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January 12, 2013

Four attempts made to establish state agricultural school in Delhi

The Daily Star

---- — Talk about not taking “no” for an answer. Had area residents of Delhi given up about 100 years ago, there would never have been today’s State University College of Technology at Delhi. The people heard “no” three times from the state about seeking an agricultural school in their community, and very nearly a fourth time, but they never gave up and now have a good reason to celebrate the college’s centennial.

Elizabeth MacDonald can be credited for coming up with the specific idea of an agricultural school for Delhi. Her sister Amelia worked tirelessly to promote the idea. They grew up on the John T. MacDonald farm on Elk Creek Road, and grew troubled around the turn of the 20th century by how many young men and women were leaving the area for the cities. There was widespread concern across the nation that not enough food would be produced for the growing population.

Amelia MacDonald sought support of the leading citizens of Delhi and elsewhere for the agricultural school. Education in high school in Delhi and the region was directing students away from farms. Although Amelia did face some opposition to her mission, she secured a donation for the site of the proposed school. In 1908 she met with trustees of what was a private school at the time, the Delaware Academy. The school was then found on the site of today’s SUNY Delhi campus.

In 1910, two leading citizens, Messrs. S.F. Adee and E.O. Harkness, lobbied for a bill to establish a state agricultural school in Delhi. Other state institutions of this type were being authorized by the state Legislature at the time. The bill was introduced that year. It passed the Assembly and Senate, but was vetoed by the governor.

Delhi had high hopes it might have an inside edge with then Gov. Charles Evans Hughes, because of his earlier connection to the village. Hughes had taught for a year at Delaware Academy while studying law in the office of a local judge.

One local newspaper commented, “The veto is a cake of ice to Delhi.” Another, the Delaware Gazette of June 22, 1910, said, “It is discouraging but an agricultural education is an important matter. It must be made possible.”

Bills were introduced again in 1911 and 1912, but the results were the same. New York was experiencing quite a turnover in governors, as during this time Horace White, John Alden Dix and William Sulzer succeeded Charles Evans Hughes.

Others might have given up by that point, but Sen. Clayton Wheeler of Hancock and Assemblyman John Telford of Margaretville entered the bill one more time in 1913.

As described by The Walton Reporter of May 31, 1913, “The bill had been construed to the ‘scrap heap’ with many others calling for appropriations and had been marked by the committee of efficiency and economy for veto, when a delegation of Delaware county men made up of Senator C.L. Wheeler, Assemblyman John W. Telford, Sheriff J.J. Farrell, County Clerk W.H. Maynard, School Superintendent E.O. Harkness, C.R. O’Connor and Dr. George L. Hubbell arranged for a meeting with the governor. One delegation of Delhi businessmen had already been to Albany and returned with not much hope. After presenting Delaware county’s claims they left him, having the promise of another meeting in the evening.”

“The governor (Sulzer) at this time sent for the bill. It was marked for the committee who had it in charge for veto. The governor reminded the Delaware county men that the appropriations had already gone beyond what he intended, but after listening to their arguments again said, ‘I will sign this bill, first, because I believe it is a good bill, and I want to do everything I can to promote agriculture in this state, and second, because of the high esteem in which I hold Senator Wheeler and Assemblyman Telford of your county.’”

The bill became law on May 24 and called for an appropriation of $50,000 to establish the school. Ten minutes after Gov. Sulzer signed the bill, it became known in Delhi. It was read to a large audience at the Opera House, once found on Kingston Street, and it received great applause.

The Delaware Republican reported, “Church bells were rung and steam whistles blown … to commence the celebration. The band gave a concert from the pagoda, the park being profusely decorated with Chinese lanterns, while many business places and residences were brightly lighted. A sky rocket gave the signal for boy scouts to light a bonfire on Youmans’ hill followed by a fine display of fireworks near the village hall.”

The work began to establish the new agricultural school, and it was Oct. 14, 1915, when Delhi opened its doors to nine students. Visit for details on its 100th anniversary celebration.

On Monday:  Another area state institution prepared to close in 1973.

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 His website is His columns can be found at