Old newspapers can be amusing to read at times. Looking at several editions of The Oneonta Herald from 1857, one can get the feeling that economic times could've been better. There actually was a short recession going on that year. Furthermore, there was a big shift in editorial opinion on an issue in our area: a possible railroad being built through Oneonta.

The Herald's thoughts about a railroad didn't appear to be very kind in the March 18, 1857, edition.

"Why is it that so many are going west," asked The Herald. "Why can't they be satisfied to stay on the hills and in the valleys of Old Otsego.' Everything here is quiet, and cosy, and comfortable. We are not in the least troubled with screaming and smoking locomotives through the fields (nor is there any prospect at there ever being,) frightening the cattle, and old women of both sexes. There is no fluctuation here in the price of land, and no man is made to sell his property for more than he got for it, prices are just the same now as they were fifty years ago! Oh! Why do people forsake such a good sleepy headed, old fogy country, and their consciences in the terrible west where railroads cut your farm all to pieces, where telegraph wires bring all the news in circulation, where a man's land won't lay easy but keep raising in value, and where energy and enterprise don't give a man half a chance to rest easy in bed. Reader don't you think people are fools to go west. We do, over the left."

Then again, perhaps there was some sarcasm in this story? An average reader of the day might've been puzzled, because it was on the local news pages.

1857 must've been a terribly slow news year.

In the "Oneonta Diary," produced in 1948 for the centennial of Oneonta as a village, there was absolutely nothing listed as a news highlight for 1857, unlike most other years.

Economic times didn't appear to be very healthy that year, at least not for The Herald.

The Aug. 26 edition had this item:

"Last Call. All those who are indebted to us for newspaper subscriptions, advertising or job work, will please pay up on or before the 15th of September. All those owing us after that time, may expect to hear from us, through another channel, viz: a request by a Justice of the Peace, presented by one of our Constables."

"We have waited patiently for a long time, and have often put you in mind of the fact that you owed us, and it has seemed to have done no good."

To follow up on this call to pay came this news article from the Dec. 16 edition. It appeared there were some deals made to clear debts.

"Wood! Those persons who are indebted to us and have agreed to draw us wood, are informed that we are in want of it immediately. We have put up with promises till we are tired, another thing, promises will not cook our grub' and we must have either the wood or money, so that we can buy wood."

Each of The Oneonta Heralds of 1857 had a tale of the old west, written by Stamford native "Ned Buntline," whose actual name was Edward Zane Carroll Judson.

These newspapers also had what we call a police blotter today. The Aug. 26 edition had this item:

"The people agt. Alonzo Pratt, a youth of 17 or 18 "" indicted for an assault and battery in throwing an ink stand into his teacher's face at school. Plead guilty and was sentenced to pay a fine of $10."

1857 may have been a slow news year, but the debate continued locally about building a railroad from Albany to Binghamton. The Herald's editorial opinion changed dramatically from March, as seen in the Dec. 16 edition. This also appeared on the news pages.

"The more we think of the matter, the stronger is our belief that now is the most favorable time to build the Albany and Susquehanna Rail Road. Friends, let us seize hold of this opportunity and build our Railroad; we can do it! It lays with you to answer, and upon your answer hangs the future prospects of your children and the rising generation. Then, as you love your children and your country and its interests, see to it, that your answer be given on the side of progress."

Progress was the result. Construction began on the railroad in 1863 and reached Oneonta two years later, finally reaching Binghamton in 1869.

On Monday: The area reacted to the launch of Sputnik in 1957.

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 e-mail him at simmark@stny.rr.com. His website is www.oneontahistorian.com.

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