Oneontans said farewell to one of their esteemed residents. Two big construction projects got underway, and crowds cheered on Oneonta’s “Iron Man.” These were all part of our life and times in August 1928.
It’s just my opinion, but when it comes time to die, it’s best when you’re in a place you enjoy. Such was the case for David Forrest Wilber, as The Oneonta Star reported on Monday, Aug. 16, 1928.
“Hon. David Forrest Wilber, former member of congress, long engaged in the consular service of the United States and easily the most widely known and most esteemed resident of Oneonta, died at his summer camp at Upper Dam, Maine yesterday morning ... following a decline of more than a year ... having been compelled to forego his favorite pastime of fishing.”
Wilber was born in Milford in December 1859, and after his education at Milford and at the Cazenovia Seminary, he joined his father, David, and brother, George I., in the hop business of David Wilber & Sons. Young David moved to Oneonta in 1880 to open an office for the firm. He also built a brick residence at the corner of Ford Avenue and Main Street, where Community Bank is today. The house was replaced in the early 1920s by the Palace Theatre.
Wilber entered politics, serving as a county supervisor and then elected to Congress in a district made up from Otsego, Montgomery, Schoharie, Greene and Schenectady counties. Wilber served from 1895 to 1903.
President Theodore Roosevelt appointed Wilber as a Consul General at Singapore in 1903, and he was then either promoted or transferred to other countries until 1923, thereafter returning to Oneonta to care for property interests and enjoying his remaining years in travel and favorite diversions, such as fishing.
One of D.F. Wilber’s early property interests was a partnership with Reuben Reynolds and Fred Wilcox in acquiring the Yager farm, found near the top of Maple Street, and then providing the state with the site for the State Normal School, today’s State University College at Oneonta. Wilber was highly active in the development of Oneonta from 1880 to 1900.
While Wilber saw the Normal School’s early success, he just missed the start of construction of the new Hartwick College. On Wednesday, Aug. 22, 1928, the Star reported that Williamson & Son of Elmira started excavating for the cellar and leveling surrounding ground for the first building on campus. We know it today as Bresee Hall.
With only weeks to go until Hartwick began instruction, 50 students had been enrolled, with several more to come in the weeks ahead. The school was set to open on Tuesday, Sept. 25, at temporary headquarters of the old Walling mansion, at the corner of Walling Avenue and Main Street. The United Presbyterian “Red Door” Church is found there today.
If they were wealthy enough, future students could have the opportunity to fly into Oneonta and land at the growing West End Airport, in the area where NYSEG and several businesses on Browne Avenue are located today.
“Good progress was being made,” it was reported on Thursday, Aug. 23, “by Owen P. Williams, contractor, in the grading, leveling and rolling of two runways at the city’s West End airport at the direction of the Chamber of Commerce Aviation committee and it is expected that before the end of the week the airport will afford two very satisfactory runways. There are now six planes permanently located at the field and visitors are frequently entertained there.”
While airplanes and flying were entertaining, so were an automobile and its driver on a mission.
“Charley Young, the ‘Iron Man,’ who on Tuesday morning (Aug. 21) started out on an effort to drive a Pontiac about Oneonta and in its vicinity for 101 hours without leaving the front seat of the car, without stopping the motor, without sleep, and with only milk as a food collapsed Saturday evening at 5:03 .. on Main Street near Broad, having driven 100 hours and 33 minutes and lacking only 27 minutes of reaching his self-set mark.”
Many hundreds gathered downtown to cheer Young on, or at best try to keep him awake. Attendants were riding with him, in case he did collapse, helping to avoid a serious accident. Young was administered “restoratives.”
“He was then taken to the showroom of the Owen-Worley company, local dealers for Pontiac cars, where he slept in the view of curious crowds for several hours,” it was reported.
The task proved to be a helpful advertising gimmick, as Samuel DeAngelo, a barber, bought the nearly new Pontiac with 1,061 miles, driven by Young.
On Monday: A new horse show on Webb Island in 1948.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. His website is www.oneontahistorian.com. His columns can be found at www.thedailystar.com/marksimonson.