Oneonta: City of surprises

Letter O: Fifteenth of twenty-six posts in the April 2016 Blogging From A to Z Challenge. Wish me luck and please join me on the journey!

When I was growing up, Oneonta in Otsego County, N.Y. was a place my family passed through on weekend road trips. The city marked the halfway point as we drove along Route 7 between our home near Binghamton, Broome County, N.Y. and my maternal grandparents’ farmhouse in Altamont, Albany County, N.Y.

Oneonta Normal School graduate Elizabeth Christina Stoutner. My maternal grandmother attended college in Oneonta, Otsego County, N.Y., and may have eloped from there to marry my grandfather in 1924. Scan by Molly Charboneau

Just about the time that my two younger brothers, two younger sisters and I were getting tired of sing alongs and road games, Oneonta would appear before us. This meant a welcome stop for lunch and curly fries at the Pink Pig, maybe some ice cream at Carroll’s and a chance to run around a bit.

When heading northeast, my dad — who was all about short cuts — would make a left turn just before we hit traffic on Main Street and drive uphill, then turn right and pass south of Oneonta State, then another right and back down to Route 7 for our lunch stop. Dad would reverse this maneuver on our trip home.

We did this for years as a family — but we were always preoccupied with getting to our destination. So imagine my surprise when I found an ancestral connection to Oneonta, which until then had been a mere stopover in our lives.

My grandmother’s college years

Mom told us that her mother Elizabeth Christina (Stoutner) Laurence went to college. Sorting through yearbooks and other materials inherited from my maternal grandmother, I discovered that she attended the Oneonta Normal School (now the State University of New York at Oneonta or “Oneonta State”).

The Oneonta Normal School was founded in 1889 as part of a statewide effort to expand public education and train teachers — among them my grandmother, who attended in the early 1920s and taught at a schoolhouse near her Gloversville, Fulton County, N.Y. home town.

While in college, she  lived on Elm Street near the campus, a side street that we drove right by on Dad’s short cut through Oneonta — though we were oblivious to its significance to our family!

My grandmother elopes

A more dramatic connection to Oneonta involves my maternal grandparents’ marriage — which I wrote about in A Valentine’s Day love story: My grandmother elopes.

Elizabeth’s mother did not want her to marry the boy next door from Gloversville — my Italian-American grandfather Antonio. W. Laurence [Di Lorenzo]. But they continued seeing one another in secret until my grandmother turned 18 and could marry without permission.

Until the day he died, my grandfather Tony carried my grandmother’s calling card in his wallet. On it she had handwritten her Elm Street address in Oneonta,  which is where I suspect he fetched her when they eloped and married in 1924.

Amazing that my family drove blissfully through Oneonta for all those years and never even knew!

Are there places where your family regularly traveled that might hold a secret family connection? Take a closer look. You may be delightfully surprised by what you find.

Up next: Proud to be a family history blogger. Please stop back.

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6 thoughts on “Oneonta: City of surprises”

  1. That really is an incredible coincidence isn’t it? Especially when no one had any idea of the story previously.
    The closest similar story I could give is when in Scotland with my daughter years ago, we took a left turn towards Strachur. When I got home (!!) I found an old postcard in my grandmother’s possessions which referred to Cairndow, a hamlet about 500 yds or less to the right of where we turned. My great-grandmother is buried in the churchyard there! Now when we visit Argyll we always pop in to “see” Isabella.

    1. Yes, we’ve all been there. I have had a number of other near misses in which our family drove by former ancestral areas without a clue to their significance, probably because my parents were too preoccupied with a car full of young children to worry about what happened 100 years before!

  2. What a lovely story. Your grandma was gutsy! My great aunt didn’t have the courage to stand up to her mother and ended up alone, long after her mother was gone. So sad.

    1. That she was! Later in life she ran an antique shop and was the only woman in her class when she took up photography. I think coming of age in the Roaring Twenties, when many women were breaking with the previous era’s traditions, had a lasting influence on her attitude toward life.

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