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August 4, 2012

Site in Oneonta chosen for Hartwick College in 1927

By August 1927 it was no longer "late, breaking news" that Hartwick College would be established in Oneonta. That news had been learned back in March. A "Greater Hartwick" campaign to raise $600,000 by both the Hartwick Seminary and Oneonta's citizens was well under way.

Part of the campaign was also to provide a suitable location with ample grounds for the present and future needs of the institution. The site hadn't yet been determined, but it was first reported in The Oneonta Star of Tuesday, Aug. 2, 1927.

"Hartwick college will be located on the bluff west of Clinton street and south of upper West street, the site recommended by the committee on site of the Chamber of Commerce, which has been accepted by the Hartwick commission named by the Lutheran Synod of New York … The plot embraces upwards of 100 acres of land, the larger part of which has been donated by public spirited citizens of the city."

Those public-spirited citizens were Mr. and Mrs. Fred M. Baker, D.F. Keyes, Mr. and Mrs. L.C. Millard and Mrs. Clara Stevens Keyes. One property was purchased for $9,000 at the corner of West and Clinton streets.

The land was a big help, but so were the citizen donors who were giving money to make the college possible. Supreme Court Justice Abraham L. Kellogg and Frank H. Bresee had given $10,000 each. With all other donors, $208,000 had been pledged, or about $80 per family in Oneonta. The Hartwick Seminary Bulletin marveled, "It is doubtful whether any city of like size in the United States has ever done anything similar for a denominational school."

On that same Tuesday of the site location it was reported that a large group attending "summer assembly" at the Hartwick Seminary, near Cooperstown, made a "pilgrimage" to Oneonta to look over the new site for Hartwick College.

"The visitors halted first at Wilber park where they had a picnic dinner … at 5 o'clock and then went to 'College Hill,' and many of them rambled pretty well over the 115 acre plot."

The "throng gathered near the spot where some have assumed the first building may be erected, and interesting exercises were held, with Rev. Mr. Boomhower presiding and opening with a brief address." There were others who spoke, and both patriotic and sacred hymns were sung. A groundbreaking ceremony for that first building was held at a later date.

It was announced in late September 1927 that the Hartwick College executive offices would be moved from New York City to Oneonta by Oct. 1. The temporary site chosen was leased in the Van Wie block, today's 16 Dietz St., formerly a General Cash store and now the Getman Law Office. Once the office was settled, those who had made pledges to the Greater Hartwick campaign could bring in their first installments.

A newly formed advisory commission met with the Trustees of Hartwick Seminary on Wednesday, Sept. 28, at the newly opened Oneonta office. It was organized by Dr. Charles R. Myers, president of the Hartwick Seminary. Matters such as campus development, property and architecture, full accreditation, organization of departments and faculty, publicity and student enrollment were on the agenda of the meeting, which lasted until the middle of the afternoon.

The following summer, on Tuesday, June 26, 1928, the trustees and many dignitaries climbed "College Hill" again, this time to break ground for the first building, first named Science Hall, later known as Bresee Hall.

On Monday: A Maple Street eyesore gets a facelift.

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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