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November 3, 2012

Gift of land, home created Huntington Park, Library

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The Daily Star

---- — Arthur Coy’s work crew probably had a significant audience of passers-by at times on Thursday, Nov. 15, 1917, as work began on clearing an old apple orchard on the Huntington property on Chestnut Street. We know the site today as Huntington Park and Huntington Memorial Library, and this work marked the start of turning the land into the places we enjoy today.

“On the plateau that lies back of Dietz street, on a level with Church street, and sloping down to Chestnut has stood for years the old family orchard,” it was reported in The Oneonta Star the next day. “Yesterday with a plow, a block and fall, and a strong team of horses, every one of the dozen or more fruit trees was pulled up by its roots to make way for shade trees, flowers and shrubs.”

Only a couple of weeks earlier, it was reported that Henry E. Huntington had formally tendered his old home and property, that of his parents, Solon and Harriet, to the city as a gift. Huntington, born in Oneonta, had moved on to become a railroad magnate, helping his uncle Collis P. Huntington build many railroads in the western United States.

In a letter dated Nov. 1 to Oneonta Mayor Andrew E. Ceperley, Huntington wrote, “If it should be the desire of the city to house its own library in the same building, it would be perfectly satisfactory to me, but if such is the desire, I would like to be notified in due season so that I can reconstruct the building to make it suitable for the housing of the city’s library.”

At that time, Henry Huntington had an attractive home at the corner of Fifth Avenue and 57th Street in New York. A Star representative made the trip to New York to conduct an interview with Huntington for an article that appeared on Tuesday, Nov. 6.

“All I expect from the city of Oneonta,” Huntington said, “is that it will supply the lighting and furnish the water after I have had the necessary grading done.” He then took out a sheet of paper and drew his idea for a road through the park, the walkway we know today. He drew one opening on Dietz Street, near Wall Street, and another on Chestnut Street. “Of course this driveway through the park ought to be closed to business traffic,” he said.

Huntington also said he had planned to put some books into an auction, but on second thought decided to give them to the Huntington Library at Oneonta.

With the apple orchards removed, Arthur Coy had more work lined up for the new park in the upcoming spring months. It was reported on Thursday, Nov. 29 that through E.R. Ford, real estate agent for Henry Huntington, the house and property of Mrs. William H. Mosher, 8 Church St., had purchased. This is today’s upper section of Huntington Park. It was on this part of the park that a large rotunda was built in 1918, and razed in 1965. The price paid for the property was $7,500.

It was then reported on Thursday, Dec. 27, that several buildings on Huntington’s property on the west side of Dietz Street would also be removed for the lower grounds of the new park. This included a couple of houses and a big barn used as a veterinary and hitching stable. The materials were reused in constructing other new buildings at other sites around Oneonta. One small business, a shoe repair shop, was moved to another unspecified location, as it had been moved to Dietz Street once before, but it had never been taken off the runner upon which it had been moved to that site.

Work on the park and furnishing the library continued until both were opened on Friday, July 9, 1920.

Coming Monday: Many an area building project got a green light or ground was broken in November 1977.

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.