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Columns

May 26, 2012

A Main Street facelift for Oneonta in the 1920s

It has been just a little over 30 years, since 1980 in fact, that Main Street in Oneonta went through a major transformation in appearance. Even now I'll hear mixed comments about the changes, which included antique style lamps, trees, planters and brick trim. Some liked the changes, while others liked the wider street with the even-sized sidewalks.

The same type of discussion and debate for Main Street was under way in 1922, as the era of electric trolleys as public transportation was on the way out.

Nearly 80 attended a forum dinner of the Oneonta Chamber of Commerce on Friday, Dec. 15, at the Elks' home, then found at 99 Main St., to discuss what was considered to be a "congested business center." The forum meeting was called "Making Main Street Right."

The Oneonta Star reported the next day that the sentiment was in favor of removal of the trolley tracks from the congested area and favored the substitution of a bus line for the East End trolley route, in due time.

Trolley service was discontinued on the branch to the State Normal School in 1923, then found at the top of Maple Street. Fred Bliss started a motor bus line to replace the trolley to the school. The entire city line was abandoned by the mid-1920s and the trolley rails were removed from Oneida Street in 1926. Bus service took its place.

In addition to the trolley track removal in the business district, discussion favored widening the street, thus making the sidewalks a bit narrower.

Oneonta School Superintendent John Frederick reported that the residents of the East End, with a few exceptions, were opposed to the substitution of a bus line for the trolley. The residents feared poor service and higher fares with a bus line.

Mayor Clarence C. Miller commented on the removal of the trolley tracks and gave reasons why a bus line would be favorable. Miller said that with "a trackless trolley, such as has been adopted in other cities, the cars can move in and out among the traffic and avoid collisions, which are unavoidable where the track system is used. The cars can also run up to the curb to receive and discharge passengers, avoiding the danger to which passengers are subjected when boarding or leaving cars in the center of the street."

Mayor Miller also suggested a change for parking an increasing number of automobiles in the city.

He suggested a large area bounded by Main, Broad, Market and lower Chestnut streets that had seen "little improvements made," as a site for parking. The city could acquire a large part of it and could "make provision for a covered parking place and public market with stalls, with possibly a subway from Main street under one of the stores on the south side of Main street, through which the parking places could be reached by those who had left cars there."

Another improvement discussed at the dinner was the removal of all utility poles in the business district. A "resident manager of the Gas & Electric corporation told briefly of the plans for pole removal." The plans were completed by 1928.

Miller's parking idea was brought to reality in the mid-1970s with the building of the three-level parking garage at the corner of lower Chestnut and Market streets, followed by the walkway to Main Street. It was part of an urban renewal plan for the city developed in the 1960s and '70s.

Next weekend, as The Daily Star will not publish Monday: It was a significant year for baseball in Oneonta in 1912.

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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