The Otego Historical Association
The Then and Now Project


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The Then and Now Project
A Walking Tour of the Village of Otego, NY


General Information on the History of Otego

Several names which come up in connection with the buildings on this tour.

1. Ransom Hunt - an early settler.  The town was named after him for a brief period. "Huntsville"

2. Thaddeus Austin - a "wheeler and dealer" who was involved with the Susquehanna House and the store across the street, now Hesse Galleries.

3. Levi Coburn - a merchant who wrote about Otego as he found it in 1842 and the changes that occurred by 1889.  The street on the left off River St. (Coburn Ave.) is named after him.

4. Dr. Stuart Blakely was the author of History of Otego, 1907.  This was Otego's first history book.

We might wonder why there were so many hotels in Otego.  We must remember that at the time Otego was settled, people traveled by horse and wagon or walked from place to place and a journey for business or pleasure could take several days with stops along the way.  Also, after the railroad came, there were many traveling salesmen (called drummers) who covered their territory by train and would stop off for a day or two in each town.  People could also take longer trips but would stop off along the way for meals or to stay overnight.

In 1842, the post office was called "the box" as it was a 3 foot square room with 26 small mail boxes.  There were not stamps or envelopes.  All charges were paid by the person who received the letter and postage was 6 1/2, 12 1/2, 19 or 25 cents, depending on the distance the letter traveled.  Postage stamps first went on sale July 1, 1847.  In 1901, five mails came per day by train and two by overland stage coach.


1. Parking Lot / Brick Home - Fuller Block
2. Post Office - Breffle Hotel
3. Fire Dept. - Lewis Mansion
4. Hesse Galleries - Wilbur's Store
5. Elementary School - Susquehanna House
6. Archaeological Museum - Hunt's Home
7. Barrett's Dentistry - Susquehanna Valley Mills
8. Strauss Home - Otego Hotel, Colby Manor
9. Celebrations - Bailey Funeral Palor
10. Lifescapes Florist - Otego Grange & Hardware Store
11. Cafe - Broadfoot Bros.
12. 1799 - Oldest House in Otego
 

(1) Fuller Block/Opera House -- Now a Parking Lot and Brick Residence on River St.

Old time residents of Otego fondly remember the Opera House which was located on the upper level of the Fuller Block. This building was never an attractive structure but it made up for its looks in its usefulness.  Here were held traveling plays and shows and even movies.  (Before “talkies,” Mrs. Lulu Brown, grandmother of present Otego resident, Elinor Coots, played background music on the piano for the movies).  The story is told that in the 1920’s electrical power was not all that reliable and sometimes went out while the movie was being shown.  But, not to worry! The fullers had it worked out that one of the Fuller boys would drive up Franklin Mountain to the power station and signal with his car headlights if he were told the power would be back on soon.  In that case, the audience would wait for the show to continue.  If he were told the power would be off for quite a while, he would send a different signal with his lights and the audience would get their money returned (10 cents) and go home.

The Fuller block also housed the RURAL TIMES printing office.  They produced the RURAL TIMES, a weekly newspaper which had a great influence in the life of Otego.  The Fuller family with ten children lived in the building; various businesses and a dentist office were also located there.  One room was used as a gymnasium and both boys and girls basketball teams played there.

It was a sad day when this building burned in 1932.  “Pop” Fuller’s daughter wrote, “I have a mental picture of my father standing in the backyard that morning after the fire. “I had a pancake griddle in my hand” he said. “I looked toward the house and nothing was there.  Everything was gone – the work of a half century.”

The area remained vacant with a big hole in the ground until Georgia Fuller Connor built the brick home in the 1950’s and the Village placed the parking lot a few years ago.



(2) Breffle Hotel -- Now the Post Office

This hotel was built as a private home probably after 1870 by the Holiday family.  Albert Breffle acquired it and converted it into a prosperous hotel.  He was the proprietor during the 1890’s and early 1900’s.  It was a popular spot for dining out as the guest register that is at the Historical Society shows how many people enjoyed time there.  A horse-drawn carriage known as a hack met the trains at the depot and brought passengers looking for a room to the hotel.  The register shows that in May 1897, there was a very distinguished guest – Ignacy Paderewski.  You probably never heard of him, but in his day, he was a famous pianist, the highest paid concert performer in the United States.  What he was doing in Otego we do not know.  He may have given a performance in the Fuller Opera House across the street.  We have no record of that, but several local musicians signed the register on the same day.  Later in life, in 1910, Paderewski was elected Prime Minister of Poland.

The Breffle Hotel eventually was made into an apartment house; and in 1960, was torn down to make way for the present post office.

The post office had been located in many locations over the years.  Several of these were the block where the café now operates, the Masonic building where Hesse Auction Galleries now does business, the Cooke Block where the school now stands and the Lines Block where the school parking lot is presently.


 

(3) Lewis House -- Now the Otego Fire House

Levi Coburn wrote an account of what Otego was like when he arrived here in 1842 and how it changed between then and 1889.  He built a harness shop in 1846 on Main St. where the Harris Memorial Library now stands.  He later moved his store to the site of the present hardware store following the fire of 1877.  It is believed that he built the large River St. home before 1890.  Mr. Coburn wrote that when he came to Otego, there were only three buildings on River Street on the side where the cemetery is – all down near the river and four on the other side of the street.

After Mr. Coburn’s death, his widow married Samuel Lewis and the home became known as the Lewis Mansion.  After Mr. Lewis’ death, Mrs. Lewis turned the house into a boarding house for unmarried women teachers.  When she passed away, she left the house to the school and during World War II, there was an observation tower in the attic where high school students and townspeople took turn watching for enemy airplanes.

The school district deeded the property to the fire department and the house was torn down.  The original firehouse had been located next to the Fuller Block but was destroyed in a fire in 1933.  Our present one was built on the side of the old Lewis Mansion in 1950.

 

 

(4) Bowe Block -- Store/Masonic Hall Now Hesse Galleries, an Auction House

We read in Dr. Blakely’s HISTORY OF OTEGO that the store known for many years as the Bowe Block was built by an early settler, Thaddeus Austin in 1803.  His first building on this site was a simpler version but when he could see that business could be a success, this present structure was erected.  Mr. Austin was involved in many different businesses, probably mainly real estate.  “He was a very aristocratic and dressy man, noted for the magnificence of his ruffled shirt bosoms.”  Also, you remember, for his flower gardens.

At another time, James Follett had a store here.  L. E. Bowe, who also owned the casket factory on lower River Street was an owner of this store.  Other storekeepers at this location were Charles Martin, Charles Pierce, and for many years, Elmer Davis and the Wilbur family.  The building had other occupants as well as stores; for years the Masonic Order owned the building and the Masons and the Order of the Eastern Star held their meetings on the second floor.  The first free library in Otego had a tiny room upstairs, a drugstore, and for a time the Otego Post Office was also located here.  A story is told that Wilbur’s store had a telephone but the Post Office did not.  If someone needed to call the post office, he called the store and the telephone was passed through a crack in the wall to someone in the post office.

Franklin (Buzz) Hesse bought the building in 1982 and it is now a well known auction house.  He holds estate and Indian artifact auctions there.  When there is going to be an artifact auction there, the Hesses would be glad to have the students come over the day before the auction when Buzz will be happy to explain the objects and give some history about them.

 

 
(5) Susquehanna House -- Now Otego Elementary

In 1842 an Otego Merchant named T. R. Austin had a home on this site. His residence was unusual in that it had a flower garden in the front yard.  Levi Coburn who wrote about Otego in 1889 said, "This was the only flower garden in Otego then or for some years thereafter". People came from far and wide to see it.

Mr. Austin built the Susquehanna House as a tavern and it continued to be used as such for many years. The smaller house next to the hotel was once a bank and later a post office. The Susquehanna House as you can see was a large, beautiful building.

The two structures in the picture as well as another known as the Cole Block were taken down to make room for the Otego Central School which opened in 1931.


 

(6) Hunt House -- Now the Roland B. Hill Archaeological Museum

Built in 1844 generations of the Hunt family lived in this grand private residence.  In 1928 it was purchased by the Palmer family who in 1933 sold it to the Otego Central School.  For many years some of the elementary school classes were held here as well as the home making courses.

Since 1974 the Roland B. Hill Archaeological Museum has leased the building from the town. The exhibits both of artifacts and dioramas are very interesting and worth seeing. It is open during the summer months every weekend.


 

(7) Susquehanna Valley Mills -- Now Barrett's Family Dentistry

The mill which occupied this site was built in 1816, a year so cold that the crops never matured.

For 146 years thereafter, it provided flour and grist for the residents and farmers of the valley.  Water powered the mill by turning a water wheel.  The water source came from a series of ponds in the field out around the present day swimming pool.  The water rushed in a flume under the road and over the wheel which turned the mill wheels inside.  These great stone wheels turning one on another ground the wheat, corn, buckwheat and other grains brought to the mill by local farmers.

In 1850 the mill was enlarged to the structure you see in the large b/w photo. It remained looking the same until 1962 when it was sold to the Goldsmith family.  It was then recycled into a second hand shop and eventually an antique.  An extensive fire caused by improperly stored rags claimed the whole building. Rising from the ashes was the building you now know as Barrett's Family Dentistry.


 

(8) Hunts Hotel, The Otego Hotel or Colby Manor -- Now the Strauss' family home.

One of the first settlers in Otego was Ransom Hunt. He built a two storied tavern on the side of the present building in 1807.  This tavern or hotel was the center of activity and many meetings were held here.  The first town meeting was held at this place in 1822 at which time the town was named Huntsville.  The name was changed to Otego in 1830.

The fire of 1877 began in this building and destroyed it and all the other buildings up to the building on the corner, the present day cafe'.  In 1878, the Otego House was built on the site and operated as a hotel and restaurant and also a residence by several owners.  One of the later owners, Fenimore Beagle, renamed it the Colby Manor. In honor of his wife's family name, Colby.  The Halls remodeled it into a family home in the late 1950's.  It was later purchased and renovated by the present owners, the Strauss family.


 

(9) Bailey's Funeral Parlor, Furniture Store and Sweet Shop -- Now Celebrations Shop

Shortly after the huge fire of 1877, Charles Wait built a new store which was used as a furniture store. In an 1892 edition of RURAL TIME, a bedroom set was advertised at $18.00

Channing Bailey, an undertaker, bought the building in 1898.  The Bailey Funeral Parlor as well as the Furniture Store and Sweet Shop continued through several generations of the Bailey family.  Arthur and his sons, Dwight and Maurice, were well known in the community and were always there to help in any way they could.  Dwight raised the alarm when the hardware store next to his building caught fire in 1949, thus saving many other buildings nearby.

In 1982 Buzz and Jackie Hesse bought the building and opened an antique shop with their residence in the upstairs apartment.  It has since had many uses including the Silversmith Shop, the Showcase Gallery and now Celebrations, a formal attire shop.

 


 

(10) Hardware Store and Susquehanna Valley Grange -- now Hardware Store and Lifescapes

Built soon after the fire of 1877, this large building served as a hardware store from the very beginning. It also provided room for the Susquehanna Valley Grange, an organization which met weekly for programs and to plan community service events.  Also in this building were a barber shop, a harness shop, the law office of Wood VanDerwerken, and a millinery shop upstairs.

The building was bought by Osborne McMorris in the mid 1940's. A great fire claimed the entire building in 1949 - a difficult loss for many businesses there. Dwight Bailey raised the fire alarm by calling the fire department and then ran out of his home to see if he could help.  His wife called him back reminding him that he might need his pants if he wanted to get in there and fight a fire.

The McMorris family rebuilt the store you see today on part of the site. The Susquehanna Valley Grange built a separate one story building which they owned until 2006. By that time their membership had dwindled and they no longer needed the building. They sold it to Rick Lawson who converted it to the florist and gift shop, Lifescapes Florist.


 

 


(11) Store on Corner of Main and River St. -- Cafe' last occupant, building owned by Anna Smith

This building has been a commercial property since the early 1800's.  It was built around 1810 by Daniel Lawrence who was the first town clerk of Huntsville, soon to be Otego.  For many years a store known as Annable and Russells was here and others who had general stores or grocery stores were the Broadfoot Brothers, Glen Poole, E. Gifford, Fred Squires, and Paul Hyatt.  The Post Office was also here at one time.  More recently have been restaurants, a florist shop and a video store.  There are also apartments in the building.  The cafe Juliette D'Asti, proprietors, Bob and Karen Lauristen were the last occupants.

This was the only structure which did not burn in a whole block of buildings in the Fire of 1877.



Nineteenth Century Styles of the Upper Catskills

Architectural survey workers should be familiar with, and able to identify, the typical building forms of their region.  While regid stylistic classification is not recommended - nor is it usually possible - the following outline may be used as a general guide to the common 19th Century styles found in the Upper Catskills.

Early Settlement,  Late 18th Century - Early 19th Century

First Dwellings

  • Rudimentary frame structures, small and functional
  • Extra lean-to addition to the rear characteristic of the so-called "Salt-box" style.
  • Usually one and one-half stories high
  • Large central chimney, or end chimneys
  • Simple framed openings

 

 


(12) The oldest home in Otego still in existence -- Scott Secor's home on Willow St.

This house is believed to be the oldest existing house in Otego.  It was built in 1799 by Abram Blaklee who owned most of the land on both sides of Main St. between River St. and the Evergreen Cemetery.  Mr. Blaklee was a saddler and harness maker by trade and the brother-in-law of Ransom Hunt who owned much land on the other end of Main St.

The house originally stood on the lot where the Spring Brook Home for Adults is now.  It was moved across lots to its present location on Willow St. by William Lines who lived in it while his larger home was being built.  This home is in the cracker box or salt box style and must look very much as it did 200 years ago.

Various owners have been Howard Dabney who was the high school principal in 1915, the Mabeys, the Porters, and the Campbells. The present owners are Scott and Michele Secor.


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