Historians sometimes think about places that "used to be there" on sites we know today. Even as I'm walking along Oneonta streets now and then, I'll remember older places now gone, or wonder what was there long before I was around. Then I'll come across newspaper articles or look in city directories and find out plenty about former homes or buildings.
Some articles I read recently made me realize that the entire eastern side of Chestnut Street, between Church and West streets, was once lined with houses. Today, only one house stands, at 80 Chestnut St., where Dr. Leon Wiggin has a dental practice on the property.
Evaline Skinner once lived in that house, and watched that whole side of the street change. One huge increase in the momentum came in 1957, when what was then the Physician's Building, at 76 Chestnut St., was torn down to make way for a Loblaw's supermarket. Once known as the Baird Mansion, the building was owned by Dr. Alexander F. Carson.
It was Mayor Alexander Carson in 1949 who said zoning should change all along Chestnut and Main streets, beyond the downtown business district, to allow what were mostly houses to become businesses. That zoning ordinance was changed that year, and in a public hearing before the vote to change it, no one appeared to voice opposition.
An amusing article from the Nov. 7, 1957, Oneonta Star helped share Evaline's recollections of that part of Chestnut Street.
"Mrs. James B. Skinner paused on the sidewalk as she returned from the business district. The Baird House, which later became the Physician's Building, was gone and workmen were preparing the ground for a supermarket and parking lot.
"Asked how she felt, Mrs. Skinner thought for a moment and said, 'I don't know. I just don't know. I can't make up my mind.' Then she added, 'At least I can see my house when I go along the sidewalk.'
"She looked at the modern new Elks Club to the right of her home, and to the filling station across the street on the site of the Dr. Edward J. Parish home," presently insurance and tax service offices at 75 Chestnut St.
The Elks Club opened in 1952, as did a Victory supermarket, next door to it.
The Oneonta Star got that section of Chestnut Street's change underway when it opened its new facilities at 102 Chestnut St. in 1950, after moving from Broad Street.
"She slowly shook her head as she said, 'My grandfather built our house almost a hundred years ago. I was born in it, married in it, and have lived in it all my life.'"
Evaline's grandfather was Philander Lane, who married Evaline Gile. They had two daughters. One, Rachel, married Lucius Lennon, and were the parents of Evaline Skinner.
Lucius Lennon came from Cairo, Greene County, and got into some partnerships in downtown hardware stores. One partnership was with T. Waldo Stevens, a founder of today's Stevens Hardware.
Lennon started his own hardware store at today's 209 Main St., where Oneonta Optical is found.
Evaline Lennon married James Skinner, where he practiced dentistry at 80 Chestnut St. for more than 50 years. At the time of the 1957 article, Dr. Skinner was 85 and retired.
"The doctor now sits by the big window and looks at the church (First Methodist Church)," Mrs. Skinner said. "He says it doesn't look natural."
"The reason is that he can see it now from his window," the Star said. "The old Physicians Building which blocked his view is gone."
"I saw it built and I saw it torn down," Mrs. Skinner said.
Evaline Skinner told a few other stories of growing up here. She attended Oneonta Free Academy, once located on the grounds where the former Academy Street School buildings stood until 1976. To get to it on rainy days she carried newspapers to lay across the muddy Chestnut Street, to help keep her shoes clean.
Mrs. Skinner said in 1957 she had received "repeated and urgent" offers to sell her home for commercial use but was resolute in declining them. Street directories listed her as living there as late as 1971, and it was vacant in 1972. By 1974, Dr. Wiggins had begun his dental practice here.
On Monday: Oneonta began a war in 1972 it still fights today.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. His website is www.oneontahistorian.com. His columns can be found at www.thedailystar.com/marksimonson.