Andrew Bresee was in for quite a surprise when he began constructing a home in 1888. His project was among a number of building projects going on in Oneonta in the early months of 1888, as the village was expanding outward from today’s center city.
“The sale of a building lot and the construction of a house at the corner of Main and Otsego streets has made necessary the removal of the remains of several persons who have long been buried there,” it was reported in he Oneonta Herald of Jan. 5. “On Monday Andrew Bresee and an assistant began the work of exhuming the bodies, or what was left of them. The remains of five persons were discovered, and all that was left of the bones was placed in a small box and buried, to await the sound of Gabriel’s trumpet, in the old portion of the Riverside cemetery,” found today in the back of the First Presbyterian Church, 296 Main St.
The article did not specify which side of Otsego Street the house was built. This section of what was then still a village was far removed from building activities until the latter 19th century, having been farmland for several local residents.
“As to who the people were who have so long remained in undisturbed slumber at this spot, there seems obtainable only meagre (sic) information. J.R.L. Walling, who owns the farm which the lot was sold, says that when his father, Simeon Walling, moved to this locality in 1786, and bought the farm on which Mr. Walling now lives … there were then several graves, marked by rude stones, at this spot, and that thereafter was one burial there.” Walling said it was a man by the name of Adams who had come to the area with a surveying crew to map out the original Wallace Patent, of which Walling made a purchase for his farm. Walling’s home was once found at the corner of Main Street and Walling Avenue, where the United Presbyterian Church is today.
“Several of the railroad employes (sic) of Oneonta have built from their savings some of the neatest residences in the village,” it was reported on Jan. 19. “Notably is this so of the dwellings of H.C. Smith and Charles Beach.” The article didn’t say where these homes were. “Engineer Charles Ossiker has just paid $1,000 for the vacant lot at Watkins ave. and Fairview st. and awarded the contract for a fine house to contractor Butts. The railroad engineer who earns from $90 to $125 per month, has as large a net income as many men who have their capital invested in business, and every engineer ought, therefore, to have a good home of his own.”
No construction had yet begun at the top of Maple Street for the new Oneonta Normal School, the beginning of what is today’s State University College at Oneonta. The funds budgeted in 1887 for the building, $45,000, apparently didn’t seem sufficient for a structure of quality in the minds of some. A superintendent of public instruction said, concerning the Oneonta construction, that $45,000 was inadequate for a suitable building.
“A flimsy building, which will always be discreditable to the state and which will cost more in a few years to keep in repair than a good building will cost now can be erected, but that is manifestly unwise.”
What that meant was $114,000 would be more sufficient for the building. The request was made in a bill introduced by state Sen. Frank B. Arnold in 1888, and approved by the state Legislature. The building stood until 1977.
In “An Opinion from Walton” seen in the Herald in January, the bill should have been rejected.
“A stop should be put to the pernicious habit of making plans for a public building to cost two or three times the amount asked for or appropriated.—Chronicle.”
Only a few months after the first electric lights had been lit in Oneonta, “The electric light company have decided to construct a building and supply their own power. A lot on Prospect street opposite the freight house has been secured.” That building was in the area of today’s Sears and Rowe’s Auto Service, and the freight house is now a brick apartment complex. That area of Prospect Street was renamed Market Street in the 1970s. The electric light company had started their powerhouse in the area of lower Rose Avenue in what was then a new chair factor.
On Monday: Striving for better physical fitness in 1963.
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.