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History is a Good Teacher

By Joseph Bottini, Oneida County Historian

“If you always do what you’ve always done, you will always get what you always got!” “If one does not learn lessons from history, one is doomed to repeat the mistakes of the past.”The same input will give you the same output!”

A lot of the above is very true.

Problem: 1960c – Reviving downtown. “Bring the shoppers from the Valley” was one suggestion.

Solution: Construct a more accessible route 5S into Oriskany Street.

Result: Many examples of important architecture were destroyed.  Much history was obliterated – including some related to the founding of Old Fort Schuyler and early Utica. Main Street became a dead-end street from the east. The solution did not do what was expected. The project was a dismal failure and Utica lost some of its cultural and social character.


Problem: 1968c – Reviving downtown. It was suggested (during Urban Renewal craze) “Modernize center-city with a new ‘state-of-the-art’ hotel.”

Solution: “Oh, Urban Renewal No. 1 will fix everything.” Open up the area with a “La Promenade” and new city hall.

Result: An iconic building designed by Richard Upjohn, considered the premier architect of the 19th century, (Frank Lloyd Wright of that day) fell victim to the wrecking ball.


Problem: 1974c – Reviving downtown. “Bring shoppers from the North Country and straight off of the New York State Thruway” was one suggestion.

Solution: Construct a bridge that will bring people from the north (Deerfield Corners) and the Thruway exit on Genesee Street, past the deteriorating Bagg Square corridor (then considered a ‘throw-a-way’ neighborhood) into downtown. During the late 1800s there was a plan to build a bridge over the Mohawk River at Bagg Square. Mr. T. R. Proctor wrote a letter in the newspaper opposing the idea saying,”If we move the river we would eliminate the problem. Besides, an ugly bridge at that place would compromise the social and cultural (character) of the Square”, he said. They listened and the river was moved. We now know he was acutely prophetic. However, there were no T. R. Proctors around in the 1970s.

Result: Many architectural gems were destroyed. A ton of history was obliterated. Main Street became a dead-end street from the west, Bagg Commemorative Park was compromised, the Federal building was camouflaged, and traffic became a nightmare. Lower Genesee Street businesses and the Federal Building were left with much less parking.


There are other examples of foolish planning that eradicated much Utica history. Because of them, we lost the birthplaces of the modern newspaper industry, telegraph, Associated Press, first commercial telegraph key, and The American Express Company. Historic buildings such as the gorgeous Munson-Williams Memorial Building, the residence of twice governor and Democrat presidential candidate Horatio Seymour, the residence of the 27th Vice President of the United States, James S. Sherman and so much more.

And now, my fellow Oneida County taxpayers, we are repeating the mistakes of the past.

Problem: 2019 – We have a neighborhood in need of rehabilitating having been ignored for decades.

Solution: Do another failed Urban Renewal project by destroying iconic buildings and destroying more history. On the backs of sick patients, we are going to use the hospital plan to restore a blighted neighborhood instead of addressing the problem with creative urban planning. We will have less of a medical healthcare complex because of stubborn opinions that once in motion take magnanimous souls to reverse.

This will give us a hospital in a RED Zone against government advised guidelines across the street from a successful entertainment district in the process of being expanded.

We teach children to say, I made a mistake. Let us correct it, learn from it and move on. No, it is more egotistic to take a path by being dogmatic and sophomoric enough to press on in face of the obvious damage being done to our city and the supposed state-of-the-art healthcare facility so desired.

A perfect example of how to rehab a section of a city would be the aforementioned Bagg Square Corridor. It is now a place of pride that was fashioned with county interest, private entrepreneurship, city cooperation, Bagg Square Association valiant efforts and some federal funding. A cooperative plan, making the right decisions based on collective good not individual greed for power, notoriety or political tenure.

Result: No one knows for sure. However, if the past is any indication of the future when one travels down the same road to destruction, it won’t be positive. AND, the Oneida County taxpayers will be responsible for the $250,000,000 beyond the state’s $300,000,000 donation.

We do know that the police station in a 1928 historic building will be in jeopardy. Instead of addressing the need for a rejuvenation of the present station and an up-to-the-minute needed addition while keeping the new maintenance building and court building to comprise a full up-to-date police campus.

Where Has All the Common Sense Gone?

We do know the historic Lafayette Street so named in honor of General Lafayette’s visit in 1925 will be obliterated. Just another piece of local history put to death.

A city becomes a shell when its social and cultural character is compromised. Once gone, it is never restored, nor can it be. As was so elegantly expressed by first lady Jacqueline Kennedy in the 1960s:

“Is it not cruel to let our city die by degrees, stripped of her proud monuments until there would be nothing left of all her history and beauty to inspire our children?”

Respect for preserving our history is not a choice; it is a mandate of our human existence. Respecting the legacy from previous generations is behavior befitting a noble people.

Today is the place where yesterday deposited her experiences. Today is the well from which those experiences fashion tomorrow.

How we take care of what we inherit is a mark of who we are. Who are we when we destroy the legacy gifted to us from past generations?

Is there no one person with the chutzpah to stand up and be counted? My offer to have a friendly, public debate one-on-one with a member of Mohawk Valley Healthcare System who favors a downtown location for their proposed “state-of-the-art” hospital is here offered.  No one has given one positive medical reason for the location choice as opposed to the other location (Champlin Ave.) that was in consideration. Please contact me and maybe, just maybe, I could learn something that will enlighten my thinking and adjust my attitude. Maybe!


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