File Walter L. Brown had this hardware store, as advertised in The Oneonta Daily News of June 26, 1889. It was at the corner of Dietz and Main Street, where 183 Main St. is today. Brown spoke in favor of a wood block pavement for Oneonta's major streets in 1889.

“The bill authorizing the village of Oneonta to bond for $20,000 for the purpose of paving certain streets, was signed by the Governor Monday. Now for business, gentlemen.”

This item came from The Oneonta Daily News of Wednesday, May 8, 1889, urging the Oneonta village Board of Trustees to act on getting most of Main and Broad Streets, and small sections of Chestnut and Dietz Streets paved. The issue had been hotly debated in recent years, and several methods of paving had been explored within the last year, to once and for all overcome the annual seasons of mud Oneonta endured in the center city business district.

Debate apparently wasn’t over with and the delays in getting the work started were plentiful in the coming months.

The Daily News reported on Thursday, May 9, that, “One of the board of trustees was heard to express himself yesterday unfavorable to a pavement that would not utilize home labor. This is all very nice as far as it goes. The people voted in the first place to put down Belgian block pavement. They knew at the time that there was not a man in Oneonta that knew how to lay Belgian pavement, and that is also the case with every pavement submitted thus far. The manufacturers of the different processes have their men who learn the business. These they send with the contractor.

“The board of trustees has had ample time to decide on the kind of pavement. If you need the people to decide that question, call another election.”

Apparently that wasn’t necessary. As reported in the May 13 Daily News, “A delegation of the Board of Trustees…took the sleeper Sunday morning for Buffalo on a tour of inspection of the different methods of pavement. They will also visit New York before returning.” They also stopped along the way to inspect pavement in Rochester and Utica. Asphalt was used in these cities, as the delegation gave a report on May 19.

Asphalt seemed to be accepted by some, but not others. It was reported on June 6, “Mayor Kirkland will resign his position as such on Monday night, June 10th. If we were the Board of Trustees,” the Daily News opined, “we would all resign with him, or we would pave the streets as we thought best.” T. Waldo Stevens was elected to fill the vacancy.

The unrest continued, as reported on June 26, “There was a stormy session of the Board of Trustees last evening. All the prominent property owners along the proposed line of pavement were in attendance, and speeches were made by Messrs. W.L Brown, W.E. Yager, Reuben Reynolds, D.F. Wilber, Jas. Stewart and W.H. Morris, all in favor of wood pavement.

“After the discussion of the question, Alderman Doolittle made a motion that a committee of five be appointed from the property owners, said committee to go and investigate the different methods of pavement in various cities.” Once back, whatever this committee recommended, the Board of Trustees would accept.

Wood blocks of chestnut were decided upon for the paving material at a special meeting on July 2, 1889. Bids were sought for contractors, and on July 16 it was reported that George B. Shearer was the lowest bidder. The Daily News said, “For one, we are highly pleased that our old friend George B. Shearer has secured the contract. It is a fitting compliment to the brave soldier who has stood so faithfully and fought the pavement question to the bitter end, as his name will be written in gold letters in the archives of Oneonta.”

The first load of wood arrived for paving on July 18. Curbing for the street gutters began Aug. 13, and grading of the streets were made in preparation for laying the chestnut blocks.

Work began on Sept. 9, near Oneonta Creek and “working toward the railroad crossing.” This was before the Main Street viaduct had been built over the D&H tracks, so the paving ended near River Street. Work began on a section of Chestnut Street to near today’s Wall Street, on Sept. 20. Dietz and Broad Street followed, and by Sept. 25, all the blocks were being covered with tar.

The new pavement wasn’t perfect, as the Daily News reported on Oct. 30, “Men were at work yesterday scraping the mud off of the new pavement and putting it on the Chestnut street extension.”

On Nov. 28, The Binghamton Herald commented in the Daily News, “Oneonta has nearly completed its first and only pavement and already it has been torn up for repair several times on account of sinking soil. Oneonta, if wise, will put down asphalt pavement next time.”

On Monday: Oneonta as it was in May 1974.

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 His website is His columns can be found at

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