For many years now, as people come in to Oneonta using the James F. Lettis Highway, one of the first things they notice is a very attractive garden with trees at the corner of Maple and Main streets. That first impression a newcomer sees, known as Curtis Park, is the work of the Oneonta Federated Garden Club, which helps keep it looking its best.
As the club today celebrates the 75th anniversary of becoming a federated club, this most visible project only scratches the surface of what the club has provided at many places around the city through the years.
Although federated in 1938, the Garden Club got its start in 1931 as a project of what was then the Oneonta Woman’s Club. It began with a flower sale in a vacant downtown storefront. In 1933 the new club separated from the Woman’s Club and by 1938 the club had drawn up a constitution and became federated.
According to minutes from the first regular meeting held on Monday, May 16, 1938, it was held in “the beautiful garden of Mrs. Addie Borst on Maple St. and was in the form of a Tulip Party.” A business meeting was called to order at 4 p.m. by the president, Mrs. Clarence Ceperley. Plans were made for a summer flower show in the coming months.
“The objects of the club were set forth as to promote interest in gardens, beautify the City of Oneonta, encourage civic pride and cooperate in the protection of wild flowers and native plants,” it was reported in The Oneonta Star.
While protection of plants was one of the club’s objectives, an exception was made in one of their earliest public projects, as reported in an undated 1941 Oneonta Star article.
“As part of the ragweed elimination campaign sponsored by the Oneonta Federated Garden club specimens of the weed were put on exhibit in 12 stores and other public places, with placards reading, ‘Ragweed — Destroy It!’”
As many of us are highly aware of it at this time each year, ragweed is a leading cause of hay fever. How successful that campaign fared remained uncertain that year.
While World War II was well underway, the club in 1943 emphasized the need for and gave advice to many on planting Victory gardens in the city. Many grew their own fruits and vegetables, so farms could grow foods necessary to help the war effort overseas.
In the fall of 1943 about a dozen window displays downtown showed crops and flowers harvested, as part of the “Federated Garden club Victory club Victory harvest show.”
A Star article reported, “One window featured Uncle Sam’s familiar hat overflowing with the fruits of the earth, while another showed a sailor dummy looking with satisfaction on the produce from someone’s Victory garden.”
A more visible project the Garden Club got involved with was in 1965. Many may remember a large rotunda that existed on the upper level of Huntington Park. It had been built in 1914 and after all those years had deteriorated to a point beyond saving. The rotunda was demolished, and once the debris was cleared the area was seeded and many Pinksters were planted by the club.
More recent projects have been regular plantings of flowers in the Main Street business district, after the large round planters were introduced with the new design of the streets and sidewalks in 1980. The club also assisted in the creation of Maple Street Park, at the corner of Maple and State Streets in the early 1990s. This formerly was a paved playground across from Old Main and the Bugbee School.
When the Garden Club started in 1938, membership was exclusive and by invitation only. Current members of nearly 20 years each, Marilyn Ball and Fran Bliven, can recall when joining was still by invitation. That requirement has long since been abandoned.
“This isn’t the fancy hats, white gloves and corsages worn to the meetings type of club,” Bliven said, comparing it to long ago.
“There’s no requirement of knowing much about flowers or gardening,” Ball added, “just to have an interest in them and the making or keeping places attractive.” Ball said the club isn’t just for women, as three men are currently members.
Current membership with the Oneonta Federated Garden Club is around 100. The Oneonta club belongs within the Sixth District of New York Federated Garden Clubs, with active organizations nearby in Binghamton, Butternuts, Greene, Norwich and Oxford.
Mayor Dick Miller read a city proclamation for the club’s anniversary at Fabulous Friday last evening, and the club will have an anniversary luncheon on Tuesday.
For more information about the club, visit www.oneontagardenclub.org
On Monday: Keeping our area litter free since 1983, at a nickel per bottle.
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.