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October 19, 2013

Search for Upstate Baptist Home site began locally in 1923

By Mark Simonson
The Daily Star

---- — These days, you don’t have to wait for tomorrow’s newspaper to learn the latest breaking news. A look nearly each day at The Daily Star website will show something you’ll read in print the next day. In Oneonta 90 years ago, if you didn’t hear breaking news by word of mouth, you had to wait for the next day’s newspaper.

Big news came to Oneonta on Thursday, Oct. 25, 1923, arriving by telegram from the Post-Standard newspaper of Syracuse. A convention was underway in that city of the New York State Baptist Association, and it was learned that a tentative plan had been approved for “an up-state children’s home.” This was the big step forward in the beginning of what is known today as Springbrook, formerly known as The Upstate Baptist Home.

Judge Frank C. Huntington of Oneonta was president of the New York State Baptist Association at the time. In Syracuse that day, the Rev. D.H. Woodward of Edmeston had presented a cause for such a children’s home “in a forceful way,” according to the telegram.

“It is proposed to start the home with a building and equipment costing $50,000 and to extend the property from time to time as the funds at hand and the needs of the institution permit,” it was reported. The site proposed was Oneonta, but no specific location had been established. That process took nearly two years to complete. 

“For several years this matter has been under consideration, but it was not until about two years ago that any definite steps were taken,” the Star reported. Huntington had presented the idea before, but the idea wasn’t his.

It was Harriet Parish Smith of Oneonta who had presented the idea to her pastor, the Rev. Edson J. Farley of Oneonta’s First Baptist Church, around 1920. Harriet and her husband, Claude, had adopted a child from an orphanage and thought about establishing a home where children could be brought up in a Christian environment. Farley listened and the idea was welcomed by this and many other Baptist congregations in the area, comprising what was called the Franklin Baptist Association. At the time, Baptist homes for children like this were found only in the New York City area, with nothing upstate.

Officers were established for the proposed local Upstate Baptist Home, and the search began for a suitable location. In 1924, meeting after meeting were held, and many locations were offered. Oneonta first offered a large boarding house on upper Elm Street, which is today’s 107 Elm St. Another Oneonta site near the Normal School was suggested. 

Unadilla presented the Ontio, once a summer hotel on the south side of the Susquehanna River. Cooperstown offered the recently vacated Thanksgiving Hospital in February 1924. In July, the former Bauer Chemical buildings in the East End of Oneonta were suggested. One of those buildings is today’s Lettis Auction Room on Reynolds Street. Sidney had weighed in with an offer in late February 1925. Site after site was rejected by the committee.

Finally on Tuesday, April 14, 1925, the committee met and unanimously voted to purchase the farmland and residence of Mr. C.S. Morris in Milford Center. Possession of the property was set to take place on Aug. 1, at a price of $15,000.

“There are about 106 acres of land, much of it river flats and practically all arable, affording ample room for the dairy and for the cultivation of vegetables for use of the home,” The Star reported on April 15. “The house itself — and there are in addition ample barns and other outbuildings — has a furnace, electric lights, baths, hot and cold water throughout and an ample supply of water from it own reservoir and water system. There are 16 rooms in the house, all large and some of them admirably adapted for use as dormitories, so that it is believed that without any considerable changes at least 40 children can at once be accommodated.”

Harriet and Claude Smith took up residence here on Aug. 1 to direct and care for the children. There was a formal dedication of the new Upstate Baptist Home on Friday, Sept. 4, 1925, where more than 1,000 people attended. Many representatives from the 18 statewide Baptist associations attended, as well as local residents. Music was furnished by the Company G Band of Oneonta. After an invocation prayer and speeches by several people who helped make the home possible, a basket picnic was held on the grounds by those bringing them, or food was offered for purchase, with proceeds to benefit the new home.

The Upstate Baptist Home lasted as an orphanage until 1962. It changed its mission to serve people with disabilities in 1966. The name was changed to Springbrook in 2005.

On Monday: News in the local educational field focused on the future in October 1963.

Oneonta City Text ColorSwatch/NoneStrokeStyle/$ID/SolidText ColorSwatch/NoneStrokeStyle/$ID/Solid$ID/NothingText ColorText Color$ID/NothingText ColorText ColorHistorian 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.