Upper Onondaga Park: Where the Heart Is

Upper Onondaga Park in Strathmore Blossom

A sign of spring in Strathmore.

This past weekend, my mom came to visit me from Ann Arbor, Michigan. Between catching up over coffee and treasure hunting (of the shopping variety, a respite from junkyard pillaging), we made time for a walk at Upper Onondaga Lake Park: a significant stop on the trail of my life. Located in the heart of the Strathmore neighborhood, Upper Onondaga Lake Park an open space that will always give me a warm feeling of home.

A month before starting my new job at the Syracuse University Daily Orange newspaper in 2003, my mom and I spent a weekend searching for a place I could call home. She needed to feel good about where I was living as much as I did. We had squashed a house that required a walk up two flights of stairs (no driveway), said no way to an apartment complex reminiscent of senior living, and ran the other way when a tenant warned us of roaches. I can’t remember what led us to the Strathmore neighborhood but when its beautiful park came into view, both my mom and I felt that this neighborhood and the two-family house for rent just might do the trick.

Upper Onondaga Park in Strathmore

My mom and Ben, both being camera shy.

My mom and I both believe that home is more than just a house – it’s what surrounds it, too. And the very charming Upper Onondaga Park was just steps away from what would soon be my front door. A large, shallow lake – originally a water reservoir – is lined with stone walls and encircled by a path. At one end of the lake there’s a long, brick bathhouse from the 1920s topped with a bright white, painted roof. Near it, an old bandstand on an island and then, my personal favorite, a trio of old weeping willows next to a stone arch bridge.

When I moved out to Syracuse a month later it was during the 2003 blackout. My family and I had finished loading up the U-Haul, and were raiding the fridge for “pop” to drink on the road, when the power went off and didn’t come back on. We waited until the power returned the next morning, got gas, and headed for Syracuse. As I said last week, this was a major turning point in my life. It was an especially long drive for me; I had grown up and gone to college in Ann Arbor. This was my first time living away from my parents – sort of a late bloomer’s version of the away-from-home college experience.

Upper Onondaga Park Strathmore Mom Walking

The white roofs stick out against a gray sky.

The closer we got to Syracuse, the more apprehensive I was of my decision. It was about midnight when we headed into the Strathmore neighborhood where the power was still out. The complete darkness around me only exacerbated my rising anxiety; I felt like a kid afraid of the dark – and of the unknown. But then I saw the park. I saw the familiar bathhouse and old bandstand island, their white roofs practically glowing in dark. My fear turned into excitement; I felt that home feeling and I felt like things would be ok. Over the next two years, the park became part of my life: Its benches became my therapy couches when I called family and friends, homesick and lonely. Its tennis courts and jog paths, a place to meet up with new people. Its amazing view of the city, a favorite photo opp for out-of-town guests. And yes, I swam laps in the pool during summer without contracting any mythical public pool diseases and played tennis on the courts just outside my doorstep.

That saying, “home is where the heart is,” gets a little complicated because my heart is in different places. Part of my heart is back in Ann Arbor where my family and old friends are. A little part, still in Strathmore, where I created an independent life for myself. And of course I love the home I own today in the Salt Springs Neighborhood. No matter where I’m living, one thing is certain: my heart feels most at home surrounded by open spaces.

Home to History…and Great Garage Sales

The homes surrounding Upper Onondaga Park are stunning as well as architecturally important, check out the neighborhood’s history here. If you’re in the Syracuse area, do not miss the neighborhood-wide garage sale on Saturday, May 8th. I’ll be in Chicago that weekend, so please do some treasure hunting for me (fashionistas: I picked up a brand new pair of Bally loafers one year!).

Map It!

I mapped the house I rented on Arlington Ave., right across from the park. There’s plenty of street parking if you go.

Map powered by MapPress

6 comments to Upper Onondaga Park: Where the Heart Is

  • Mom

    It was a great weekend visiting you and Ben for your birthday! I too enjoyed the park, as it was a beautiful place to walk when visiting you at the flat you rented on Arlington. It was wonderful to met up with Evie, Leslie and Moe.


  • Fred Miller


    I enjoy reading your updates! It has been a pleasure working with you.


  • Thanks for another great post! Love the hint of fashionista Lindsay I miss from lunchbreaks!

  • Lindsay

    Mom, sorry the weather was so miserable when you were here! At least it wasn’t snowing (it is now).

  • Leslie

    It was in that park that great ideas were born! Nice post.

  • Amy

    I LOVE that park! It is a gem and so peaceful. Used to drive up there on Sundays and just meander around the winding pathways. Loved seeing a symphony one night playing in the gazebo on the “lake”, like they must have done in yester year. Great writing Linds. Wonder if you knew Charlie who used to write for the Orange.

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