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February 1, 2014

Oneonta businesses expanded, bonded in February 1904

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The Daily Star

---- — While some of Oneonta’s businesses were changing hands or expanding, some of them paused to remember one leader who helped make the village’s overall prosperity possible. Other business people who had previously worked in a bit of vacuum saw the benefits of working together for a better business climate. It was part of Oneonta’s “Business Beat” of February 1904, as read in The Oneonta Star.

Readers found out on Thursday, Feb. 4, “Stevens & Baker is the name of a new firm that this morning succeeds the business of Stevens & Hills, T.W. Stevens, the senior member of the old firm, and Fred M. Baker, purchasing the interest of Charles E. Hills, and forming a co-partnership under the firm name of Stevens & Baker.” This store was found at 151-153 Main St. T. Waldo Stevens was the grandfather of John Stevens, the late owner of Stevens Hardware in downtown Oneonta, which closed in 2012 on this same site. T. Waldo Stevens went into business on his own in 1915.

“J.O. & G.N. Rowe bought yesterday of Alva Seybolt esq. a strip of land, 10x219 feet, west of and adjoining their warehouse property at No. 20 Market street,” it was reported on Feb. 6. “The purchase of this piece of land is the preliminary step to the erection of an additional warehouse, to be located between the office building and the warehouse, which stands to the rear, along side the D. & H. tracks.” It was a wholesale grocery business, and the building is known today as the General Clinton Apartments. The old sign of the Rowe business is still faintly visible on the upper Market Street frontage.

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This and other prosperity of Oneonta in preceding decades probably couldn’t have happened without one leading Oneonta citizen, Harvey Baker. The area was saddened to learn on Tuesday, Feb. 9, that Baker had passed away peacefully the day before. Baker is considered to be the major force in promoting and bringing a railroad from Albany to Binghamton, the Albany & Susquehanna Railroad, passing through Oneonta. It later became the Delaware & Hudson Railway.

A Broome County native, Baker himself was a businessman to start. He learned the trade of a millwright near Cortland, and then went out to sell a type of cast-iron wheel for milling, invented by a former Sidney resident, Nelson Johnson. Baker came to the Oneonta area in 1841 and sold his first wheel to Collier & Goodyear, a business once found in today’s Colliersville. Baker stayed around and settled in what was then called Milfordville, and soon got involved in the effort to bring a railroad here.

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Strength in numbers must have been on the minds of many Oneonta businessmen in February 1904.

“For some time there has been strong sentiment among the retail merchants of Oneonta for an organization designed to further their mutual interests and to foster and maintain a good feeling among them,” it was reported on Feb. 11. “A paper has been circulated and quite freely signed approving the plan for the formation of a business men’s league. A meeting of those interested has been called for Friday evening, at the trustees’ room, in the Fire department building. It is desired that there be a large attendance.”

This building was once found where today’s 242 Main St. stands, the former city hall. The meeting was well attended. The actual name became the Merchants’ Association of Oneonta, when it was formally organized at a meeting on Friday, Feb. 26, and L.E. Wilder was chosen as president, Henry Bull as vice president, Roscoe C. Briggs as treasurer, and F.L. Dibble as secretary. The previously mentioned T. Waldo Stevens was one of nine original directors of the Association.

This organization went on to become the Oneonta Chamber of Commerce in 1907, and is known today as The Otsego County Chamber of Commerce.

On Monday: Somebody really did buy “The Farm” 30 years ago.

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.