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November 13, 2010

'Oneonta 360' captures essence of our area

The fact that Oneonta's new branding campaign has generated so much controversy shows how passionately people feel about this place.

One thing everyone might agree on is that the essence of Oneonta cannot be easily conveyed in a few words or a logo. However, photographer Stephen Joseph makes a fascinating attempt to capture it in his new book, "Oneonta 360." If you haven't seen it yet, stop by Huntington Library, where one two-page spread is on display each day.

Both "City of the Hills" and "Life Enjoyed" are represented in the book in quotes from Oneonta residents interspersed with fabulous 360-degree photos of local scenes. Each image is made up of a series of floor-to-ceiling, full-circle photos, "stitched" together on the computer to create a panoramic scene.

In a recent radio interview on WUOW, Joseph, who grew up in Oneonta and now lives in California, said the 86 images in the book represent "my favorite places in Oneonta, and then some."

From a family birthday party for his mother, to Brooks' House of Bar-B-Q's, where Joseph said he's been eating "since I was born," to Huntington Library, where "I sat there and watched my high school girlfriend do all of her homework … while I stared out the window," the book "just captures everything that's important to me in Oneonta over the last eight years."

For me, as for many of the Oneontans quoted in the book, Oneonta's landscape, location and size are part of what makes it the perfect place in which to live and work.

Oneonta is ideal for folks who want to enjoy all four seasons to the fullest. Sledding, snowmobiling, skiing, skating, fishing, hiking, swimming and boating can all be done close to home. Some people can even do these activities right in their own backyards, and that's another part of Oneonta's appeal. It's close enough for a day trip to Albany -- or even Manhattan or Boston -- yet far enough from big-city life that we can enjoy quick commutes, quiet evenings, rural views and walks in the woods.

Oneonta's size is also just right. I've lived here most of my life, but I meet someone new every time I go to the hair salon. At the same time, I like knowing that I'll probably see a familiar face at the grocery store or the YMCA, and it's great to be able to get from just about any Point A to Point B in 15 minutes or less.

I appreciate the fact that there are so many people in Joseph's photographs -- at the Neptune Diner counter, in the Main Street Baptist Church pews, in artists' studios, at the Farmers' Market and on the Frostbite 5K Run course, to name a few -- because ultimately, Oneonta's people are what make it special. The folks whose families have lived here for generations are the history keepers; they can tell stories of fathers or grandfathers who worked on the D&H; they remember Broad Street, Southside without stores, the lower River Street bridge and Bresee's in its heyday. Oneonta's newer residents, lured by our landscape, colleges and hospitals, bring fresh ideas and new energy, helping to keep our community vibrant and growing.

Whether we've lived here a year or a lifetime, Oneontans share a sense of community that's difficult to quantify or describe.

The people of Oneonta love the children of their community -- so much so that blustery winds and swirling snowflakes could not keep them from coming out to see their little princesses and goblins parade down Main Street on Halloween.

The people of Oneonta stand up for the things they hold dear -- whether it's by writing a letter to the editor expressing concerns about natural-gas drilling or attending a school board meeting to show support for the high school swimming and diving program.

The people of Oneonta make time to give back to the community -- from washing dishes at the Saturday's Bread soup kitchen to handing out cups of water on the Pit Run course. They are also quick to help friends and neighbors through hard times by participating in fundraisers -- whether it's attending a spaghetti supper, baking a pan of brownies or plunging into icy water during the annual Polar Bear Jump at Goodyear Lake.

As for the brouhaha over the new brand? Shakespeare said it best:

"What's in a name? That which we call a rose

By any other name would smell as sweet…"

Lisa Miller is a freelance writer who lives in Oneonta. She can be reached at

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