Mohawk Valley History: Ground broken for Riverside Mall in Utica

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This majestic landmark stood proudly in downtown Utica for more than 60 years until the city tore it down in 1956 for a parking lot. It was the state armory on Rutger Street – across from Steuben Park and today the site of the Historical Park Apartments. It was built in 1893 for area National Guard units and was the place where soldiers from Oneida County marched off to war – the Spanish -American War, World War I, World War II and the Korean War. The building also was the city’s auditorium before the Memorial Auditorium opened in 1960. It was the home of car shows, wrestling matches, amateur and professional basketball and dances. When the building was razed, Bill Woods, editorial page editor for the Observer-Dispatch, wrote: “This razing hurts us a little as each powdering brick tumbles. Every crashing beam must bring down with it real pieces of local history.”
This majestic landmark stood proudly in downtown Utica for more than 60 years until the city tore it down in 1956 for a parking lot. It was the state armory on Rutger Street – across from Steuben Park and today the site of the Historical Park Apartments. It was built in 1893 for area National Guard units and was the place where soldiers from Oneida County marched off to war – the Spanish -American War, World War I, World War II and the Korean War. The building also was the city’s auditorium before the Memorial Auditorium opened in 1960. It was the home of car shows, wrestling matches, amateur and professional basketball and dances. When the building was razed, Bill Woods, editorial page editor for the Observer-Dispatch, wrote: “This razing hurts us a little as each powdering brick tumbles. Every crashing beam must bring down with it real pieces of local history.”

Courthouse has a new look

2012, 10 years ago

The renovation of the Oneida County Courthouse in downtown Utica – including the restoration of the second and third floors to its historic past – is completed. At a ceremony celebrating the end of the $25 million, 15-year project, former State Supreme Court Justice Robert F. Julian, who spearheaded the project, traces the history of the building. He reminds the crowd that the body of U.S. Vice President James Schoolcraft Sherman lay in state in the courthouse in 1912. Sherman, a native of Utica and a graduate of Hamilton College in 1878, had died in his home on Genesee Street.

Julian connects the building’s history to the history of Utica and adds, “It is a spirit that cannot be duplicated by a new building.” Oneida County Executive Anthony Picente Jr. says, “The courthouse is a living monument to our collective commitment to the cause of justice.” The courthouse, at Elizabeth and Charlotte streets, was built in the early 20th century at a cost of $924,366.

In other news, Holland Patent’s Leon R. Roberts American Legion Post 161 elects Gary Wedgewood as its commander. Others elected include: Richard Roberts, first vice commander; John Damon, second vice commander; Barry Gates, third vice commander; Raymond Doucette, adjutant; Robert Leahy, service officer; John Hosp, sergeant-at-arms; Art Farr, chaplain; and Thomas Heburn, treasurer.

Oriskany’s R. Kirk Parkhurst American Legion Post 1448 elects Joe Bolton as its commander. Others elected include: Steve Bolton, first vice commander; George Lyon, second vice commander; Pat Huther, adjutant; Lee Wall, treasurer; Paul Smith, sergeant-at-arms; and Bob Hecox, service officer liaison.

1997, 25 years ago

Cornhill celebration

Residents of Utica’s Cornhill section gather at South and Steuben streets for a festival marking Juneteenth – a day celebrating the end of slavery in the United States. The 5th Ward Posse Drill Team performs and there are foot races, dance contests, a soul food cook off, fashion show, basketball tournaments and food booths. Cassandra Harris-Lockwood, one of the organizers, says the goal is to make the festival an event for the entire city to enjoy. President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation was issued on Jan. 1, 1863, but it wasn’t until June 19th, 1865, that Union Army troops entered Galveston, Texas, to inform slaves there that they were free.

In American Legion baseball, Sherrill Post defeats Utica Post, 11 to 6, behind the hitting of Joey Stadtmiller ( four hits), Don Kipp (bases loaded triple) and Jade Reader (two-run double). Utica’s Dale Campbell has two hits. Meanwhile, Lee beats Love, 11 to 6. Lee’s John Luczinski has a two-run homer and four RBIs. Bill Halpin adds a two-run homer and Joe Schillaci has three hits.

The Oneida-Herkimer-Madison BOCES Advisory Council for Occupational Education has three new members: Stephen Coupe of Ilion; Gerri Ann Vagadori of Utica and John Storey of New Hartford.

1972, 50 years ago

Mitchell wins

Assemblyman Donald J. Mitchell, of Herkimer, wins a Republican primary and nomination for the 31st Congressional District, which includes Oneida, Herkimer, Otsego, Fulton, Hamilton and Schoharie counties. Alexander Pirnie of New Hartford, the district’s current congressman, is retiring.

Meanwhile, the $2.2 million Victor A. Perretta Twin Towers in Utica – housing for the elderly -- is dedicated. Perretta, for whom the project is named, is executive director of the Municipal Housing Authority. He says the 10-story, 108-apartment complex on Elizabeth Street is filled and that there is a long waiting list.

Ground is broken for what is expected to be one of the largest shopping centers in Central New York. The Utica Mall in North Utica (later renamed the Riverside Mall) will have three large department stores – Montgomery Ward, J.M. Fields and Howlands – and about 70 smaller stores. The mall is on a 60-acre site and will have parking for 2,800 vehicles.

1947, 75 years ago

Damaging flood

One of the worst floods in years strikes the Upper Mohawk Valley. During a 24-hour period, 2.46 inches of rain are recorded at the Utica Municipal Airport in Marcy and 3.32 inches at the Hinckley Reservoir. The result: washed out bridges and flooded highways and cellars. Dams in Moose River at McKeever and in the West Canada Creek in Nobleboro are washed out.

1922, 100 years ago

Foreign born

More than 23,000 of Utica’s 95,156 citizens were born in foreign countries according to the1920 U.S. census. The countries and number of foreign born include: Italy 8,435; Poland 4,091; Germany 2,055; Ireland 1,437; Wales 1,376; England 1,267; Syria 749; Canada 886; Russia 1,034; Spain 15; Greece 89; Cuba 2; Holland 19; Belgium 15; Norway 14; Finland 12.

1897, 125 years ago

Fish train

A state-owned railroad fish car arrives at the Rome, Watertown & Ogdensburg train depot on Bagg’s Square in Utica with tens of thousands of brook and brown trout. The Black River Association will use them to stock the Mohawk River, West Canada Creek and Nine-Mile Creek.

Trivia quiz

Two future U. S. presidents signed the Declaration of Independence in 1776. Name them. (a) Washington and Jefferson, (b) John Adams and Jefferson, (c) Madison and Jefferson or (d) Jefferson and John Quincy Adams. (Answer will appear here next week.)

Answer to last week’s question: Bill Clinton, 42nd president of the United States from 1993 to 2001, was the first president born after World War II ended in 1945. He was born on August 19, 1946. George W. Bush, 43rd president, was born earlier – on July 6, 1946 – but he was the second, not the first, president born after the war. Barack Obama was born on Aug. 4, 1961; Donald Trump on June 14, 1946, and Joe Biden on Nov. 20, 1942.

This Week in History is researched and written by Frank Tomaino. E-mail him at ftomaino221@gmail.com.

This article originally appeared on Observer-Dispatch: Utica’s Cornhill celebrates Juneteenth; ground broken for Riverside Mall