If you stand today in the middle of Genesee Street on the roadway bridge that crosses over the railroad tracks just west of Utica’s Union Station, you’re roughly over the northern end of Bagg’s Square, named for Moses Bagg who built a log cabin tavern there in 1794. The establishment grew into Bagg’s Hotel of the 19th century. In the picture at left, you would be standing in Bagg’s Square roughly midway on a line running north-south through the Square. Behind you was the Mohawk River, which came right to the foot of Genesee Street (below the Erie Canal up on what is now Oriskany Boulevard) until after 1916, when the river was moved during construction of the Barge Canal
We’re looking east across Bagg’s Square ca. 1910 in the photo at left. That’s Main Street running east away down the side of the hotel and restaurant. This was the center of business for the city, with merchants running down Main and Broad Streets. Up the hill, up Genesee Street was the Erie Canal and then fine homes at one time and the beautiful Grace Church at Elizabeth Street. The remnants of these residences can be seen all the way up “Genesee Hill” to the Parkway. Today, you won’t find much that appears architecturally residential until you get up the hill in the vicinity of Court Street.
From the very detailed Utica Atlas and Maps of 1883, we see Bagg’s Square and the Hotel. The Mohawk River won’t be moved until after 1916. I added the bridge to the map. Some kind of bridge has always been there to get from Utica to Deerfield. The river slowed at this bend and provided a natural place for early settlers to offload goods and equipment. That’s why Moses Bagg built his tavern at this site. And evidently when Bagg got started (1794) he was no longer worried about Indian trouble, because his site is more than a short running distance from the old Fort Schuyler, built in 1758 near the foot of what is now Second Street.
We’re still on Bagg’s Square. That’s appropriate because it truly was the center of business and public discourse in Utica. In the photo, Genesee Street is straight ahead and you can pick out the retail establishments by their signature awnings. We might have stood in the square next to the photographer looking south up Genesee. The loudest sounds would come from behind us from several tracks of trains with passengers and freight arriving. Between the explosive huffs of the iron behemoths we might have heard the clink of oar locks as traders and farmers pulled their small boats to the dock on the Mohawk to bring their products to market. However, by 1900 most water traffic was two blocks up the street on the Erie Canal. Later we will walk the
You can see more photos of the Bagg’s Square area of the city by CLICKING HERE
Be sure to click on graphics to enlarge.
Hans stops in a store on lower Genesee Street and writes home, "working in Utica and will see you before long. Regards to all."
Hans might be working in one of the many printing houses between the canal and the Mohawk River. Utica was a center for publishing, beginning with early efforts to print the Bible in phoneticized Indian languages. If Hans had come to town a little later in the century, he might have had lunch in the "long block" at the OK Lunch. Among others, printers and pressmen from the newspapers and printing houses often ate lunch there.
By the way I’m no historian, only an armchair dilettante. I may get a few historical facts wrong along the way, so if you want to add a comment and set us straight please feel free to do so.
I think we need a song for this. Although
Conniff's sound lost its frisson after the 1950's and became elevator music, you have to credit the guy with a unique sound, a blend of brass and voices. Worth a listen. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9FRLOD524Js
Working our way up Genesee Street: Below is a photo of the First National Bank on the corner of Catherine and Genesee Streets from 1912. The area lay to the west of the Main and Broad Street commercial area of Utica where banking and insurance companies nudged up against Genesee.
When I was ten years old I rode my bike down to Catherine Street to a store that sold old 78 RPM records. For 15 cents I bought “Chicken Blues” by a group called the Dominoes. I took the record home and played it over and over on my little record player, with the volume up so loud everyone in the house complained. The sound was very scratchy and only I understood the lyrics. But not their full import. When I told Dad I wanted to sing Chicken Blues at our school’s Annual Talent Show, he suggested I perform it for him first. Dad was a pretty smart guy. Had I got on stage and bellowed
Utica would expand south up to its southern border, South Street, and later continue up through Cornhill when the old Brinckerhoff Farm was split up into building lots/ The new border, Pleasant St., ran east and west along the edge of the South Woods. A second parallel road was built as the Parkway by T.R. Proctor to connect the three major parks he donated to the city. The two roads were independent of each other and became one-way only in the 1970s.
We’re now in an area many have called Lower Genesee Street, home to insurance companies, banks and other businesses in service to the manufacturers and trades people along Broad and Main Streets as well as out Whitesboro Street. The photo below shows what Hans saw when he stepped out in the middle of the street at the high end of Bagg’s Square. For more photos of the area up to the Erie Canal .....
“In all kinds of weather I walked to my new job. Across Eagle Street and on to Genesee and down the full length of the hill. I walked through the Busy Corner at 6:30 in the morning. I didn’t need WIBX to tell me the weather, let alone the Weather Channel. I carried an umbrella if it looked like rain. An umbrella in the summer and maybe a wool scarf in the winter and I was ready for any kind of weather. And a kerchief, balled up in a corner of my purse, the first thing on my head if it began to sprinkle. Unless it was cold I seldom wore a hat, despite the pretty styles over the years. Why hide my crowning glory, my auburn colored hair?
Boston Store and Bleecker Street Side Trip
A boy in my 11th grade class at UCA was rather small of stature, but had a deep voice for a 16 year old . The Boston Store management hired him to play Santa Claus after school one year at Christmas time. With his deep voice he could Ho Ho Ho as well as any man … in fact he sounded like a mobster hit man … but it was his size the Boston Store found useful. They put Bob in a box that was supposed to look like a small house at the North Pole. Set up on the first floor in the back of the store just before you
Karl Jung taught us a lot. He said when you analyze a dream, a relationship, a situation, a memory, find where the energy lies in it. When you remember your first date, the abiding image (a poet’s term Jung would have liked, I believe) may not be the girl or boy you took to the movies but that you spilled a Coke on your new jacket. Follow that “tone,” he called it, the embarrassment and disappointment. Go with it and see where it leads you. The memory may take on an entirely new meaning and you may learn something about yourself. Our psyche will bare our soul if we let it.
What comes to my mind when I remember St. John’s Church and Utica Catholic Academy was the early Sunday morning I served a Mass in my sophomore year and while moving the huge missal on a 20 pound gold plated stand … well, I dropped it. I had carried it down the white marble steps, genuflected in a perfectly holy way, started back up the other side, tripped on my cassock. Nervous I had swung around too fast and the book whipped right off the stand. The revered and expensive book wemt tumbling back down the stairs behind me. An audible gasp came from the group of nuns who taught me as they sat horrified in the front pews.
Welcome to the Around Town - Utica Before We Got Here. The overview narrative is here on this and the next two web pages. Throughout this overview you will be directed to an index page on a blog reserved for Around Town. (It's called God On The Ground, but that's a long story.)
Ordinarily, you will read a paragraph or two here and then be directed to the index where you may choose whatever you want.
There are quite a lot of photos here, along with artwork touches. I am not an historian, but just a collector of Utica photographs. I was born in the city in 1943. You may certainly send comments, photos, information, etc. to me and if it relates to anything here I'll post it. Probably.
short distance to where the canal passed through the city over the same route as today’s Oriskany Boulevard. In front of us to the right Whitesboro Street runs away from us. The trees far down the street grew on the lawns of beautiful homes owned by the city’s movers and shakers. The wealthy families first lived on Whitesboro Street near their commercial enterprises, before building their way up Genesee and John Streets away from the river and the growing crowds of Irish and Italians they hired to work in their factories. It’s time to walk up into the new part of town. We’ll view it in different centuries by post card and photographs.
imagination, especially in the winter. Despite the Cadillac Hotel at Wurz Ave and the huge natural gas tanks nearby, I convinced myself I was in the land of dog sleds and Grizzly bears. Yanking on my mother’s collar in a fit of excitement, I would have been only slightly more exhilarated to arrive in Fairbanks, Alaska. I was certain Deerfield Hill led directly to the North Pole. For all I knew Eskimos lived just over the hump in Barneveld. When I let go of Mom’s collar and she was able to speak, she said probably not. Maybe Booneville, but she wasn’t sure. She’d never been farther north than Hinckley.
and Bleecker) is under the bridge in this colorized post card image. We’re above a spot somewhere between today’s Catherine and Broad Streets. By the early 1900’s the retail business district had expanded up Genesee and John Streets and over Bleecker to the Busy Corner. But a selection of ads from a 1912 edition of the Utica Herald Dispatch indicates many were still down near Bagg’s Square and out Broad Street. To get to the web page of old ads … which I will add to over time … you can click here: Don't forget to click the ads to enlarge them. CLICK HERE
out, “If you don’t like chicken, leave her hen alone,” the eyebrows of the Catholic Mothers Coven would have shot up in alarm. And when I got to “your big red rooster,” the entire platoon of nuns would have been struck dead in their seats. If any recovered I’d have been slapped silly by any one of these strong women who believed that without a timely intervention little venial sinners grew up to be bigger mortal sinners. Dad held up his hand for me to stop. Grandma came into the living room behind me just as I finished with the lyric, “she gives so much chicken, all you can do is moan.” I still feel the shock of the old woman’s slap on the back of my head. It brought my performance to an abrupt close. Chicken Blues is on YouTube and I’ll let you go look for it. For me the song lost its charm when I was forbidden to ever sing it again. I mean, Jeez. I’ve always been a writer. I could have cleaned it up a little if they’d told me what it meant.
“In the morning the young men often touched the brim of their hats to me. I wanted to give each of them a hug to thank them, but I kept my eyes straight ahead and ignored them as a proper young lady was supposed to do. I do admit I stuck out my chest a little bit farther each time, just to look pert.
"Few of the men noticed me in the evening. Their eyes were downcast at night, as though they were thinking hard about the day just past. And maybe the bosses they had to put up with. I don’t think I could have worked all my life. I didn’t know how I’d go to work in the morning knowing I’d be doing the same thing over and over for more than forty years.
“Ever since I was a little girl, I’d stop in front of the iron and stone gate in front of Grace Church and pretend I was a bride in my wedding dress on my way through the gate to get married. At night in the winter on the way home, I’d lean back and look up at the steeple, way up to the top where the little twinkling stars were just waking up in the night sky. What a delirious feeling to see all that black up there. Jack later told me there was the entire universe up there and it went on forever. I didn’t know what was out there when I was a girl. I just knew staring at it took my breath away.
- from the novella “Jimmy Bean,” 2013, by David Griffin
For more photos of the Busy Corner area of downtown Utica, go here for “Busy Corner III.”
reached the Men’s Department, it couldn't have been more than 4 by 8 by 4 feet high. A child would peer in through a smoky lens shaped like a TV screen and the effect was like viewing Santa’s Workshop through the wrong end of a telescope. TV at the time was no longer a novelty, but was somewhat modern when associated with Santa, just as a helicopter delivering Santa would be a few years later.
In the tiny workshop, which was mostly painted on the inside walls of the box , Bob sat decked out in a red suit and beard. Talk of Christmas wishes was exchanged over an intercom. Bob was on the magnifying end of the lens, so on his side he could see only the hugely enlarged nostrils and teeth of the little beggars. And he got suspicious the third time he spoke with a child wearing a salami around his neck. It was the kid’s tongue.
A few of us stopped in after school in the afternoon, hoping to have some fun with him when none of the little children were there. We disguised our voices and asked Santa for a wet girl and a warm towel or made indecent comments about his elves.
When they let Bob out each night, he was covered with sweat and bordering on heat stroke, If a store did that today they would be charged with endangering a minor. But back then businesses didn’t worry so much about making a kid sweat when he wanted to earn some money for the holidays.
Boys tripped on cassock hems all the time. But none ever dropped The Book. No one ever said anything to me. No one complained. But my name never again appeared on the roster of boys to serve Mass. It was like being excommunicated. Maybe for the first time in my life … but not the last … I felt the full brunt of what a group’s disapproval could do to my spirit. I never forgot it. And when I went with that memory and sought the energy I learned something about myself. I learned that as a kid I too often wanted to play in someone else’s movie.
There you go, a free lesson on the need for individuation. Thank God for Karl Jung.
Click here for “St. John’s Church” photos and comments. CLICK HERE
Here’s what I think we should do. Let’s levitate up in the air about a hundred feet and look around, just to get our bearings. In this graphic we’re floating over the vicinity of the Erie Canal. Up the street we can see the Grace Church steeple as well as the Busy Corner where a trolley is crossing Genesee Street. The whitish building down on our left is the old Exchange Building on Jay Street, sitting right on the canal. Today Oriskany Boulevard and a re-routed Jay Street have replaced the canal. The narrow waterway (except for Bleecker’s Basin, an aneurism-ish widening of the canal between Jay
We have an aerial overview and a set of maps to orient you about town. They're located on the Around Town Index site here:
Don't forget to click on the maps to enlarge them. CLICK HERE
Below I've pointed you to more descriptive photos of Bagg’s Square, but I’ve always liked the shot in this post, and only because in the background you can see Deerfield Hill, a source of wonder and inspiration for me as a child. When I was a little kid and Dad stacked us in the car for the trip from Cornhill to Trenton Road to see my cousins, we’d roll up from Bagg’s Square on to the bridge ramp and I’d stand on the back seat and lean into the front seat. Grabbing the back of my mother’s coat collar for support I gazed out the windshield as we rose up over the railroad tracks and descended onto the plain running north to the Barge Canal. Dad said this was North Utica and the word ‘North’ fired my