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November 9, 2013

Creating better sewers helped many during Great Depression

Many remember from the 1950s sitcom “The Honeymooners,” Ed Norton worked in the sewers and made plenty of funny remarks about his job. It wasn’t a glamorous job, but someone had to do it.

“Like we say in the sewer,” Norton once quipped, “time and tide wait for no man.”

During the Great Depression many unemployed men in Oneonta were probably happy if not relieved to take on jobs to expand the city’s sewage and water facilities. The city was required by the state to do so if they wanted to have a new state tuberculosis hospital built here. That became the Homer Folks Tuberculosis Hospital, where the Oneonta Job Corps Academy is now.

The Oneonta Star reported on Tuesday, Feb. 2, 1932, that the Parish farm site, “located near the Pony Farm crossing over the D. & H. tracks on the Otego road, has been definitely picked for the location of the city sewage treatment works.” This is the area known today as Silas Lane in the city’s West End between the Susquehanna River and Interstate 88.

The city had been under pressure from the state Board of Health as far back as 1912 to end the dumping of sewage directly into the Susquehanna. Voters in March of that year approved about $14,400 worth of improvements to what was a rustic system, expanding the lines, but still dumping contents into the river near the outlet of today’s millrace below Neahwa Park. Not surprisingly, popular youth swimming holes of the day along the river were found well above this site.

The 1932-33 project made vast improvements and expansions to the city’s system. The city offered $150 per acre to the Parish estate for the new site, while the Parish estate asked for $400 per acre. The city in turn went to condemnation proceedings to obtain the land. After negotiations, the city agreed to pay $4,000 for the 12 acres of land.

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