Incidents of Silver Creek overflowing into the streets of Oneonta aren’t making news as often as they once did.
The most recent events that may come to mind is in 2006, when the creek overflowed and a front-page picture in The Daily Star showed a person floating on a raft down South Main Street on June 27 of that year, or another flooding this past August. No matter how hard humankind may try to divert or control water, there’s simply no way to always outsmart Mother Nature.
For many years prior to improvements made on the course of Silver Creek in the 1920s and ‘30s, overflows were routinely in the news. A small sample from old Oneonta newspapers found severe flooding incidents in 1888, 1889, twice in 1898, and in 1904.
After the second overflow in 1898, The Oneonta Star reported on a special meeting of the village trustees held at Oneonta village hall on Monday, Aug. 29, then found on the site of today’s 242 Main St.
“W.H. Johnson esq. appeared before the board. He stated that he came at the instigation of parties who were interested in the decision of the question of what to do with Silver creek and the question of the village’s responsibility for the damages caused by the overflow of the brook mentioned.” Mr. Johnson read from the village charter that it was the duty of village trustees to regulate water courses. If necessary, he said, the trustees could condemn adjacent property to widen, broaden or deepen waterways.
The article concluded, “The matter was talked over at some length but no action was taken.” This pretty much summed up work toward a solution to the problem for several more years.
The Star reported on Feb. 13, 1922, that city attorney Owen C. Becker was drafting a bill to submit to the state legislature, allowing the city to take measures for the care and control of all three creeks flowing through the city. This meant an amendment had to be made to the city charter. By Feb. 18, the bill was presented to state Assemblyman Julian C. Smith. By March the charter amendment was approved by the state legislature, returned to Oneonta for approval by Common Council, and then returned to Albany for signature by Gov. Nathan N. Miller.