The two most important names in Binghamton’s early history were William Bingham and Joshua Whitney. Bingham was a wealthy Philadelphia banker who after 1792 owned the land around the confluence of the Susquehanna and Chenango rivers. He dreamed of developing a busy trading village at such a favored location and to that end hired Whitney to be his land agent. Whitney worked tirelessly to build the new settlement; he laid out street plans, he constructed the first courthouse and erected the first bridge over the Susquehanna River. Bingham died in 1804 and never got around to actually visiting the area but his name was on the deed so the town was named for him once the original name of Chenango Point was wiped away. Nothing was named for Whitney who did most of the work building the place.
Already a busy crossroads town, Binghamton’s stature as a transportation hub was enhanced further in 1837 with the opening of the Chenango Canal that linked the town to the Erie Canal. The first great business to appear was cigar-making and Binghamton became the nation’s second largest supplier of cigars, behind only New York City. More than 5,000 workers were employed rolling over 100 million cigars a year. But there were other products as well; by the end of the 1800s over 200 hundred different types of products were being shipped from Binghamton.
About that time, in 1890, a leather supplier from Dedham, Massachusetts arrived in Binghamton and bought into a distressed Lester Brothers Shoe Company. Henry B. Endicott sold enough boots to turn a small profit, but he was dissatisfied with his manager. A foreman from the Lester days applied for the job and stated confidently that he would work for nothing for one year if he did not show results. With George F. Johnson handling the manufacturing and Endicott the finances, the firm of Endicott-Johnson became the largest shoe company in the world, employing 20,000 workers in the area. By the time George Johnson stepped down in 1930, Endicott-Johnson had sold its one billionth shoe.
Binghamton’s population peaked in the 1950s with over 80,000 and about that time the city energetically embraced the urban renewal craze transforming America. The result is that the city spent the last half of the 20th century losing both people and buildings. To see what remains our walking tour will explore both sides of the Chenango River; the West Side where wealthy Binghamtonians constructed lavish mansions and the east bank where business and government have clustered for over 200 years and we will begin our double loop, figure-eight exploration where all city roads lead...
Broome County Courthouse
92 Court Street
This is the fourth county courthouse and the third on this site. Go-to Binghamton architect Isaac G. Perry provided the classical design as a replacement for its predecessor that burned in 1896. Perry used Ohio sandstone trimmed with bluestone under a copper dome that rises from a central octagonal base. In front of the courthouse resides a statue of Daniel S. Dickinson, executed by A. G. Newman. At the Democratic National Convention of 1852 Dickinson refused the nomination of to be his party’s candidate to run for the Presidency out of loyalty to General Lewis Cass, to whom he was pledged.
WITH YOUR BACK TO THE COURTH HOUSE, TURN LEFT ON COURT STREET AND WALK WEST TOWARDS THE CHENANGO RIVER.
91 Court Street at northwest corner ofChenango Street
Vermont-born Isaac Gale Perry began his working life as a carpenter designing and building staircases for his father. He fancied architecture more, however, and went to New York City to try his luck designing buildings. He became acquainted with Joseph Edward Turner, a physician who was establishing America’s first asylum for the treatment of alcoholism, the New York State Inebriate Asylum in Binghamton. Despite his lack of experience Turner campaigned for the 36-year old Perry to be named architect on the project and personally vouched for him with the Board of Trustees. The asylum took years to complete and Perry relocated to Binghamton from where he became one of New York’s most in demand designers. His plans were used for armories and courthouses and official buildings across New York - a roster that included the completion of the State Capitol building in Albany in 1883. Isaac Perry continued to work past his 80th birthday. This spectacular cast-iron building, the only example in Binghamton, was completed in 1876. Considered his masterwork, the top floor also served as the self-taught architect’s residence.
City National Bank
49 Court Street at Washington Street
The City National Bank was started December 2, 1852 with a capital stock of two hundred thousand dollars. They first occupied this corner of Court and Washington streets, then considered one of the handsomest and most substantial blocks in the city of Binghamton, in 1856. It continued as a State bank until 1865 when it became the City National Bank. In 1923 the institution moved into this Neoclassical, multi-columned vault.
TURN RIGHT ONTO THE WASHINGTON STREET PEDESTRIAN MALL AT THE METRO CENTRE.
Sidewalk of the Stars
Court Street at Washington Street
Binghamton’s “Sidewalk of the Stars” began with a bronze star dedicated to native son and Twilight Zone creator Rod Serling in 1990. After Serling’s star was installed a committee formed to screen other nominations to join the legendary Hollywood writer on the sidewalk. The cost to cast and set each bronze star was $2,100 - paid for by the honoree.
Ellis Brothers Fine Home Furnishings
159-161 Washington Street
Ellis Brothers has provided furniture and carpets for the home for over a century, beginning in 1900.
RETURN TO COURT STREET AND TURN RIGHT, CONTINUING TOWARDS THE CHENANGO RIVER.
American Cigar Company
north side of Main Street at Water Street
In the 19th and early 20th centuries there were 4,495 cigar factories in the state of New York - 1,875 in lower Manhattan alone. Binghamton boasted some 50 cigar manufacturers and seven of them were major players in the trade. In 1901 the American Cigar Company was also formed to combine the efforts of many of the cigar rollers and these buildings were at the heart of Binghamton’s tobacco industry. By the 1920s machine-made cigars began to dominate the industry and hastened American Cigar’s departure from the banks of the Chenango River.
CROSS THE RIVER AND WALK UP TO THE CORNER AT FRONT STREET.
First Congregational Church
30 Main Street at Front Street
David Brownson built a public house on this corner in 1809, later to be owned by Samuel Peterson. It was in Peterson’s Tavern in 1834 that a meeting was held that led to the incorporation of Binghamton as a village. Once overflowing with stage coach travelers, the tavern business slacked off with the construction of the Chenango Canal and the steam railroads directly on its heels. In 1859 the wooden tavern burned and this brick church was designed by Isaac Perry and constructed in 1869.
TURN LEFT ON FRONT STREET.
83 Front Street
The Binghamton Club formed with a gathering of 46 city businessmen in 1880, beginning meetings in rented rooms in the City National Bank. After a peripatetic existence around the city the Club settled into a permanent home in 1925 in a newly constructed Neo-Georgian club house on the grounds of the former Abbott estate.
Free Will Baptist Church
80 Front Street
This was the Emmanuel Church of the Evangelical Association when it was constructed in 1884. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the wood frame building with steep gable and square bell tower is a distinctive example of ecclesiastical architecture built to serve Binghamton’s working class German-American immigrant population.
The Hoyt Foundation
70 Front Street
After Willma Cornell and Stewart Hoyt married in 1907 they moved in with her parents in this house where they lived for many years. Childless, the Hoyts established the Hoyt Foundation with assets based on their early investments in IBM after they passed in their 90s. Since 1971, grants to the people of Broome County from the Hoyt Foundation have totaled over $21 million, from folks who lived everyday ordinary lives.
TURN RIGHT ON LEROY STREET.
St. Patrick’s Catholic Church
9 Leroy Street
The first Catholic family in Binghamton was recorded in 1835. When a visiting priest from Pottsville, Pennsylvania arrived in town there was no church to hold services and Joshua Whitney, one of the prime movers and shakers in town, offered use of the Christ Episcopal Church he attended but church law forbade such a practice. So Whitney, who built the first Courthouse and a bridge over the Susquehanna River, helped establish the Catholic parish in town as well. The present St. Patrick’s church, designed by Isaac Perry, was finished and dedicated on September 28, 1873. Costing about $170,000, it was celebrated as one of the finest church buildings to yet appear in the southern tier.
RETURN TO FRONT STREET AND TURN RIGHT.
31 Front Street
Sherwood B. Davidge was in the tanning business, a seemingly dull, low-tech industry in the go-go days of the late 19th century when fantastic inventions were coming along at a rapid pace. Davidge had extensive land holdings, however, and he realized a sizable fortune when he sold his interests to the United States Leather Company in 1894. He removed to Binghamton in 1903 and constructed this symmetrical Neoclassical home with its spectacular circular portico of the Cornthian order. He lived out his life in low-key fashion in the house, attending board meetings with the dozens of companies and clubs he was affiliated with until his death in 1911 at the age of 68. A distinguished, if unremarkable, career. Or so it seemed. But it turns out the tanning business wasn’t so dull after all. One hundred years after his death, Davidge’s dealings came to light in the modern land rush for natural gas rights in northern Pennsylvania. It turns out that Davidge and his partner T.B. Crary sold 13,000 acres of land not to United States Leather Company but to a shell company called Union Tanning Company. But that was only to the surface rights. The two retained the mineral rights, presumably to be passed on to the more powerful United States Leather Company in exchange for stock. But no one knows. The mineral rights weren’t included in either’s last will and testament and documentation on any deal was lost in United Leather’s bankruptcy years later. In 2010, a century after Davidge’s death, those rights are worth many multiple millions of dollars in the pursuit of gas buried within the Marcellus Shale. For whomever wins the court battle. Sherwood Davidge’s mansion is undergoing a possession crisis at the same time. It was purchased by the Roberson museum across the street in 1993 with a grant from the Dr. G. Clifford and Florence B. Decker Foundation to be used as offices and exhibition space but the museum is seeking to rid itself of the property.
30 Front Street
Alonzo Roberson brought his family to Binghamton in the early 1850s. A skilled craftsman who was as handy with a ledger book as he was with a carpenter’s square, Roberson was soon able to purchase the Marsh and Gilbert Lumber Company. There was plenty of building going on around Binghamton at the time and the business prospered greatly. By the time Alonzo, Jr. was in charge of the firm he was able to part with $107,500 in 1904 to move to prestigious Front Street. Architect C. Edward Vosbury designed an Italian Renaissance palace for the Robersons that was outfitted with all the modern conveniences of the day and included a ballroom on the third floor. The entire compound was placed behind a wrought-iron fence provided by Titchener Iron Works. By the time Alonzo Roberson, Jr. died in 1934 he had added the chairmanship of the Marine Midland Bank to his resume and was able to bequeath his estate to create an “educational center …for the use and benefit of all people.” The Roberson Museum and Science Center opened in 1954.
TURN LEFT ON RIVERSIDE DRIVE AND CROSS MEMORIAL BRIDGE.
North Shore Drive at Susquehanna River and Chenango River
The South Washington Street Bridge across the Susquehanna River that anchors the park is one of New York’s most historic spans, built in 1886 by the Berlin Iron Bridge Company of Connecticut on their own patented design. Called a lenticular truss bridge, it takes its name from the lens-like shape of the span. Here there are three spans making the Washington Street bridge not only one of the finest examples of the design but one of the longest as well. Restored for pedestrian use, the bridge retains its original railings and much of its ornamentation, including the Berlin company builder plaque. The monument in the park was erected in 1925 to honor Broome county veterans of the 1898 Spanish-American War. The Skirmisher was created by Robert Aitken.
TURN LEFT ON WASHINGTON STREET. TURN RIGHT ON STUART STREET.
Broome County Veterans Memorial Arena
1 Stuart Street at State Street
After a nationwide design competition the Veterans Memorial Arena opened in 1973, providing a center for sports, concerts, expos and events. The 6,800-seat arena is the home for the American Hockey League’s Binghamton Senators.
TURN LEFT ON STATE STREET. TURN RIGHT ON HAWLEY STREET.
Binghamton State Office Building
Government Plaza - 44 Hawley Street
The 18-story State Office Building became the centerpiece of Binghamton’s massive urban renewal plan when it rose in 1972. It is the tallest building in the city and the tallest in New York’s Southern Tier. On February 5, 1981 a transformer explosion in the basement contaminated the entire building with toxic PCBs. It would take 13 years to completely remove the deadly residue from “Toxic Tower.” The bill for the clean-up was $53 million - three times the total cost to build the tower.
TURN LEFT ON COLLIER STREET.
79-96 Collier Street
The Binghamton municipal government greeted the new 20th century in this French Renaissance confection designed by Raymond Francis Almirall in 1898. The five-story building is constructed of rusticated native limestone supporting a slate roof punctuated by ornate dormers and topped with a copper clad cupola. The Latin words beneath the exuberant cornice translate to “Let justice be done though the heavens fall.” The government stayed until 1972 and the building has be refitted as a hotel.
Binghamton Savings Bank
99 Collier Street
The Binghamton Savings Bank took its first deposits in the Ely Building with Horace S. Griswold as president. After two more stops around town the trustees were able to purchase land next to the new City Hall and move into the first home of their own - a three-bay, five-story facade of red and cream brick with cut-stone detailing.
WALK PAST THE COURT HOUSE ON YOUR RIGHT, CROSS COURT STREET AND ENTER CHENANGO STREET.
First National Bank of Binghamton
95 Court Street at Chenango Street
The First National Bank of Binghamton was organized Dec. 19, 1863; this triangular Neoclassical vault was constructed in 1929. It features dual fluted Ionic columns, elaborate fenestration and a stone balustrade at the roof.
19-21 Chenango Street
Willis Sharpe Kilmer made his fortune selling one of America’s most successful patent medicines of the 19th century - his uncle’s Dr. Kilmer’s Swamp-Root. The herbal compound was advertised as a medical wonder for the digestive system and its curious name made reference to the common name for the scourge of malaria at the time. It is an approved medicine of the FDA and is still available today. Another of Kilmer’s products is still available today - the Binghamton Press. He started the newspaper in 1904 and constructed this exuberant Beaux Arts tower to house his new enterprise. Architects T. I. Lacy and Sons lathered the facade in ornamental detail and filled the interior with elaborate plaster artwork and marble floors. Willis Sharpe Kilmer insisted his new building look up to no other Binghamton neighbor and the Laceys stretched the Press Building to 168 feet; it would remain the city’s tallest structure until 1972, long after the paper had been acquired by the Gannett Company. When he wasn’t tending to his business empire Kilmer was immersed in thoroughbred horse racing, maintaining three racing stables and breeding two Kentucky Derby winners. Kilmer’s private yacht Remlik was purchased by the United States Navy during World War I and converted into the USS Remlik, the name being Kilmer spelled backwards.
27 Chenango Street
The Strand Theatre opened on March 8, 1920 as a vaudeville stage and made the mandatory transfer to movie house. The architect was Leon H. Lempert, Jr. and the interior design was attributed to Gustav Brandt of Chicago. The Strand tumbled downhill until its last days as an adult theater. The facade has been severely compromised but the upper floor still displays its decorative white glazed terra-cotta tiles.
Stone Opera House
31-33 Chenango Street
Charles M. Stone had long agitated for the building of a first-class entertainment venue in Binghamton when he finally gave up the call for backers and ponied up the $135,000 for his Columbia Theatre himself. The three-story opera house was constructed in the Richardsonian Romanesque style with trademarks of Henry Hobson Richardson’s detailing including rough-hewn and carved red sandstone, a powerful entrance arch and groupings of truncated window pillars. The theater was soon known as the Stone Opera House and the 1,500-seat venue was hailed as the finest stage between New York City and Buffalo. Most of the biggest stars of the day appeared at the Stone. Theodore Roosevelt addressed a packed house here during the presidential campaign of 1900 in support of the re-election of William McKinley. In April 13 Binghamton theater goers enjoyed a production of Paid in Full with a 19-year old Emanuel Goldberg in the role of Sato - it was the first professional gig for Edward G. Robinson. The arc of the Stone Opera House’s history told a familiar 20th century tale - time as a vaudeville theater, conversion to a movie house, eventual closure in the 1970s. Unlike its fellow downtown movie palaces in other cities, however, the restoration wand has never touched the Stone Opera House and it has sat vacant for the better part of 40 years.
Greyhound Bus Terminal
81 Chenango Street
The original Art Moderne bus stop dates to 1938, becoming enough of a landmark that when plans for a a new $11 million transit terminal came along it was decided to build around the stylish old station. Rod Serling set an episode of the Twilight Zone, “Mirror Image,” in the Binghamton bus station.
TURN RIGHT ON LEWIS STREET.
45 Lewis Street
Binghamton was one of the most enthusiastic proponents of the urban renewal movement that swept America in the 1960s and 1970s. In some years buildings were razed at a rate of one every four days. Somehow the Lackawanna Railroad Station, despite an end of passenger service, dodged the wrecking ball, even though demolition was scheduled. The freight station across the tracks was not so lucky. Samuel Huckel, an architect who remodeled Grand Central Station in New York City, gave Binghamton its Romanesque-flavored depot, dominated by a square brick tower. Although the city spared the old passenger station it did nothing to save it either. Finally in the 1980s it was redeveloped privately.
FOLLOW LEWIS STREET AS IT BENDS TO THE RIGHT AND CONTINUES TO HENRY STREET.
211 Henry Street at Fayette Street
The Eastern League formed in 1923 with founding franchises in Binghamton, Elmira, Scranton, Wilkes-Barre, Williamsport and York. Of those six, only Binghamton is still a league member, although it endured a quarter-century absence before the New York Mets placed their AA minor league team here in 1992. To greet the Mets this 6,012-seat concrete stadium was constructed at a cost of $4.6 million.
CROSS HENRY STREET AS IT BECOMES FAYETTE STREET AND WALK ONE BLOCK TO COURT STREET. TURN RIGHT.
Sherman Phelps Mansion
191 Court Street
Sherman Phelps was at work by the age of 14, manufacturing glass with his two older brothers. When the enterprise failed in the Panic of 1837 Phelps took to the road as a peddler, doing well enough that he was able to transfer his efforts to the Delaware and Lackawanna Western Railroad and prospering in northeast Pennsylvania. He arrived in Binghamton in 1854 as the president of the Susquehanna Bank, always to be called Phelps Bank. From this base Phelps became entwined in nearly every aspect of Binghamton life: he founded the Binghamton Gas Light Company, he was in on the incorporation of the Binghamton Water Works and he funded most of the city’s emerging businesses. When he ran for mayor in 1872 he was unanimously elected by both parties, running without opposition. Sherman Phelps was less fortunate in his personal life; he buried two young wives before 1864. This mansion was constructed in 1870 by his friend, Isaac Perry, who created a lavish French Second Empire residence ensconced with a wonderful iron fence. Fanciful ironwork also highlighted the exuberant mansard roof. Phelps bought up seven city lots for his new home and poured about $100,000 into the project. The mansion was purchased in 1905 by the Monday Afternoon Club, a women’s civic organization. The club constructed a large ballroom on the back of the mansion in 1905 and continues to hold its weekly meetings there to this day. In 1986 ownership of the mansion was transferred to The Phelps Mansion Foundation which now operates tours to the public.
Centenary (Landmark) Church
126 Court Street
The Binghamton Methodists consolidated the Henry and Court street churches in 1865. With a congregation 399 strong they commenced construction of this brick Gothic Revival church in 1866 and two years and $65,000 later the first services were held here. The building has hosted the Landmark Church since 1998.
Security Mutual Life Insurance Company
100 Court Street at Exchange Street
Charles M. Turner founded the Security Mutual Life Association in November of 1886 and two small offices opened in downtown Binghamton on January 3, 1887. That first day the company’s first policy was sold - a term life product with a $1,000 death benefit. Two years later it became the first company in America to offer disability benefits. With the coming of a new century Security Mutual was ready for its own building and Truman I. Lacey designed a new 10-story office skyscraper using the convention of the day to make the building resemble a classical tripartite column with a defined base (the ground floors), a shaft (the mostly unadorned middle floors) and a crown (the elaborate top floors and cornice). Working in the Beaux Arts style, Lacey gave the building that opened in 1904 a flurry of unique details inside and out. The main entranceway was designed after the stone bridge depicted in the Company’s emblem. Inside is a sumptuous two-story lobby with twin Carrera marble staircases and arched mural galleries under a domed ceiling. Above the entrance is a carved marble hunting dog whose origins have been lost to history - perhaps the president’s dog or perhaps a symbol of fidelity.
TURN LEFT ON EXCHANGE STREET.
78 Exchange Street
Andrew Carnegie used his steel money to build over 2,500 libraries around the world; Binghamton got a $75,000 chunk of the kitty in 1902 to construct this yellow brick Neoclassical building trimmed with limestone and sporting a pedimented, two-story Ionic front portico. S.O. and H.A. Lacey drew up the designs with Isaac G. Perry, on one of his final projects, serving as the consulting architect. In addition to lending books the library also served as a meeting hall, museum and art gallery. In 1985, Broome County took over operation of the Library from the City of Binghamton and stayed until 2000 when a new 72,000 square-foot library structure replaced the Carnegie Library building.
WALK ACROSS THE STREET BACK INTO COURTHOUSE SQUARE AND THE START OF THE TOUR.