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October 13, 2012

Improvements, new ventures in Oneonta in 1912

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The Daily Star

---- — A bigger school, street improvements, new businesses and organizations, and a future president’s visit were among events making news in 1912 in Oneonta.

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Where the Oak Square Apartments now stand on River Street, was once a school that was incredibly overcrowded in 1912, the River Street School. A two-room annex was added to that school in the early months of the year, costing $6,500.

“Modern ideas in the erection of such buildings have been carried out in every detail,” reported The Oneonta Star on May 2, “and the students have sanitary, well ventilated and well lighted class rooms.” The rooms would soon be ready for use by first- and fourth-graders. Each room was built for a capacity of 49 students.

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In the early 21st century, Water Street in Oneonta has seen some improvements in appearance, such as nicer sidewalks, banners and store façade upgrades.

In 1912, Water Street connected Chestnut Street Extension and Broad Street. According to the Star, “The Oneonta Water company are making preparations to place a hydrant on Water street in the rear of Main street. This protection in case of a fire in that section will be of value to the fire department in getting water quickly, as it does away with the necessity of laying a long line of hose from Main street.”

Additionally, an arc light had been ordered to be placed on the street, “because at the present the rear of the stores … are in total darkness and a fine place for a thief or an incendiary to work without detection or to make his escape after being detected.

“The street will be improved and graded by the board of public works and the conditions in general will be much bettered.”

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What was called “The Union of Oneonta for Work Among the Foreigners” was formed in September 1912.

There was a meeting of the City Missionary Union on Thursday, Sept. 5, at the YMCA, then found on Broad Street. The object of this formation “is the education of and promotion of true Christian citizenship among the foreigners of Oneonta.”   

Many from Europe and the Middle East were coming to the U.S., taking jobs in the still growing Delaware & Hudson Railroad yards in the city at that time.

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As the 1912 election approached, Oneonta was visited by the former governor of Ohio, Warren G. Harding, on Friday, Nov. 1. It was part of a major Republican rally, held at the Oneonta Theatre. A parade with torchlights preceded the rally.

Having Harding in Oneonta was special, as the Star noted, “Mr. Harding makes only two political speeches in this state, and one of them is at Oneonta.”

Harding had become well-known on the national scene, as he had re-nominated William Howard Taft, the 27th president, who was defeated by Woodrow Wilson. Harding later became the 29th president of the United States.

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The night before this rally was Halloween, and called “Chalk Night” in Oneonta, something called common only to our city.

“This special holiday has been originated by the youngsters of this city, in belief that on the day preceding All Saints day they can have the privilege of marking anybody or anything with chalk without the fear of punishment. This they did to their hearts content, though the teachers in the public schools took due precautions to lock up all surplus supplies of this material.”

Youngsters enjoyed it, but it wasn’t necessarily condoned by their parents.

“Not content with making all kinds of hideous characters on the sidewalks and on the backs of unsuspicious persons some of the boys have taken a delight in writing unprintable words on various public spots. The parents of a few of these offenders caught their beloved offspring in the act and applied a slipper where it did the most good. Truly a worthy example to follow,” the Star said.

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With the recent passing of Sidney Levine, one of his future employers got a start in November 1912, as Riley J. Warren and B.J. Weber formed a partnership under the firm name of the Oneonta Ford Sales Co., after closing a contract to sell Ford Motor cars. This Ford dealership endured until 1975, and the company then became known as Oneonta Sales Co.

The business began at a site on Market Street and moved to the corner of Market and Chestnut Street Extension in the early 1920s. Levine joined the company in 1934, where he later became the general manager and president, retiring and closing the company in 1997.

On Monday: Major Oneonta capital improvements were planned in the fall of 1962.

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.