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Oneonta in Olden Time & Bits of Oneonta History: An Interesting Series of Articles by Harvey Baker, Published in the Oneonta Herald During the Years 1892-1893
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Softcover - $22.95
Arguably the most important presence in the history of Oneonta, New York, Harvey Baker was a prolific writer who contributed to several Otsego County papers throughout his life. In 1892 and 1893, he wrote a series of sixty-three articles for the Oneonta Herald, his account of how Oneonta evolved from aboriginal lands to frontier settlements, a bustling village, and eventually to a railroading powerhouse. Based on his research of the area’s history dating back to colonial times and up to the current events of his lifetime, Baker covers topics as diverse as the American Revolution and Civil War, family histories, regional folklore, local newspapers, churches and schools, Native American legends, turnpikes and canals, and local geography and ecology. His description of the development of the railroad from Albany to Binghamton is of major interest; Baker is considered by many to have single-handedly built the Albany & Susquehanna railroad. This current publication of Baker’s history, compiled by the Greater Oneonta Historical Society, makes it widely accessible for the first time since its initial publication more than one hundred years ago.
These articles are a treasure trove of historical fact, oral history, and anecdote. Mr. Baker seems to have had a keen sense of the difference between those three forms of historical narrative. In his first article, published January 21, 1892, he states, "The value of history depends upon its reliability and correctness. History formed from traditions, to give it value, must be substantiated and established by collateral facts and confirming circumstances."
The series of articles Baker wrote cover such wide ranging topics as pre-Oneonta history, schools and churches, newspapers, families, folklore, military interests, Oneonta's commercial development, and, of course, railroading. The book is laid out with the articles arranged chronologically in the order in which they were published in the Oneonta Herald. However, the table of contents groups the articles by subject, making it easier for the researcher to find articles pertaining to their subject of interest. Illustrations help the reader to see many of the places mentioned by Baker in his articles. There is, also, an extensive index to further aid both the researcher and casual historian in searching particular people or events.
These worthy historical articles by Harvey Baker could easily have remained in obscurity were it not for the efforts of the Greater Oneonta Historical Society. They provide insightful sketches of particular points in Oneonta's history and useful biographies of some of its noted citizens. This collection is a useful tool for those just starting to study Oneonta history as well as the veteran historian of the area.
Dominick J. Reisen
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About the Author & Compilers
Born in Broome County, New York in 1818, Harvey Baker became a mechanic and millwright at an early age. He began rebuilding water wheels in saw, grist, and other mills and factories. He first visited Oneonta in February 1841, when he made his first contract to put his wheels into the local mills. In addition to his mechanical skills, Baker was a gifted public speaker and lobbyist who worked for decades to bring the railroad to Oneonta. An original stockholder of the Albany & Susquehanna railroad, he also contracted to build the rail beds, bridges, and trestles, personally supervising the work between Albany and Binghamton. He later purchased and developed land near Oneonta, selling it to the Delaware & Hudson railroad for their machine shops. In community life, Baker served as Oneonta village president and town supervisor, was a charter trustee of the Oneonta Savings Bank, and owned the Howe’s Cave Lime and Cement Company. He also owned two farms and wrote extensively on farming in the Otsego Farmer. Baker died at his home in Oneonta in 1904.
Founded in 1939, the Greater Oneonta Historical Society, formerly the Upper Susquehanna Historical Society, promotes the greater Oneonta area’s past and future by providing stimulating educational experiences, dynamic programs and exhibitions based on authentic objects, stories and lives from Oneonta’s rich traditions. To learn more about GOHS or to become a member, please visit www.oneontahistory.org.
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