An “expensive proposition,” better transportation across Otsego County and a 500th anniversary celebration of Columbus covered some of the news as it was over a three county-region during October 1992.
If you happened to have a spare $250,000 lying around 20 years ago this month, an opportunity was yours to simply become eligible to bid Thursday, Oct. 1, for a turn-of-the 20th-century estate and mansion once owned by the Gerry family in Delaware County.
The estate, known as “Aknusti,” which is an American Indian meaning for “expensive proposition,” included 2,000 acres located off Biggar Hollow Road at the juncture of three towns — Andes, Bovina and Delhi. Robert Gerry and his wife, Cornelia Harriman Gerry, built a colonial Georgian mansion in 1912. Aknusti had been designed for the Gerry family by the Olmstead brothers, the landscape architects of New York City’s Central Park.
The estate had been sold twice since 1977, but nothing had been changed since the golden years when the Gerrys entertained famous visitors such as Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt, Gov. Averill Harriman and members of the Vanderbilt, Whitney and Phipps families. Aknusti had suffered a $1 million fire back Sunday, Feb. 1, 1953. Winds had fanned the flames, and firefighters had been hindered by bad weather and road conditions. The structure had been considered to be fireproof, although firefighters from Andes and Delhi had all they could do to save one wing of the mansion, leaving what was described as a smoldering mass of blackened rubble. Priceless paintings, rugs and antiques were lost, among other family possessions. Some valuables were saved, after the Gerrys servants had routinely placed many items in a vault, which remained intact, before the family departed for New York City on New Years’ Day.
There were about 150 onlookers as only four bidders submitted the $250,000 required. The winning bid was from Lynn Johnson, owner of Titan Drilling and an antique car collector in Arkville, for $1.75 million. Johnson had been a one-sixth owner of the property before this auction, as part of Broadlands Property Group. An anonymous bidder had gone as high as $1.5 million before dropping out.
In recent years, Aknusti has been owned by Aman Resorts.
Bus service linking much of Otsego County was made a reality by the Otsego County Board of Representatives at their meeting of Wednesday, Oct. 7. It is the service we know today as Otsego Express.
There were a few obstacles to getting the service started, as the budget for the bus was soon eliminated for 1992-93. The board then contracted for the bus service in June 1994.
Otsego Express was the official name of the service, adopted in September 1994. It had a co-title, known to many as “Gus the Bus.”
Ribbon-cutting ceremonies were held Nov. 30, 1994, at what was called the Otsego County Annex Building, 34 Chestnut St. in Cooperstown.
Christopher Columbus never made it to the town of Columbus in northeastern Chenango County, but the explorer who “sailed the ocean blue in 1492” is well recognized in this town.
To mark the 500th anniversary of Columbus’ journey, residents of the area gathered in the hamlet, found on state Route 80 on Saturday, Oct. 10, to celebrate the founding of the oldest community in the nation named after the explorer.
The community was settled in 1791 by Col. Thomas Converse and established in 1805. Why the town was named Columbus isn’t certain, although one theory has been that there was much anti-British fervor in the time between the American Revolution and the War of 1812, leading settlers to settle upon any non-British name reflecting local or national history.
Kay Winton headed an 11-member committee to celebrate the weekend, which included a huge parade and two days’ worth of activities. Winton and her husband, Jack, owned the Columbus Hotel.
This weekend: Oneonta couldn’t get enough of baseball in 1912, so they played on during the winter, indoors.
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 email@example.com. His website is www.oneontahistorian.com. His columns can be found at www.thedailystar.com/marksimonson.