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Columns

April 28, 2012

A daily newspaper for Oneonta was an achievement in 1887

Depending on the electronic device you have these days, accessing news can be made nearly as soon as something happens. Oneontans of 125 years ago got their news on a weekly basis, courtesy of The Oneonta Herald.

The Herald got some new competition beginning on Monday, May 2, 1887, and it was quite exciting when residents of the area could get their news daily, due to the introduction of the Oneonta Daily Local.

"This day marks a new event in Oneonta's history," the opening day editorial read. "In recognition of the demands of our business men and the frequently expressed wish of many of our citizens for a daily paper to record the occurrences of our embryo city, the Oneonta Local steps forward and makes its introductory bow to our citizens. It is the pioneer daily of Otsego county, and with hopeful diffidence the publishers launch their little newspaper bark upon the sea of public criticism and, they trust, of public favor."

The Local was 10 cents per week delivered at your door, or two cents a copy.

It wasn't actually the first daily newspaper, but it did have a longer life than another in 1871, called the Morning Call. That endeavor lasted two issues.

The Oneonta Local got off to a good start, as the editorial on May 3 stated the reception was favorable, as "a score of newsboys scattered the little sheet broadcast through the village as well as could be expected from an impromptu lot of little fellows who seemed to catch the spirit of excitement and general commendation which greeted our initial number."

"It will take a few days to get the new enterprise well under way, and until such time we invoke the patient forbearance of all our readers, as the work is as new to the publishers as it is to the people." The publishers were J. Sherry Smith and H.M. Worth.

The Oneonta Local was short-lived, but it covered some interesting stories of the time.

From Vol. 1, No. 1 came the first local news item, "The clock tower and dials have been nicely painted." This was around the time the first town clock went operational, atop the former Westcott Block, now the parking lot between the Ruffino Mall and 242 Main St. Another news item several below that one read, "The striking of our town clock can be distinctly heard at Wm. Fuller's, on upper East street, a mile distant."

Probably the biggest news story covered by the new paper came that same month. The Wednesday, May 18, edition shows a front page article with an image of a rooster, with headline stating "This Rooster Crows over the Success of the Normal School Bill. HURRAH!"

The Normal School is today's State University College at Oneonta, with the first building opening in 1889.

"The Normal School bill, which has been watched with so much interest by our people, has been signed by the Governor. The news had no sooner been announced than it spread like wildfire all over our village, and the face of every resident, large or small, was wreathed in smiles."

Congratulations were expressed to those who worked to get the bill passed, and the Local was kind enough to "tender our condolences to our weeping brethren of the Franklin Delaware Literary Institute!" The school had been competing to get a Normal School located in Franklin.

Other news stories covered construction of 168 new buildings of several kinds, including the First Presbyterian Church, a knitting mill, a chair factory and a sash, blind and door factory.

Work began on an upper reservoir for the village's water supply, a first sewer was laid on Ford Avenue, and electric lights made their first appearance.

One of the advertisers in the new paper was B.F. Sisson & Co., which boasted of a new store. Sisson's had opened in 1885 at a location near today's Clinton Plaza, but had relocated to 180-184 Main St. after a fire, where it did business until 1988.

The Oneonta Local lasted into February 1888, as another new paper, the Oneonta Daily News, said in its first edition, "The recent failure of a similar enterprise has apparently only intensified the popular demand for a daily newspaper."

That too was short-lived, as the Oneonta Daily Star became the fourth effort at a daily newspaper in June 1890.

On Monday: Some news items from April 1982.

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.

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