power to construct a railway from Syracuse to the quarries located southwest of the city.
The first act created "for a period of fifty years, the Syracuse Stone Railroad Company, a short lived endeavor that was intended to terminate in Onondaga, New York; however, was never built.
The second act created the Syracuse and Onondaga Railroad Company for the same purpose. The goal was to construct a railroad between the village of Syracuse and local stone quarries in Split Rock, New York. Legislature stipulated that the line must begin in the city and run to the quarries on a route that "could be adapted to the purpose of transporting stone" back to Syracuse.
The road began at the "berm bank" of the Erie Canal at Geddes Street in the city and extended to the stone quarries at Split Rock, a distance of 3.54 miles (5.70 km). It followed the "valley of Harbor brook" most of the way.
Incorporators of the new enterprise included; Vivus W. Smith, James Beardslee, Elam Lyndes, Daniel Elliott and Henry Raynor. The officers acted as commissioners and were required "to open within one year subscription books and distribute the stock." The capital was $75,000 and shares were valued at $100.
Most of the men who enlisted in both the Syracuse and Onondaga Railroad and the Syracuse Stone Railroad had "established reputations of successful men of business." They believed that a railway between the Erie Canal and the Onondaga stone quarries would be a profitable and safe investment; however, "jealousy of one another was manifest" before the passage of the acts incorporating the two companies and was the reason there were two organizations, when one would have been sufficient "for all required purposes."
For several months after the charters of the two companies were obtained, a "sharp rivalry" existed between them; however, they did eventually reach a compromise and the two roads were combined. The board of directors was composed of; Vivus W. Smith, John Wilkinson, John G. Forbes, Elihu Walter, Moses D. Burnet, Henry Davis, Jr., Daniel Elliott, Hiram Putnam and Stephen Smith. Daniel Elliott was named president, John Wilkinson was treasurer and Vivus W. Smith, secretary.
It took 16 months to complete the grading and while the work was in progress, "it became evident to many who had become subscribers to the stock" that the railroad was destined to prove a failure financially as well as the "collection of installments payable on the stock."
Approximately 20 platform cars were "brought onto the road," which operated by gravitation in one direction and by horse-power in the other. The ascent between the canal and the quarries was about 400 feet (120 m). The loaded trains moved downwards, "checked in their movements only by the brakes," and were drawn back by horses which were carried along on the train for use on the return trip.
Considerable stone was transported over the road, which was connected at Geddes Street with the Auburn and Syracuse Railroad and had arrangements with the latter to run their cars "down into the city to any point that was convenient to the delivery of stone."
A major accident occurred and two employees were killed including the brakeman who met instant death. The company entered its final days as a public institution. The business was deemed a failure and sold for $10,000 to Joseph M. Knauss, a contractor, who unsuccessfully attempted to operate the road. He had built the Rochester aqueduct on the Erie Canal with stone from a quarry he owned at Split Rock and had plans to use the line to transport his goods, but instead declared bankruptcy.
The "iron" was sold to Dean Richmond and others who had obtained the franchise to the Pontiac Railroad Company. The equipment was transported to Buffalo, New York on the canal and shipped from there to Detroit, Michigan via Lake Erie where it reached its final destination.