By Mark Simonson
Oneonta became a settlement and has been a place to do one's "trading," whether it was the 18th century, or 2012, because of the five valleys that converge here. Only the places of doing the "trading" have changed a bit over the last 100 years, and Oneonta remains a place that attracts visitors and has always been a decent place to live and work.
100 Years Ago
A young city, with a population of 10,141, Oneonta had grown by nearly 3,000 residents since the turn of the century.
The downtown business district was growing, with new business blocks being constructed east of Ford Avenue and Main Street.
The major employer at the time was the D&H Railroad, fast approaching its peak number of city residents at work in the railroad yards, around 39 percent.
Others were rolling cigars and the agricultural base was strong, with many area farms still growing hops, a main ingredient used in brewing beer.
When not at work, Oneontans enjoyed time in the new Neahwa Park, or watching baseball at the ballpark, where today's Damaschke Field is found.
75 years ago
Oneonta was enduring The Great Depression much better than larger cities. Oneonta was still completely lined with family farms along Southside, where the mall and box stores are found today. The railroad was still somewhat busy, despite a major decrease in freight business.
A fairly new institution, Hartwick College, came close to closing down because of low enrollment.
A new hospital, Homer Folks Tuberculosis Hospital, had recently opened on upper West Street, to fight the "great white plague" for patients in a nine-county region. It is today's Job Corps Academy.
Our area saw benefits of Depression programs initiated by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Local people employed by the Works Progress Administration improved creek linings and built a bathhouse and a more modern pool in Wilber Park, as well as a new grandstand at the ballpark in Neahwa Park. The Civilian Conservation Corps camp in nearby Laurens was developing Gilbert Lake State Park into the outdoor recreation and camping gem we know today.
Oneontans were reading about trouble beginning in Europe each day in The Oneonta Star.
50 years ago
The city was slowly buying into a "modernizing" program in its downtown business district, known as urban renewal. It was a nationwide movement following World War II. There was retail competition creeping in from the town of Oneonta, as a discount department store opened in late 1962 called Jamesway, in Emmons. There was also an effort to establish a traffic "arterial" to bypass Oneonta's downtown. We know it today as Interstate 88.
The D&H Railroad had seen some significant reductions in its labor force in recent years, because of the introduction of the diesel locomotive engine, replacing the old steam locomotives.
Fewer repairs to the engines were needed, which used to be done in a large roundhouse in the D&H railyards.
The most significant growth began in the history of the State University College at Oneonta, in both buildings and enrollment. The institution began as the State Normal School with one building in 1889. Hartwick College also saw a similar surge in growth.
25 years ago
Oneonta's efforts with urban renewal resulted in the destruction of many old buildings in the 1960s and '70s, but its ultimate goal -- of building a competitive downtown shopping district with the Town of Oneonta -- never materialized.
The urban renewal effort was finally abandoned in the mid-1980s, once the Southside Mall was completed in 1983. Downtown Oneonta merchants continued to compete, despite the departure of several longtime stores, fleeing to the malls or just going out of business.
The decline in employment numbers continued on the D&H Railroad yards in Oneonta, as the system endured bankruptcy and a few different owners. The last railroad employees would be gone by early 1996.
The 1980 Census showed Oneonta's population at 14,810, a decline of about 2,600 since the 1970 Census.