The First Ward of Binghamton

My maternal grandmother is buried in the northeast corner of Spring Forest Cemetery, less than two blocks from the house she grew up in.


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.

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.

4 thoughts on “The First Ward of Binghamton”

  1. It is always strange to go back to childhood places. A few years ago, the first family home I remember came up for rental and I went for a look round with my dad. Very little of the interior was as I remember it, but what struck me most was how small and cramped it felt, even though in my memory it was quite spacious. But then I was much smaller then than I am now!

  2. I remember we had our Girl Scout troop meetings in the basement of the AME Zion church. That was around late ’60’s early ’70’s.

  3. What a wonderful article! Thank U for sharing such wonderful memories. I grew up on Clinton St. in a 4 family apartment building in front of Vail Blue Press; the parking lot was our playground & weekends were the best, because no one worked then…the hot humid summer nights bring back memories of the presses running every night, non breezes ever stirred, A/C was unheard of then and fans were for the ‘wealthy’.
    1st Ward residents never locked their doors at night. Daniel Dickinson was my favorite school, a group of us held the 1st DSD reunion at St. Cyrils Hall and then a few year later at St. Michaels…what a good time everyone had.., was allot of work, but worth it.
    I recall the Ritz theater, the price was 15 cents and we all raised hell until the owners came down the isle with their flashlights threatening to throw us all out..I have no idea of the movies we watched, but Friday nights was our night to ‘party’.
    I have very fond memories of the 1st Ward and am proud to say that back then everyone worked, no matter what job they had. It is not the same as it used to be, but then, nothing ever is….there was one thing In will always remember with fondness, the friendships that were formed, neighbors reaching out to others helping in any way they could…for the most part, children were safe, even Mastie Huba never chased us down the street, he was always too drunk anyway…God Bless all the people in the 1st Ward…..thanks for the memories…..

  4. Philly Sales popcorn was the best! I went to St Cyrils, and lived north of Prospect St. I remember my friends and I often running along the top of that white wall that surrounded D.Dickinsen. Remember cutting through the cemetery on the way home from school. There is hardly a street on that map that didn’t have friends or classmates living on. Would often stop at the store at Mygatt and Elm (can’t remember name) to get a Hires root beer for 10 cents and a 3-pack of chocolate cupcakes for the same. It was the 1950’s for me.
    Stopped by for 50th Central HS reunion a few years ago–almost didn’t recognize the place, First Ward pool gone, Ansco gone, my old neighborhood gone. Thanks for the memories..

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