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November 10, 2012

Oneonta's First Presbyterians sought a better church in 1887

The Daily Star

---- — In yet another likely example of a crowd gathering in Oneonta for construction or demolition of a building, eyewitnesses saw a bit of history start to crumble on Tuesday, Aug. 2, 1887, at the site of today’s First Presbyterian Church at 296 Main St. What they saw was the old church being demolished to make way for a new and improved church, still here 125 years after construction began.

“Around the steeple a strong rope was placed,” The Oneonta Herald reported, “and after the fastenings had been loosened it was pulled over, striking the ground with a mighty crash and going into a thousand pieces. The associations which cluster about this ancient edifice are so dear that it cannot pass away without a heartfelt sigh from many people of the village.”

The reason the old church was so dear was because it pre-dated the formation of the town of Oneonta, which was in 1830. When the Presbyterian Church was built in 1816, Oneonta was still a part of the town of Milford.

The Presbyterian Society in January 1887 had finally decided it wanted a better church, and consulted with an architect, Lyman H. Blend, who drew up plans for several other early Oneonta buildings.

The Society knew it would have to raise funds for a new house of worship, so that work got under way. A notable event took place on Saturday, Feb. 12, at the new First National Bank building, once found on the south side of Main Street, west of Dietz Street. The ladies of the Presbyterian Society called it a “crazy supper.”

As described in the Herald, “Milk was served in a pop bottle, pickles in a cream pitcher, sliced ham in tea cups, butter in a soup bowl and so on ad infinitum … The affair was well managed, and the success attained financially for a very satisfactory nature to the ladies of the society.”

By March 1887 it was reported that Mr. Blend’s plans had been approved and that $10,000 of the $15,000 to 18,000 required had been raised. Collis P. Huntington, a former Oneontan whose family had been members of the church, pledged $3,000 in April. The final cost was actually $22,000 but the church was totally free of debt by the time the church was dedicated.

By July, bids had been requested for construction, and the contract was awarded to Parker Wilson of Potter & Co.

With the demolition beginning in early August, the congregation temporarily moved their services to the Stanton Opera House, once found at the corner of Main and Chestnut streets, where today’s 125 Main St. is found. The opera house was demolished in the early 1970s as part of Oneonta’s urban renewal program.

Blend bought the old church from Potter & Co. for $200. The Herald said it was removed “to the rear of the D. Hecox lot on Main st., just below the railroad track, west side … It will be fitted into a tenement house for the accommodation of six families.” Housing in that area was growing in demand at the time, as the D&H Railroad shops were hiring many new employees.

The church construction began and the cornerstone laying ceremony was held on Monday, Sept. 26. Progress in construction was smooth, and it was reported in late May 1888 that the new church “is to be lighted with the electric light.”

Services were first held in the new church on Sunday, Nov. 11, 1888. An impressive dedication service was then held on Tuesday, Nov. 20. Later that day, the Rev. John H. Brandow was installed as the pastor of the church.

One piece of the 1816 church was saved as it was being disassembled. A wooden pin, 8½ inches long was returned in recent years, used to pin beams. Susan Bender of Stuart, Fla., said that the pin had belonged to her great grandfather, Albert B. Tobey, an Oneonta merchant who had joined the church in 1867.

The First Presbyterian Church will be a participant at an open house at the Calvary Hill Retreat Center, 290 Chestnut St., on Saturday, Nov. 17, during a time to explore our area’s Christian heritage. Other churches will be participating in presentations between 1 and 3:30 p.m.

On Monday: An evacuation test of residents from Binghamton to Deposit in 1957.

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 His website is His columns can be found at