I went to the Olin family reunion last month. I told my sisters, who are in California and North Carolina, that I was going to our hometown of Binghamton, NY. But, for reasons of time, that proved not to really be the case. I went THROUGH Binghamton, on Route 17, heading west to Endicott, as represented in the northern portion of this map, right past my stomping grounds in the First Ward.
When I was growing up, there were houses where that highway is now located. They razed dozens of homes to build a road that would make getting to somewhere else much easier. This broke my heart.
The vast majority of my growing up is represented on this graphic. This is approximately the eastern half of what was known as the city’s First Ward. See Route 11 to the right (east) of the map? That’s Front Street, and there’s a one block stretch off it, Gaines Street, where I used to live.
In fact, one of my sisters found this video of 5 Gaines Street, the house I grew up in, posted in 2014. When WE lived there back in the 1960s, it was green, rough material that was probably made of asbestos on the exterior. Though I spent 18 years there, none of the interior structure looks familiar, though the back yard does.
Every weekday, I’d walk from Gaines Street, to Oak, Lydia, Murray, Meadow, Mygatt to Dickinson Street – I loved the zigzag – to that circle near the southwest corner of this map, on Starr Avenue and Dickinson. That’s where my school, Daniel S. Dickinson, used to be. I attended there from K to 9. They razed it a few years later.
My maternal grandmother lived on Maple Street, off Prospect Street, so we’d go to her house, via Mygatt Street, at lunchtime, and, when we were younger, after school. That building’s gone, too.
Philadelphia Sales was on Clinton Street, but we almost always entered from the Dickinson Street side, through the parking lot. That was the basement entrance where the best popcorn ever was located, or so we thought at the time. It’s also where we bought our records, 45s mostly. That story now defunct.
I often took a circuitous route home. There was a candy store on Mygatt Street between Dickinson and Clinton that had that red shoestring licorice I loved. Friend Bill lived across the street. Heading north on Mygatt Street, we’d say goodbye to Lois near Meadow, and Karen near Spring Forest Avenue. Walking east on Cypress Street, I’d say adieu to Carol, and then cut through Ray’s property through Canny’s trucking, then back home.
We played at Valley Street Park, just north of our house. I tried to learn to play piano at Mrs. Hamlin’s house on Elm Street, between Everett and Mygatt.
The Trinity A.M.E. Zion Church used to be downtown, but when the block was torn down to build a playground, the congregation moved to a building at the corner of Oak and Lydia. That’s still there.
That massive expanse of greenery to the northwest is Spring Forest Cemetery. My friends and I would cut through it to play baseball at Ansco field on the other side. My maternal grandmother and her sister Deana are buried in the northeast corner of the cemetery, less than two blocks from the house they, and my mother, grew up in.
My newspaper route started at Clinton and Oak, at the barbershop I used to go to, and went one block east, comprising a chunk of Front Street, including a long-gone apartment complex known as the Dwight Block, a nice little street called McDonald Avenue by the river, and a chunk of Front Street towards my house.
The First Ward, or The Ward, as we referred to it, was always a bastion of immigrants. A lot of Slavic folks, even now. But according to the 2010 Census, there are now Arabs, who weren’t there in 1970.
It’s been a rundown part of town for a while. But the city is trying. They’ve taken down the behemoth that was the Magic Ice building, formerly Cutler Ice in my time. Half a block from my old home, there will be new homes. The First Ward is a Brownfield Opportunity Area
Maybe next time I go to what they now call Greater Binghamton, I’ll actually GO to BINGHAMTON, see the old homestead, visit the graves.
Special thanks to Arthur@AmeriNZ, who manipulated the BOA map.