Today, The Daily Star continues its year-long 125th Anniversary series featuring the newspaper’s years of publication. This weekend highlights our local life and times during the 1970s.
There was no “start over” once the demolition began in downtown Oneonta. Energy crises slowed growth across the region. And from our area college campuses, there came stories of bad news and good news.
“People are going to see something. This is the real start for a whole new downtown,” said Oneonta Mayor James F. Lettis, addressing a groundbreaking ceremony in the area of Main, Grove and Chestnut streets on a chilly March 19, 1973. This was the first official physical act of urban renewal in Oneonta on a site called “Block One.” We know it today as 125 Main St. Before that it was known as the Stanton block.
Urban renewal had been proposed for Oneonta since 1964, so it had taken quite a few years to get tenants to vacate and attempt to relocate from the buildings affected by the program.
Block One had a significant history as a site of previous buildings. The Oneonta House stood on this site, built around 1800. Three major events relevant to Oneonta history happened here. The meeting to incorporate Oneonta as a village, the meeting that resulted in the formation of the Albany & Susquehanna Railroad and the banquet in 1865 for the arrival of the first train all took place under that roof.
The inn was demolished in the early 1870s to make way for the Stanton Opera House and block of stores and businesses that stood until July 1972.
When 125 Main St. opened in late 1973, the Oneonta Urban Renewal Agency relocated its office there with a yearly rent of $6,000. The Agency’s previous location, 9 Elm St., was rented for $3,200 per year.
Block Two was the next project for urban renewal, today’s Clinton Plaza. About the same time in 1974, construction of the parking garage at the corner of Market Street and Chestnut Street Extension began, both completed in 1975.
Next came the mass demolition of Broad Street, as well as of many old buildings on South Main, Market and Prospect streets. Many businesses and a few neighborhoods were displaced in the demolition process, which lasted into the early months of 1976.
With a giant empty lot in place in the downtown district, efforts by the Oneonta Urban Renewal Agency began to attract retail establishments to fill a proposed downtown shopping mall. The wait would be very long and will be described in upcoming features marking the decades of news covered by The Daily Star.
Ever since the early 1960s, the area had become accustomed to construction, expansion and optimism toward a booming future. Area colleges mushroomed in size and enrollments. New businesses were starting, growing or locating satellite manufacturing plants here, including Corning, Inc., Custom Electronics, Medical Coaches, Mold-A-Matic and Astrocom.
What grounded more expansions and slowed efforts to fill a downtown Oneonta shopping mall to a near halt came in late 1973, as the United States experienced its first of two energy crises during the 1970s. Prices of imported Middle East crude oil skyrocketed, and a nation that had been near full dependency on oil for heat and energy had to make some serious adjustments to its business practices and leisure lives.
As the holiday season of 1973 approached, President Richard M. Nixon essentially advised Americans to turn thermostats back to 68 degrees or lower, put on a sweater and spare the holiday lights to conserve energy and save money.
Some local businesses, such as Delltown Foods of Delhi, laid off workers to cut costs from increased fuel prices. The picture was brighter for the D&H Railway. Many businesses made conversion of heating and energy use from oil to coal, thus increasing freight traffic of coal being hauled to this area and the New England states. Some homes and a few businesses also converted to wood-burning stoves.
The inconvenience and price increases were felt by motorists and the trucking industry, as gasoline and fuel supplies were limited, including some fuel rationing. It wasn’t uncommon to see long lines of cars and trucks waiting long periods of time at area filling stations in 1974 and 1979. A state and national speed limit of 55 mph was established to conserve fuel. Just before Interstate 88 opened a portion of highway around Oneonta in late 1974, speed limit signs of 65 mph had to be replaced with the speed reduction.
LOCAL COLLEGES: BAD AND GOOD
With expanded area college campuses, a mix of bad and good news dominated student life in the 1970s.
Hitchhiking and riding with strangers by college students, while still popular, showed in three local cases that the practice was dangerous — and deadly.
In a case still unsolved 41 years later, Katherine Kolodziej, then 17 and a student at SUNY Cobleskill, was last seen at a downtown bar. While declining a ride from friends back to campus she apparently accepted a ride from a driver of a yellow Volkswagen sedan. A hunter found Kolodziej’s body on Thanksgiving Day, 1974, near Richmondville. Authorities in Schoharie County continue to get and seek tips regarding Kolodziej’s killer.
Almost a year later in November 1975, the village of Sidney was shocked to hear that Regina Reynolds, a college student at Morrisville College had gone missing while hitchhiking on U.S. 20 to return to school. Reynolds was reported as missing until Nov. 19 when a fisherman made a grisly discovery near the shores of Otisco Lake, Onondaga County. Reynolds’ partially decomposed body had been stabbed multiple times in the abdomen. This case was solved in 2003 after DNA evidence matched that of Donald Sigsbee of Madison.
Another hitchhiking murder that took place in Oneonta in December 1977 made national news. Linda Velzy, a student at SUNY Oneonta, went missing. A big break in the case came New Year’s Day, 1978. Rick Allen Knapp, 26, of West Oneonta, was found with Velzy’s body and confessed to the murder.
On a more positive note in area college life, just days before Velzy went missing on Dec. 9, 1977, Oneonta had been abuzz with the celebration of Hartwick College’s NCAA Division I national championship in men’s soccer, after defeating the University of San Francisco, 2-1.
The Hartwick victory culminated a great interest and advancement in Oneonta soccer. As both Oneonta college campuses grew larger in the mid-1960s and early 1970s, the game grew popular and residents of Oneonta followed their favorite college team. Youth soccer became popular in the city, as college players reached out to local children to play the game.
ONEONTA SEEKS TO BECOME A SOCCER TOWN
Along with Hartwick and SUNY Oneonta soccer, Oneonta High School always fielded competitive boys teams, and a girls varsity soccer team began competitive play in the mid-1970s. Oneonta organized and hosted the Mayor’s Cup Tournaments beginning in September 1976.
With all the interest in soccer in Oneonta, ideas began circulating about making Oneonta the site of the National Soccer Hall of Fame, a movement that gained momentum in the next decade.
In the next special Daily Star 125th anniversary entry, on Oct. 3, we’ll explore the local life and times of the 1980s.