Binghamton, Albany: looking back at the places I’ve lived

Maurice Ravel played at at Vincentian Institute in Albany in 1928!

McLeansI have said before that I’m not much for nostalgia. Yet, this year, I have joined two Facebook groups that are looking back at people and places from the cities’ past.

One group is I AM FROM BINGHAMTON, NY. The group was created in 2008.

This picture is of McLean’s department store in downtown Binghamton, one of two stores – the other was Fowler’s – that anchored downtown Binghamton for decades. McLean’s was located on Court Street at the corner of Chenango Street, across from City Hall.

My mother worked at McLean’s, first as an elevator operator, then as a bookkeeper for many years. My sisters and would go downtown, often walking from home, to visit her, or to walk up Chenango Street to eat at some restaurant called the Olympia (?) Tea Room, or to see a movie at the Strand or the Riviera.

Later, my mom worked at Columbia Gas as a bookkeeper, also on that first block on Chenango. Most of the place mentioned are long gone. There’s a Boscov’s where Fowler’s was, but it is possibly the rattiest looking store in the chain. How can I have forgotten that the CVS drug store, was once Hamlin’s before it got bought out?

Closer to my home, we went to the G&H Diner frequently because my mother had neither the time, the inclination, or the talent to cook; how did I forget that place on the corner of Front and Franklin Streets? On the other hand, I never knew about Binghamton’s Buried Stream of the First Ward, MY old neighborhood.

Ross Park Zoo is still around, and still with a carousel. But I had forgotten that it used to have a train to ride around.

I WAS able to add to the discussion. As a Cub Scout, I discovered, on a tour of Crowley’s, the dairy producer. that one building was linked to the building across Conklin Avenue underneath the road. When I was eight, this was exceedingly cool.

When I was a kid, I appeared a couple local daily TV shows in Binghamton on WNBF-TV, Channel 12, maybe TV RANCH CLUB or OFFICER BILL. Or possibly, both. Here’s a LINK to an INTERVIEW with BILL PARKER, the host of those two shows and much more. My buddy John notes that his “VOICE still resonates the same after all these years!” (November 7th 2014, 46 minutes).

This is WAY cool: an amazing historical view of downtown Binghamton from 1950 that itemizes all of the business on a street map of the center of the city. Incidentally, there are two rivers in Binghamton, the Chenango, running north/south, and the Susquehanna, running east/west. The house numbers start from the river they are perpendicular to.

Of course, there is sometimes a tendency to idealize the past. This is a picture of a Ku Klux Klan rally from the mid-1920s, in front of Binghamton City Hall, which is right across from McLean’s. From one participant’s information, they tried to re-market themselves as a “service organization” to attract new members and downplayed their racial motives. They were still anti-Catholic, anti-immigrant as well as anti-black, and tried to form a boycott of Endicott Johnson shoe manufacturers if George F Johnson didn’t fire his immigrant work force; George F ignored them.

This is a piece of local history I had heard about, second-hand. But to actually SEE it on streets I have walked was astonishing. The fiction that the Klan existed/exists only in the southern US. From the Wikipedia: “At its peak in the mid-1920s, the organization claimed to include about 15% of the nation’s eligible population, approximately 4–5 million men.” Reportedly, from 1923 to 1928, Binghamton was the NYS headquarters for the KKK.

(Unfortunately, the KKK thread, which was quite civilized, was removed from the page by the administrator, presumably as too controversial.)

Also, in 1948, Binghamton had a comic books burning.

I got the picture below from my friend Carol of the remains of the school I attended from K-9, 1958-1968, Daniel Dickinson, taken May of 1973, when I was away at college at New Paltz. I was unaware this was about to take place until long after it was razed, and it broke my heart. The area is now apartments.

By contrast, the Facebook page Albany… the way it was, run by Al Quaglieri, whose byline I remember from Metroland, the arts weekly, involves discoveries of things I never knew. Maurice Ravel played at at Vincentian Institute in 1928! Even Albany before dozens of homes were razed, and the Empire State Plaza was built was new to me, since I didn’t move here until 1979.

I was able to participate in one recent conversation. Al doesn’t always remember some of the places that have come and gone. But I remember, fondly, the Shades of Green vegetarian restaurant on Lark Street, around the corner from Washington Avenue. I went there a lot when I worked at FantaCo in the 1980s.

You should check out the Albany group archive, a “gigantic photo library – over 10,000 images that you can search.”

So these pages provide me an interesting convergence of history and memory, and, yes, perhaps nostalgia.
Daniel Dickinson
Pronounce This: Upstate New York

Author: Roger

I'm a librarian. I hear music, even when it's not being played. I used to work at a comic book store, and it still informs my life. I won once on JEOPARDY! - ditto.

7 thoughts on “Binghamton, Albany: looking back at the places I’ve lived”

  1. Hi, Roger: Nice to see your comments about Binghamton, my alma mater from 72-76. My final two years I rented
    a room from an old lady at 127 Pennsylvania, south side. I vividly remember the Ross Park Zoo, which wasn’t all
    that far from my house, and taking these long Wordsworthian/Coleridgian strolls through the countryside surrounding Binghamton, maybe 8 or 9 mile walks. Do you remember the Queen Elizabeth Diner near the
    bus station? I used to go back to the college every year or so but haven’t been there lately. The dorm I lived
    in at Harpur College was been completely demolished, along with the rest of the dorms in that residential
    community, and replaced with new, bigger buildings. Some of my fondest memories of the college involve chilling out at their beautiful nature preserve behind the campus. Also Pat Mitchell’s Ice Cream (I think that was that correct name) in Endicott. My last semester at SUNY I had to stick around to take one English requirement my advisor had
    neglected to mention, so simultaneously worked full-time for Manpower at various industrial jobs in the Binghamton area. I vividly remember hitchhiking from Bingo to Albany along Rt. 7 in the dead of winter and
    actually not freezing to death and getting rides fairly easily. 88 was still under construction then. Coincidentally,
    during my last semester, I worked as a radiology orderly at Lourdes, the hospital where Peg was born 31 years

    Bob Schalit

  2. Regarding the Klan: it was also active in Woodstock, N.Y. of all places in the 1920’s. As I understand, they were particularly anti-Jew and anti-Communist in the area.

  3. Al Q. is a busy man. At one time, he was hired to produce a reissue called something like “Motown – The Sound of Young America, Year By Year.” That project unwound after only a few releases, but he’s been the go-to guy for box sets at Sony for over a decade now. (Still in my address book for some reason I’ve probably forgotten.)

  4. In 1950s-60, I grew up on Oak Street btw Dickinson St & Lydia St/Winding Way. Went to St. Cyril’s until Daniel Dickinson (DD) for 9th grade from 1965-66. Graduated from BCHS in 1969 and have lived in Florida, Texas, Island of Cyprus (via US Navy), Washington, D.C., Virginia and now in retirement in Hawaii. Your story about Bing and the First Ward (and particularly the Buried Brook) brought back many, many memories.
    My experiences were not all good growing up in a tough neighborhood: DD classmate struck me from behind during lunch recess in February/March 1966 and I awoke in the hospital; if you were there at that time, you might even remember that incident because an ambulance raced to school to take me away.
    Anyway, just wanted to say thanks for the trip down Memory Lane. Good to reflect on the journey and to know that it is possible for someone from that time and location to end up in a good place. Aloha, Joe

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