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Mark Simonson

September 21, 2013

First Hartwick College event held 85 years ago at theater

Several Oneontans gathered at the former Palace Theatre on Wednesday morning, Sept. 26, 1928, but it wasn’t to take in a movie. They were here instead to witness a piece of Oneonta’s history — the day Hartwick College opened its doors and began classes.

The Palace was found at the corner of Main Street and Ford Avenue, where Community Bank is today. Citizens, faculty and students of Hartwick College gathered at 10 a.m. for the first chapel exercises. They needed space such as a theater hall to hold everyone, because the first building on Oyaron Hill was under construction and would remain so for nearly another year, as the new college used temporary space at a former mansion on Main Street.

The day before classes began was a busy one at the Palace.

“The day yesterday,” according to The Oneonta Daily Star of Sept. 26, “was one of bustle and activity as the temporary quarters of the college in the Walling Mansion, where Dean (Olaf Morgan) Norlie was kept busy until late in the evening enrolling the incoming students.” This mansion was where the United Presbyterian (Red Door) Church stands today at the corner of Walling Avenue. By opening day, the freshman class had 100 enrolled, but six more were enrolled in the next few days.

“The students form a bright and attractive group,” the Star said, “and they seemed to take kindly to the arrangements made for the accommodation during the time first building is in the progress of erection on College hill. They are ready to make the best of conditions, which are not unfavorable to good work in the class rooms. The old mansion has been rearranged and beautified in the interior, electric lights and modern heating installed, and the class rooms will not be unattractive. The library is growing rapidly and steel fixtures have been installed for its convenient arrangement.”

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Mark Simonson

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