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May 24, 2014

A good militia in Oneonta became reason for building an armory

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The Daily Star

---- — Oneonta villagers weren’t exactly clamoring or actively lobbying for an armory to be built in the village in the mid-1880s. On the other hand, if the village were to be offered an armory here, Oneontans didn’t turn their noses up at the idea. We had a railroad, we were in a good central location, and New York state government felt Oneonta would be a good place to locate an armory. That’s because we had a good militia in the past, with the formation of the Third Separate Co. here in 1875.

According to Eugene D. Milener’s book, “Oneonta: The Development of a Railroad Town,” prior to 1875, “only the largest cities had a guard unit where it was practicable to maintain a battalion. A policy change then permitted guard units to be established in smaller places where there would be developed separate companies.”

State militia officials knew Oneonta could support an excellent company, and decided this would be a good place to build an armory. Previous units in Oneonta had made the Stanton Opera House a place to drill. That was once located where 125 Main St. is today.

The move to get an armory in Oneonta began in 1883, as The Oneonta Herald reported on March 15 that Assemblyman Hartford D. Nelson introduced a bill for $7,000 to build it.

“The money is to be expended under a commission consisting of the adjutant-general, the inspector general and the chief of ordinance, but no part to be disbursed until the state acquires a perfect title to a suitable site, the purchase money for the same to be contributed by members of the national guard in said county.”

Apparently the bill got nowhere, as Assemblyman Nelson needed to introduce another bill, this time for $10,000, in January 1884, with no more than $2,000 to be expended for a site.

More compromise was needed, as the sum changed to $9,000. The Herald reported on April 10 the state Senate passed the measure for Oneonta’s armory by a vote of 23-1. The Assembly also passed the measure, 92-9, as reported on April 17. “The practically unanimous vote for the measure in both houses is somewhat surprising, as it might have been anticipated that considerable captious opposition would be raised.”

Gov. Grover Cleveland then signed the bill, and the next question arose regarding where to build the armory. A local committee was formed at a meeting held at the Stanton Opera House on Monday, April 28 where, “L.L. Bundy was made chairman and G.W. Fairchild secretary.”

Some of the early sites proposed for the armory were on a lot across from what was then the Union school on Academy Street, “the Ingalls property on Chestnut-st., barn hill, and the Abell property on Dietz-st.”

Burr Mattice, an attorney, recommended that a committee of five be appointed to solicit subscriptions to buy property, for $2,000. Harvey Baker, the Morris Brothers and George I. Wilber were early large donors of $100 each. The committee also used the proceeds from a lecture open to the public at the Stanton Opera House, featuring Henry Ward Beecher on Thursday, June 5.

While raising the funds for the land was slow during the summer, it was reported on Oct. 9 that the armory would be built on the Curtis lot, at the corner of Fairview and Academy Streets.

“The building is to front on Fairview-st., the length of the front being 100 feet and the depth 121 feet and four inches. The plans bespeak a handsome edifice,” The Herald reported.

Ground was eventually broken and as previously documented in this column, more than 18,000 gathered in the village on June 17, 1885 for the cornerstone laying ceremony.

Additions were built on this version of the armory in 1893 but it had always been plagued by structural problems. It eventually called for a better armory, to be covered in a future column.

As The Daily Star will not be published on Monday, next weekend, we’ll look back on some long forgotten and short-lived hospitals in Oneonta.

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.