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May 4, 2013

Disaster, expansions put people to work in May 1913

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The Daily Star

---- — Edwin W. Elmore could probably only stare at the ruins of his family’s mill in Oneonta when he arrived here in a hasty return from a business trip on Thursday, May 8, 1913. Fire destroyed the massive Elmore Milling Co. plant, then found in the area of today’s Carbon Street and Neahwa Place, on Tuesday night. One man was killed.

While very minor in comparison to what happened this past April 17 at West, Texas, one thing in common for Oneonta was Elmore’s vow to rebuild the mill and put his 45 to 50 employees back to work.

While some of the Elmore millworkers were idled, it did mean work for construction crews in the rebuilding process. Other building projects around the city called for additional workers during May 1913.

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Shortly before 9:30 p.m. Tuesday, May 6, Norman Bleeker, a night miller, had discovered the fire in what was called the Hallstead mill, where oats were being ground. A city fire alarm box was activated and the millworkers rushed to safety.

When firefighters arrived from the station, then found at 242 Main St., they saw the mill was doomed and plans were made to save adjacent property. With the intense heat and coal pockets of the Oneonta Coal and Supply Co. very close by, this fire could have spread and caused more damage.

Harry Rowland had fled from the mill with the other men, but when a call was made for more fire hose, he went back into the mill to retrieve one, and was apparently overcome by smoke and flames. Rowland, then 29, left a wife and three small children, who resided on Boylston Street in the Sixth Ward.

Elmore praised firefighters and volunteers for work to save the area from greater harm. The mill’s damage was estimated at $250,000 and was fully covered by insurance.

Announcing that the mill would be rebuilt, The Oneonta Herald of May 15 added, “The Elmores are men of sanguine temperaments and optimists surely and the future will without doubt see a modern mill with the latest machinery and the business growing even faster than ever before.”

Rebuilding began soon and was completed by 1914.

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Business had been so good for the Hoffman Cleansing Works during 1913 that it had moved from 122 Main St. to a new site at 204 Main St.

Furthermore, according to The Oneonta Star of Saturday, May 17, “As soon as the necessary labor can be secured, W.H. Hoffman will build a concrete addition to the rear of his present quarters ... which will give him ample room for the installation of machinery of the most modern make for cleaning articles of all kinds.”

City directories after 1913 listed Hoffman’s at 224 Main St. The business didn’t move, but there were street number changes that year for Main and other major streets in the city. Hoffman’s was here until the late 1930s, when Sears & Roebuck built a new store, which opened on Nov. 14, 1940. The building is owned today by the Ruffino family. Hoffman’s eventually relocated to 214 Main St., where the Red Caboose is now found.

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“The work upon the new grandstand at Neahwah (sic) park is progressing rapidly and the carpenters will have all the work in their line finished this week,” the Herald reported on May 22. “The painters are to commence work today and both sections should be in readiness not later than Memorial day.”

The ball park, in what was then called Elm Park, was first used in May 1905. This wooden grandstand was the forerunner to the one standing at today’s Damaschke Field, built in 1939 by funding from the Works Progress Administration and William F. Eggleston, a prominent businessman.

Oneonta was ready to field a team in 1913, but it was reported, “The prospects of vicinity teams is, however, far from encouraging, and just what will be the outcome it is difficult to determine at this writing.”

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Ever since the late 1880s there had been continual hopes growing and fading for a new federal building in Oneonta.

Finally it was learned on Monday, May 26, that a telegram was received from Congressman George W. Fairchild that the work on the building, which we know today as City Hall, 258 Main St., would begin within two months.

The federal building opened on June 14, 1915, and was, among other things, Oneonta’s post office until 1967.

On Monday: Twisters whirled through our area in 1983.

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.