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Columns

June 30, 2012

Fourth of July celebration drew thousands to Oneonta in 1862

"Let The Eagle Scream!!"

That was the headline over an article regarding Oneonta's Fourth of July celebration as seen in The Oneonta Herald of Wednesday, July 2, 1862. It was a preview of the planned events.

In the July 9 edition, a summary told how the celebration was incredibly well-attended, and with a war under way in the South, the mood was patriotic.

If you were hoping to get a good night's sleep or perhaps sleep in a bit on the big day, you were out of luck.

"When the clock struck 12 at midnight, the advent of the glorious 4th of July … the village bells pealed forth a grateful anthem in commemoration of the Natal day of a Nation's Freedom," the Herald reported.

"At sunrise the booming of the cannon, as it echoed and re-echoed from hill and valley, a grand National Salute of 13 guns filled the streets with people, alive to the instincts of Freedom, and imbued with the most Patriotic ardor, offering up their morning orisons to the Goddess of Liberty."

While the Albany & Susquehanna Railroad construction had gotten under way, it was still about three years before the tracks reached Oneonta, which had a population of somewhere between 675 and 750.

The Herald reported that on July 4, Oneonta had about 10,000 visitors for the festivities.

"At 9 o'clock all sounds were hushed in the mighty hum of hundreds and thousands thronging every avenue leading to our village, until every street, public square, all the Hotels and private dwellings in the village, were filled to repletion. From the green hills and rich valleys of Delaware came thousands; while a mighty mass of men women and children, gladdened the sight from the classic waters of the Schenevus, and the maidenly Charlotte, then turning, the eye beheld multitudes teeming forth from the good old patriotic towns of Otego, Butternuts and Morris, till one vast crowd of humanity filled every space in our village."

A procession began under the leadership of Gen. S.S. Burnside and staff, marching to Goodyear's Grove.

This is the area where today the Swart-Wilcox House and Riverside Elementary School are found.

The grove was likely named after Jared Goodyear, one of two men who owned land in that area at the time. In the 19th century this area had also been known as the "Leafy Temple," and in the 20th century as Wilcox Flats.

The procession was "accompanied with Martial music by the gentlemanly band from Croton, Del. Co," today's Treadwell, "and Uebel's Oneonta Sax-Horn Band, both of which on the occasion of forming the procession and at intervals during the exercises of the day 'discoursed most eloquent music.'

"The thousands who assembled at the grove, will never forget the chastened fervor and patriotic enthusiasm that characterized the proceedings. Amidst this vast assemblage exuberant feelings of joy reigned supreme, blended, perhaps, with sad thoughts, that relatives, friends and countrymen, were this moment fighting and bleeding to preserve those liberties guaranteed us by our fathers years ago at Philadelphia."

After the grove exercises, the procession returned to the village hotels and other places, where dinner was provided to nearly 2,000.

The meal was called dinner, but we call it lunch today.

"At 4 o'clock the vast multitude was set all agap by the appearance in the streets of a large company of Guerillas, dressed and equipt in the most fantastic and tatterdemalion styles imaginable; on foot and on horse back, Jeff. Davis and his wife riding in a carriage, accompanied by John Bull, special artists, black servants, &c.; the whole a most admirable burlesque on the Southern Confederacy and its army, and the duplicity of John Bull. With a good display of fire-works in the evening, the day and its exercises were over, each one present carrying to his home pleasant memories of the many enjoyments afforded in this days Celebration, and a fixed resolve to celebrate the 4th of July annually, the remaining part of this century at Oneonta."

On Monday: A popular livestock show in Otsego County turns 65.

City Historian Mark Simonson's column appears twice weekly. On Saturdays, his column focuses on the area during the Depression and before. His Monday columns address local history after the Depression. If you have feedback or ideas about the column, write to him at The Daily Star, or email him at simmark@stny.rr.com. His website is www.oneontahistorian.com. His columns can be found at www.thedailystar.com/marksimonson.

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