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December 29, 2012

Oneonta's music, art, dance offerings increased in 1887

The Daily Star

---- — Growing up in Oneonta and having moved back here in adult years, I readily noticed in other places I lived, where there’s a college there are enhanced music, arts and cultural offerings. Oneonta has plenty to offer these days.

Prior to 1887, Oneonta wasn’t exactly a cultural wasteland, as the village had the Stanton Opera House, where 125 Main St. is today, and the railroad provided many a traveling show to perform here for those seeking entertainment.

However, when it was announced in 1887 that a new state Normal School was going to locate in Oneonta, the offerings of music, arts and culture seemed to spike. The new school didn’t open until 1889, but some enterprising people in music and cultural fields must have thought, “why wait?”

Not three months after the bill was signed by the governor to establish the Normal School in Oneonta, The Oneonta Herald reported on June 16, “We are in receipt of a very handsome invitation to the annual commencement exercise of Russell’s Conservatory of Music at Cambridgeboro, Pa. This closes Mr. Russell’s last term at Cambridgeboro. He comes to Oneonta in July, and will at once commence arrangements for the opening of the fall term of his conservatory here in September.”

The Oneonta Local of Monday, Aug. 29, reported how Russell’s Conservatory of Music had been established in 1883. Emory P. Russell had grown up in the Boston area, where he received his musical training by special instruction. He taught music in the public schools of Newton and Watertown, Mass.

In 1881 he took charge of the music department at the State Normal School in Edinboro, Pa., and eventually started his own enterprise. So Russell was no stranger to college towns. The Russell Conservatory had 43 graduates in the four years before he came to Oneonta, and the Local said the graduates had filled positions in music schools and departments in many states.

The Conservatory was located at 14 Dietz St., and according to a newspaper advertisement of Aug. 25, the fall term was set to begin on Sept. 5.

“Classes are formed in all grades, from those who have never studied music to those of advanced grades,” the ad stated. It was reported on Oct. 7 that the Conservatory has “received unqualified praise and commendation from its patrons. The number of students now enrolled are 37.”

A short item in the Local of Oct. 15 said, “Outside of this village the remark has been made, ‘the undertaking of a new enterprise in Oneonta means success.’ Among the recent embarkments (sic) here has been Russell’s conservatory of music, in connection with which is the art school, under the instruction of Prof. Waters, the present arrangement of which meets with favor among the pupils. For the benefit of boys Mr. Watson meets a class in mechanical drawing on Wednesday evening, and for Thursday evening a class in free-hand drawing for the benefit of young ladies. These lessons are free to the regular pupils in painting.”

Elsewhere, the Local advertised a “Select Dancing School” of Prof. J.A. Haldin.

“All those having a desire to learn the Fashionable Ball Room Dances, will find it to their benefit to attend the opening,” which was Wednesday, Oct. 19. Saturday lessons were offered for children.

No location appeared in the advertisement. Terms for 10 weeks of lessons cost $6 for gentlemen, $4 for ladies.

The bottom of the ad read, “I reserve the right to reject all objectionable persons. Respectfully, J.A. Haldin.”

Musical training, art classes and dancing didn’t end the offerings that fall. Also reported in the Local on Oct. 20, 1887, “Some of our young men talk of organizing a literary society to meet once a week during the winter, at which debates, essays, readings and vocal music will be the prominent features. Such an organization could be made very profitable to its members, and we hope to see it succeed.”

Russell’s Conservatory of Music was short-lived in Oneonta. While listed in the 1889-90 village directory, it was gone in the 1881-92 edition. According to the History of Crawford County, Pa., published in 1895, Emory P. Russell was residing in Boston.

On Monday: Some interesting developments in 1972 that are still relevant today.

City Historian Mark Simonson’s column appears twice weekly. On Saturdays, his column focuses on the area during the Great Depression and before. His Monday columns address local history after the Great Depression. If you have feedback or ideas about the column, write to him at The Daily Star, or email him at His website is His columns can be found at