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April 19, 2014

Signs of springtime in Oneonta arrived in April 1889

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The Daily Star

---- — Spring was in the air as Oneontans turned over their calendars to April in 1889. Muddy streets, the start of construction projects, clothing styles and other visible signs made it clear that warmer weather was more the norm than a novelty in Oneonta 125 years ago.

“The first organ grinder of spring appeared yesterday on our streets,” readers of The Oneonta Daily News learned on April 11.

Hopefully the street musician had a good pair of boots to get across the streets, as the major thoroughfares were nothing but mud after winter’s thaw.

“Main street mud was plentiful yesterday. If ever mother earth spoke, she did yesterday, and loudly, too, in favor of paving,” the Daily News said on April 4. Street paving was yet again a major news story as winter gave up its grip, and the village debate resumed from the previous fall. A defining step was taken the day before, as the newspaper noted, “Yesterday was a good day for Oneonta. The question of paving our streets is settled at last by a vote of 241 for, and 168 against, a clean majority of 73 in favor of supporting and confirming the action of the Board of Trustees in their effort to make our embryo city a credit to the Susquehanna valley and to the world at large.”

As far as action to pave the streets, there was nothing swift about it, as readers will learn in a later entry.

The Daily News called it “A Swell Affair,” on April 12.

“A social event unique in the annals of Oneonta, an at home reception from four o’clock to seven, was held in the grand saloon parlors of the D.F. Wilber mansion of Ford avenue yesterday, chaperoned by Mrs. D.F. Wilber and Mrs. C.J. Morehouse.” D.F. Wilber’s mansion was at the corner of Main Street and Ford Avenue, where the modern section of Community Bank is today.

“Mrs. D.F. Wilber was costumed in black silk en train and Mrs. C.J. Morehouse in black lace, and surrounded by their beautiful assistants, presented a picture of exquisite loveliness not often seen in our village. Then the delightful tone of the occasion, with the elegant surroundings and exquisite music of the Metropolitan Orchestra lent an additional charm, entrancing to the guest. As the callers were presented by the lady attendants to the ladies who received, an interchange of pleasant conversation and the compliments of the season were indulged in.

“They were then escorted to the refreshment parlors where tea and chocolate were served, with other dainties and rare exotics, while the profound light stole through the mists of glittering lamps and every air was heavy with the sighs of choicest flowers, and music from sweet lutes that gushed forth in the midst of roses, an inspiration of pleasure and delight absorbed the guests, and with exclamations of admiration they made their adieus to their hospitable and royal lady entertainers.”

Many a springtime story in 1889 told of construction going on in Oneonta’s East End, as was seen in the Daily News of April 11.

“There are so few changes on lower deck that one would not suppose it belonged to and is a part of Oneonta, while the East End is booming, with life and activity. In passing in the street cars from one end of the line to the other, this change is quite apparent.”

Style was making it clear that spring was here.

“As the sun removes the snow and ice from the face of Dame Nature, many a young blood takes his place on the street corner and exhibits the latest fad in spring suits and allows the wind to whip his ample pant legs around his emaciated shanks. Truly, the robins are harbingers of spring, but the new spring suit is more to be depended on as an unfailing proof of its arrival.”

Oneontans knew it was spring as, “Wilson & Co. had the first strawberries of the season yesterday. A crate arrived on the noon train from Albany and before 3 o’clock they were sold at $1.00 per quart,” the Daily News said on April 10.

Finally, with the nicer weather thoughts were turning to skipping school, as the Daily News on April 16 reported, “The attention of the truant officer is called to a gang of boys averaging in age from 12 to 15 years who are loafing around the Westcott block and making themselves generally offensive pretty much every day.” The block was once found where the parking lot is today, next to 242 Main St.

On Monday: It’s long past due to dip into the historian’s mailbag.

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.