Binghamton, Now and Then

Here is a great story courtesy of Jason Kruger.




Video by Damian Martin


 
Binghamton: Now and Then
"Fleshing out the Past"

by Jason Kruger


My name is Jason Kruger. I am a 29 year old insurance agent, lifelong Binghamton resident and an amateur local historian. In my spare time I, along with a close group of friends, spend spare time researching local history via libraries, websites, museums and old newspapers. We trade findings and reference materials and try to get involved as much as possible in events relating to local history in Broome County. One such way is through social networking, and by doing so I discovered a local group titled "What's Goin' On Binghamton". After seeing my posts and photos relating to Binghamton history I was contacted by them in the hopes that we could work together to detail some of the more interesting and lesser known facts about local history.

The following article is in reponse to a video recently posted by "What's Goin' On Binghamton" titled "Now and Then". The video features about 11 minutes worth of modern Binghamton scenes transitioning to photos or post cards of what the area looked like in the same location approximately 100 years earlier. I will flesh out some details of a few of the more interesting scenes and hopefully provide some entertainment to those who didn't know our area was so rich in history. For easy reference I will lay out some details in a non linear fashion and reference certain time stamps in the video. For example, (5:15) will refer to 5 minutes and 15 seconds into the video, where you can scroll to in order to see the location I'm discussing. Thanks for checking it out!

Outstanding architecture is something that has always existed in Binghamton, however, many of us are so used to it that we fail to notice it in the way those visiting from out of town do. The period most significant for design and architecture in Binghamton would be the late 1800's through the early 1900's. This is a time when men such as Isaac G. Perry and Truman Lacey would mold the downtown landscape into the Victorian Gothic views that we still see to this day. (1:56) As seen in this photograph, the heart of downtown was and still is dominated by buildings designed by these men.

The building on the corner of Court and Chenango streets, aptly named "The Perry Building" (2:19), was designed in 1876 and has the distinction of being the only cast iron building in the city. You can go up to it to this day and stick a magnet to the side of the building. Perry, the son of carpenter, was known to have a keen eye for architecture from a young age and often incorporated impressive staircases in his designs, This can be seen in a number of his buildings, but most notably in the Inebriate Asylum, known as the Castle on the Hill, to Binghamtonians. Perry, in his day, was a bit of a local celebrity, as were many of the wealthy upper class in the area in the early 20th century. Perry lived on the top floor of the Perry Building during the later part of his life. From there he could see what was known as the "Perry Block", a number of buildings that he designed, including the Courthouse across the street (2:36), Phelps bank across Chenango Street (:09) and Centenary Methodist Episcopal Church further down Court Street. The Perry building would go on to become Mclean's department store and later used for dentist offices, lawyers offices and photography studios. Perry would go on to be the lead architect of the New York State capitol building in Albany. Towards the end of Perry's life he was commissioned to design a new set of gates for the entrance to Spring Forest Cemetary. Shortly thereafter Perry passed away and was the first person to be taken under the gates he designed, to his final resting place. Perry died in 1904 at the age of 82.

Truman Lacey was also an important architect in the history of Binghamton. Lacey designed the Security Mutual Building (to the right at :09), The Press Building (the large building to the left at 3:19), the current Lost Dog cafe building (originally a cigar factory, Binghamton's major export at the time) as well as numerous other buildings, many of which stand to this day.

No story about Binghamton's past or local architecture would be complete without mentioning the Kilmer family. One of the most affluent families this area has ever seen, father Jonas Kilmer and son Willis Sharpe Kilmer turned a company focusing on herbal cure alls, specifically "Swamp Root", into a million dollar operation (4:47 - the building where Swamp Root was produced, now "Remliks".. Kilmer spelled backwards, and also the name of the Kilmers famous yacht). The company founded by Jonas Kilmer's brother Dr. S. Andral Kilmer was based on quackery and misleading claims, as was the case with many medicine companies in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In a time before federal drug regulations salesman could, essentially, make any boisterous claims they wanted. Such was the case of Willis Sharpe Kilmer, who marketed the cure alls brilliantly and played a large role in his families fortune with his marketing and advertising skills. Both father Jonas and son Willis' mansions could be seen on Riverside Dr (10:51 - Willis' house on the left, Jonas' on the right and at a reverse angle at 11:04). The remaining mansion of Jonas Kilmer (11:14) is now used as a Jewish Temple. Also worth mentioning is Kilmer's relation to The Press Building downtown. In 1904, the building was financed by Willis Sharpe Kilmer as home to a printing operation for his own local newspaper, The Binghamton Press. This was in response to, quite literally, bad press he had received by another local newspaper. In typical Kilmer fashion, rather than back down and admit defeat, he decided to start his own newspaper. He also demanded the Press Building be two stories higher than another building that had recently been constructed, The Security Mutual building, in an effort to claim the title of tallest building in Binghamton. The Press Building carried this title until the State Office Building was constructed in 1972 and took the honor of being the tallest building in Binghamton.

Chenango Street was once a hub of entertainment for the area. The Stone Opera House and the Strand Theater stood as opera houses and movie houses, in a time when most movies were silent (3:13 - the Strand is the small white building towards the left and to its right the Stone Opera House, discolored by years of neglect and once a fire). From the other end, the corner of Chenango and Lewis Streets, (4:18) one would see the "Moon Block" on the right and both "The Arlington" and "The Carlton" hotels on the left. The "Moon Block" would be destroyed by fire in 1949, leaving people homeless and basically obliterating that side of Chenango Street for a period of time. As the years passed, and the movie industry changed, the need for 19th century style theaters diminished only to be replaced by multi screen cinema complexes. The theaters on Chenango couldn't keep up and now sit abandoned, waiting to be repurposed.

Lackawanna Train Station (3:48) was, at one time, crucial to the development of the Binghamton area. The connection of railroad lines and passenger service allowed the area to grow immensely and made Binghamton a powerhouse of industry and manufacturing. In the mid 20th century, however, this train station and surrounding neighborhood was slated to be wiped off the map by what was known as "Urban Renewal". This was a program designed to demolish old, dated structures and replace them with new businesses and housing. Funding fell short after the demolition phase, and this part of town suffered heavily. Much of what you see now (before-4:04 after-3:56) came down as a result of this. The lot where "The Arlington" stood (4:35) is now a fenced in parking for post office vehicles. Luckily the Lackawanna Train Station avoided the wrecking ball, probably due to lack of further funding, and remains as proof of a bygone era.

Due to the population boom of the early 20th century, many clubs and societies popped up around the city. Nowhere was this more noticeable than on Washington St (3:33). The Kalurah Temple, home to a Shriners type organization, once held meetings here and was in the middle of what was known as "Fraternity Row". This included, in order, the Boys Club, The Kalurah Temple, The Elks Club and The Knights of Columbus. Also, always relevant in the Binghamton area were the Freemasons. A large Masonic temple (8:59) was built shortly after a fire took their former location in 1919, which happened to be in what we now call the Mid Town Mall. This is between The Perry Building and The Press Building. The Mid Town Mall again burned in 2010, this time after being acquired by a developer for student housing.

On July 22, 1913, a clothing factory fire killed 31 women on Wall St in downtown Binghamton. A post office standing near this location (5:33 - large stone building on the left) suffered heavy damage and was later torn down as a result. The clothing factory (7:25 - brick building to the middle right, shown here with advertising on its side wall) was previously a cigar factory but later converted to a clothing factory where one hundred or more woman could work at a time making mens overalls. It was a hot day, and many women had removed layers of clothing to cool down. The women were hesitant to run outside, partially dressed, when fire alarms rang, thinking it was only a drill, and when the fire quickly erupted due to the many flammable materials, the women were trapped on the third and fourth floors. These women are now buried in a circular mass memorial grave-site at Spring Forest Cemetery.

Many of the other photographs in this video highlight street scenes, houses and daily life in Binghamton, as it was in a more prosperous time. Although Binghamton is no longer the booming economic center of upstate New York, it's recent revitalization is refreshing, and much of downtown has improved immensely in the last decade. It's with great hope that while keeping our minds on the future we can also remember the mistakes such as Urban Renewal that have occurred in the past. Our priority should be to protect the historical beauty that the city still maintains while moving forward and developing new ways to make the former "Valley of Opportunity" prosperous once again.
 

6 comments

  • diane

    diane skiba

    I was born in binghamton. I now live in colorado. I miss my home town.My dad and brother still live there. I love living in binghamton,my brother and me were happy as kids living there,the good old days

    I was born in binghamton. I now live in colorado. I miss my home town.My dad and brother still live there. I love living in binghamton,my brother and me were happy as kids living there,the good old days

  • What's Goin' on Binghamton

    What's Goin' on Binghamton

    Hi Diane, Thanks for writing, and thank you for checking in.

    Hi Diane,

    Thanks for writing, and thank you for checking in.

  • Shaniqua Johnson

    Shaniqua Johnson Saratoga ave Binghamton NY,

    Very nice article!

    Very nice article!

  • What's Goin' on Binghamton

    What's Goin' on Binghamton

    Thank you Shaniqua

    Thank you Shaniqua

  • Amanda Conklin

    Amanda Conklin Born in Binghamton, NY, BCHS class of 1964,now living in FL, retired. Several generations of my family lived in Binghamton,

    Your site is very interesting and well done, Thank you.

    Your site is very interesting and well done, Thank you.

  • What's Goin' on Binghamton

    What's Goin' on Binghamton

    Thank you Amanda.

    Thank you Amanda.

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