Saturday, November 12, 2011

A day in Oneonta, New York

Yesterday was Veteran's Day, and as a result all New York State offices were closed and I had the day off work. On a lark, I accompanied my friend Ron, who lives in Albany but teaches at the State University of New York at Oneonta, to Oneonta for the day.

Oneonta, which is about 80 miles to the southwest of Albany, is a community of approximately 14,000 nestled in the rolling hills of the Susquehanna River valley. It's a college town, and it has the lively, slightly off-kilter charm that one often finds in such communities.

The land now occupied by the City of Oneonta was originally settled by the Algonquin and the Iroquois. The first Europeans to move into the area were Dutch and Palatine German settlers who moved out of the Schoharie and Mohawk valleys shortly before the American Revolution. The city experienced a boom with the coming of the Delaware and Hudson railroad during the late 19th century and during the early 20th century was home to the largest railroad roundhouse in the world.

The roundhouse was demolished long ago, and the city's economy now centers around higher education (the State University of New York at Oneonta and Hartwick College sit on the hillsides that overlook downtown Oneonta), health care, and retail; Oneonta may have only 14,000 residents, but it's surrounded by numerous small towns and villages whose inhabitants come to Oneonta to shop, eat in restaurants, see movies, and attend concerts and other cultural events.

Oneonta's late 19th century boom is manifest in its architecture, much of which dates from that era. The Wilber Mansion at 11 Ford Street is an excellent example. It was built by George I. Wilber, who was the son of the founder of the nearby Wilber National Bank and who served as president of the bank from 1890-1923. The mansion's inner core was built in 1875, and the porches, turret, port-cochere, and high Victorian decorative elements were added during an 1890 renovation. Since 1999, the Wilber Mansion has served as the headquarters of the Upper Catskill Community Council of the Arts.

The Chapin Memorial Church at 12 Ford Street is directly across the street from the Wilber Mansion. The church, which was dedicated in 1894, is home to the Unitarian Universalist Society of Oneonta. It is the second house of worship that the congregation has built at this site. A 1941 lightning strike destroyed its steeple, which was never rebuilt, and, sadly, most of the congregation's historical records.

Main Street is, as its name implies, Oneonta's main thoroughfare. Two- and three-story commercial buildings dominate the streetscape, and the image above should give you a sense of what Oneonta's downtown looks like. My friend Ron and I had a leisurely brunch at the always awesome Autumn Cafe at 244 Main Street (look for the red awning). If you're ever in Oneonta, this is the place to eat.

After brunch, we headed to the State University of New York at Oneonta campus so that my friend could teach a trio of courses. While he was in class, I took in the exhibits at the Martin-Mullen Art Gallery in the Fine Arts Building (and highly recommend Recent Work: Faculty Art Exhibition, which will be open until 16 December) and spent a little time pondering Joseph Kurhajec's Twisting Force (2005), which occupies a prominent position in the courtyard of the Fine Arts Building.

I then headed over to the James M. Milne Library, where I spent a couple of hours working on an upcoming presentation on disaster recovery and electronic records (posts on this subject are forthcoming), then stopped by the adjacent Jazzman's Cafe for a cup of coffee.

It started snowing while I was at Milne Library and continued snowing as I made my way back to the Fine Arts Building to meet Ron. A few minutes after I took this picture, snow stopped falling in the courtyard and the sun started coming out. However, snow continued to fall on the western side of the Fine Arts Building for at least ten minutes afterward. The SUNY Oneonta campus is no stranger to this sort of highly localized precipitation.

After doing a little shopping, Ron and I headed back to the Autumn Cafe for dinner. We sat in one of my favorite spots, a very Maxfield Parrish-ish elevated alcove, to which has been added a tree full of crows and the Wicked Witch of the West.

On our way back to the car, we took a few minutes to contemplate the Municipal Building at 238-242 Main Street, next to the Autumn Cafe. This Beaux Arts structure was built in the early 20th century and was originally the Oneonta City Hall. It now serves as an Otsego County satellite office building.

I haven't been able to find much information about Oneonta's current City Hall, which sits at 252 Main Street, but I suspect that it was built in the 1930s and that it was a Works Progress Administration project.

The above images are only a taste of what this fun, funky little community has to offer. If you ever get the chance to spend a little time in Oneonta, by all means take the opportunity to do so.


Anonymous said...

Nice photos. That mansion is just beautiful! Thanks for sharing!

Quinn Resney said...

My dad co owns The Autumn Cafe, He's co owned it since 1980!

CityOf Oneonta said...

The current City Hall was originally built as the US Post Office in 1913 and converted to its current use in 1980.