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March 24, 2014

Railroad declined, other industries surged locally in 1954

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The Daily Star

---- — Oneonta was enduring several ups and downs in its employment picture. New fashion and music were also making news as diversions to these “big stories.” It was a part of our local life and times during March 1954.

A “good news/bad news” story about Oneonta’s economy appeared in The Oneonta Star of Tuesday, March 4, 1954.

“Pressed for immediate space because of expanding business, Enterprise Aluminum Co., Inc. has leased a part of the Delaware & Hudson Railroad roundhouse, and is using it as an emergency warehouse.”

“The announcement was made yesterday by Robert B. Fisk, manager of the aluminum plant, and Charles H. House, division superintendent of the D&H.”

The good news was that Enterprise, which had built a plant in 1952 on lower River Street, where Corning Inc. is today, was doing a booming business. The D&H, however, had recently closed its giant roundhouse. The space was formerly used to maintain steam locomotives since 1906. On Dec. 2, 1954, demolition began on 36 of 52 stalls. The use of new diesel locomotives led to the decline of the need for the roundhouse.

On March 5, it was also announced that because of current business conditions on the D&H, 14 Oneontans were being furloughed until “as soon as conditions permit.”

Enterprise wasn’t alone in enjoying better times for local business.

The Star reported on March 17 how, “Business is booming in one Oneonta industry to such extent that it can’t get enough experienced help and must turn down orders.”

“Oneonta Plains Manufacturing Co., on Country Club Road, is currently advertising for more machine operators to turn out women’s dresses.”

“If anyone fears a so-called recession it is not Murray Grossman, president and co-manager, nor Mrs. Lillian Creighton, secretary and co-manager.” A large advertisement appeared in the Star on March 18, and people could apply in person at the plant, or at a sister plant in Cooperstown, on the fourth floor of the Second National Bank building.

Mayor Roger G. Hughes, knowing that the local job picture wasn’t especially stable at the time, launched a campaign on March 29 to bring a proposed state mental institution to Oneonta, planned by Gov. Thomas Dewey “for care of the mentally retarded or disturbed.”

Hughes didn’t surprise the community with the idea for seeking such a hospital, as he had made extensive inquiries to local leaders and the business community, and it received initial support. An unidentified local citizen said he’d donate 60 acres of land for the hospital. Voters statewide in the November election approved a bond issue for new mental institutions, but Oneonta’s attempt to secure one never succeeded.

Also during March 1954, having nothing to do with employment, there was a major debate going on over a new fashion style at the Oneonta State Teachers College, in the form of Bermuda shorts.

As the Star reported on March 12, “To paraphrase the immortal Hamlet, the controversial question seems to be, ‘to wear or not to wear.’”

“‘So far it’s strictly a girls’ fight,’ Dr. Clifford Craven, dean of students, said, ‘This is a matter for students to decide.’”

“What’s stirred the girls up? Bermuda Shorts have been banned in STC’s new campus student union, Morris Hall. The faculty frowns at their appearance in home economics classes. There’s even talk of banning them downtown.”

“To which pro-BSers cry, ‘nonsense.’ ‘They wear them at Vassar, and all girls schools,’ said one co-ed. ‘I’ve had mine for two years. My boy friend wears them at Brown. And they wear them at Colgate.’”

Bermuda shorts weren’t on the mind of Jon Crain in the heat of this debate. It was more of a concern over how fast he could get to New York City.

The Star reported about Crain, on March 13, “By a fluke of the vocal chord, the 27-year-old tenor robusto made an unexpected debut the other night at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York City — on only three hours’ notice.”

Jon and his wife, Joan, lived in Oneonta at the time, and they suddenly got an urgent call from New York, asking if Jon could sing the lead role of Alfred in the comic opera, “Die Fledermaus” — that night — to fill in for the tenor who was “out of sorts.”

Somehow, Crain got to New York, rehearsed and got into costume in time for the evening show. The New York Times gave Crain a review, saying, “A useful Metropolitan career may be expected.”

This weekend: a bank in Delaware County has kept its original name for 175 years.

Oneonta 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.