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December 7, 2013

It could be difficult to get around Oneonta in late 1888

The Daily Star

---- — In getting around Oneonta in 1888, there were pretty much two seasons for the streets — summer and “mud” season. To add to the misery of “mud” season that year, the bridge over the Susquehanna River on lower Main Street was taken out of use for a short time, replaced by a new one.

The Oneonta Daily News, a short-lived publication in the village, used its editorial power to start the process of ending “mud” season once and for all.

The News asked on Thursday, Nov. 1, “What’s the matter with establishing a stone yard, and let the tramps and those arrested for offenses punishable by short imprisonment put in the time breaking stone for our streets? Instead of drawing in dry mud we could, if we had the crushed stone, make dry hard streets instead of the mud and slush.”

To stir up debate on better streets, the News reported on Monday, Nov. 5, “We have in our office on exhibition a sample of Slag brick paving stone, manufactured at Toronto, Canada, which weigh about seventeen pounds each, and will take about 38 to a square yard, delivered at $200 per ton, (or less) and which will pave a square yard for about 29 cents.” The News publicly invited citizens and the village board of trustees to inspect the brick.

Heavy rain on Thursday, Nov. 8, made the mud problem worse, so the News on Friday reported that many came by the office to look at the brick sample.

“The citizens are beginning to seriously consider the subject, and they commence to see the necessity of something being done.” The News added, “We would suggest that a petition be circulated, to give the board of trustees power to act.”

The News added a bit of sarcasm into the matter, as a news item on Tuesday, Nov. 20,  joked, “Messrs. Jacob Farrington and Geo. Potter will run a boat from the Hathaway House, through the Broad street channel connecting with the Main street channel, thence to the Susquehanna house. The trip will be made at 10 o’clock this forenoon. Application for passage must be made before that hour.” 

The Hathaway House was nearly across from the D&H depot, where today’s Stella Luna Ristorante is. The path today would proceed northbound along the grounds of the Clarion Hotel and Muller Plaza, turn left onto Main Street and to the corner of Chestnut Street. The Susquehanna House was where the block on the northeast corner is today.

Debate over what material to use to pave the streets continued over several months until any kind of construction could begin, and in 1889 village leaders decided on wooden blocks, as the other forms of technology at the time were considered too expensive. The street surface was leveled and rolled, with tarred planks placed end to end. Seams between the planks were filled with hot tar.

While that debate went on in late 1888, another inconvenience was encountered, in the name of improvement.

The News reported on Thursday, Dec. 6, “Workmen are at work removing the old covered bridge,” where today’s bridge on lower Main Street is found. “The eastern span is already torn away. Although the time is up for the appearance of the material for the new iron bridge, it has not yet arrived and it is doubtful if it is completed by the fifteenth.”

Trustees heard plenty about this late arrival of material, as reported on Wednesday, Dec. 12.

“The removal of the old wooden bridge so long before the arrival of the new one was a mistake. Complaints are heard daily from parties living up and down the river of the great inconvenience, but more particularly to the payment of the 10 cents toll demanded by the ferryman to row them across. The village should at least provide a ferry boat.”

It was reported on Saturday, Dec. 22, that Highway Commissioner Seymour S. Kilburn went to Connecticut to check into the delay and was informed that the D&H Railroad had failed to furnish five cars to transport the materials to Oneonta. With the problem solved, the first material arrived on Thursday, Dec. 27, and work began.

The new iron bridge was opened on Wednesday, Jan. 23, 1889. Prominent citizens of Oneonta and members of the press were invited to take the first ride across the new structure at 3:30 p.m.

On Monday: Oneonta’s first foreign exchange students.

Oneonta 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