Lower James Street was once the most exclusive residential area in Syracuse. The authors of Architecture Worth Saving say that, at its peak, James Street was, "one of the most handsome residential streets in the State of New York. Its houses, ranging in date from the 1830's to the 1890's, were not only fine in themselves but they constituted a beautiful ensemble."
Moses Dewitt Burnet probably initiated the mansion competition with an imposing Greek Revival home completed in 1842. Each subsequent home builder strove to establish their prominence in the city by creating something grander than those that had come before. John Wilkinson had a house surrounded by extensive grounds and gardens at the corner of James and Hawley Avenue. General Leavenworth and his family built their majestic Greek Revival home at the corner of James and McBride.