You might say William Booth was "Takin' It To The Streets" long before the Doobie Brothers recorded their hit song of the same title in the mid-1970s.
Booth, a London minister in 1865 gave up the comfort of his pulpit and decided to take his message into the streets where it would reach the poor, homeless, hungry and destitute. He decided to found a church especially for them "" the East London Christian Mission. By 1878, this name had been changed to The Salvation Army.
The mission had made its way across the Atlantic by 1881, first arriving at Battery Park in New York. Seven years later, it arrived in Oneonta.
"At last a band from The Salvation Army make their first appearance in Oneonta," reported The Oneonta Herald of Oct. 25, 1888. "It is a compliment to the town that these religious enthusiasts have left us alone so long."
"The Salvation Army now have regular evening services at their hall in the Westcott Building," reported the Nov. 8 Herald. "The meetings are well attended, the hall being crowded every night. There are seven members of the Army here. Three services are held on Sunday." The former Westcott building is now the parking lot between 242 Main St. and the Ruffino Mall.
A national gazette was published regularly by The Salvation Army called "War Cry." The Nov. 13, 1888 edition boasted in the article's headline, "Capture of Oneonta, New York."
"We attacked the enemy at this place on October 29th. The foe, as usual, resisted our advance, but after a hand to hand engagement, we gained the victory through Jesus, our King, and took one prisoner. Many others were wounded," the gazette reported. The Nov. 13 edition listed Oneonta as the "Eastern New York Divisional Headquarters," found at 45 Broad St.
The Salvation Army had at least three locations in the downtown area in the early years, and 22 Maple St. in 1905. The Herald reported that the Army had a new home on Aug. 21, 1919. This was the Rockwell block at the corner of Main and Grove streets. The building, razed in the early 1970s during urban renewal projects was on the site of today's 125 Main St. It is only a few doors away from the present Salvation Army Thrift Store at 105 Main St.
There were some memorable moments at this site. The Herald of Dec. 11, 1924, reported how at the beginning of the Army's Sunday service, about 50 members of the Ku Klux Klan entered "without their usual hoods and robes and listened attentively to the service." One of their members arose and presented the Army with a collection of $50 for winter relief work. Ensign Gates thanked the group for their generosity in the matter.
Edwin Moore once wrote about an event that happened on Feb. 28, 1925, in Oneonta, as an earthquake took place but did little damage to the area. However, it certainly got people's attention.
"The people in the Salvation Army hall thought that their time had come, for the week before an evangelist had told them that they must expect a manifestation of supreme power, such as an earthquake, to move them from their position of sin. Most of them returned to the hall after awhile and Ensign Gates reported that there was an unusual number of conversions that night."
The Salvation Army announced a fund drive in July 1958 to erect a building as a place they could finally call their own. Capt. Leo Wittenberg said the condition of the site at 113 Main St. "does not lend itself to the program we want to carry on." The new site opened in 1961.
Probably the most recognized symbol of The Salvation Army is the red kettle, now prominently seen in many locations with bell ringers at their sides. These are important during our difficult economic times, as your donations provide services and programs in benefit of the communities in which the money is collected.
On Monday: The college in Cobleskill sees a construction boom in the 1960s.
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 email@example.com. His website is www.oneontahistorian.com.