Greater Oneonta
Historical Society

P.O. Box 814
Oneonta, NY 13820

Words and Pictures

Oneonta / USA

by Ron Whalen

With the westward expansion of America in the 1800s, many brave souls followed the earlier pioneers in search of new lands, new dreams, fame, and fortune. Trails were blazed across the Appalachians, the Mississippi, and finally over the Rockies to the Pacific, stretching America's borders from sea to sea.

As these adventurers went forth, new communities were founded and many were named "Oneonta" by those who came from Oneonta, New York, in honor and memory of their beloved hometown.

A common thread woven through most of these places was the railroad. The local Huntington family was an important part of this Oneonta tapestry, due to their leadership in the expansion of the railroad across America.

Perhaps a more appropriate title for this article might be "For the Love of Oneonta," because it was of an era when a person's homeplace was a great source of pride and honor.

Oneonta, NY

"Place of many hills," "place of peace," whatever the place it represents across America, they all had their beginnings right here in Oneonta, New York.

Oneonta Lake in Wisconsin, Oneonta Beach in Hawaii, Oneonta Hotel Resort in Pennsylvania, Oneonta in Kentucky, Alabama, Kansas, Oregon, and California - there may be others - but all were named in honor of our own Oneonta.

The word "Oneonta" comes from the Iroquois "Onaanta," which has had several translations. Oneonta author and early historian Dudley Campbell states, "Oneonta comes from the Iroquois word meaning mountain." Fred Jackson, writing in the "Centennial of the City of Oneonta" in 1948, refers to Oneonta meaning "where the rocks crop out."

Whatever the true meaning given by the Native Americans, who lived here thousands of years before the white settlers arrived from the Mohawk River Valley, that meaning is forever lost.

Oneonta/Oneonta-by-the-Sea, California

The Gold Rush of 1849 brought rapid growth to California. People from the eastern states, especially from Oneonta and Otsego County, New York, came to seek their fortunes in California. Huge parcels of land throughout this new state were quickly gobbled up by speculators for later resale at inflated prices.

One such land speculation was Oneonta-by-the-Sea, located south of San Diego. This land development company, financed by Henry Huntington, began selling deeded property for California's "first planned community" in 1886.

Advertisements in major newspapers of the day told of the great health value of living in this wonderful southern California climate. Many social activities were held in Oneonta-by-the-Sea to attract vacationers, as well as potential property buyers, to this new community.

Unfortunately, the beautiful nearby Pacific Ocean, the mild weather and healthful climate could not protect this Oneonta from the ravages of major flooding. In 1916 the Otay Dam, on the Otay River, broke and the torrent completely devastated this community. Oneonta-by-the-Sea was no more! A few surviving buildings - a church, store, and post office - were eventually moved to nearby Nestor, California, and are still in use today.

The City of Imperial Beach and the Army Air Corps Ream Field took over part of this area that had been Oneonta. One of the few remaining Oneonta place names in this area is the Oneonta Elementary School on 10th Street in Imperial Beach, California.

Oneonta Falls, Oregon

The beautiful and truly unique Oneonta Falls and Oneonta Gorge in Oregon's Columbia River Valley was first photographed by Carleton Emmons Watkins, a native of Oneonta, New York. Carleton Watkins went west with Collis P. Huntington at the time of the 1849 California Gold Rush to seek his fortune.

Watkins lacked interest in both the railroad and mining business, but did discover that he had a talent for photography. He would go on to become a world-renowned and award-winning photographer, having taken some of the first photos of Yosemite, the California Giant Sequoia, and the Columbia River Gorge.

Oneonta historian Ed Moore wrote, "Watkins named Oneonta Falls after his beloved hometown of Oneonta, New York." Today the falls and gorge remain a popular attraction for visitors to Oregon's Columbia River area about thirty miles east of Portland.

The entire Columbia River Gorge is a rare geological formation not seen anywhere else in North America. A series of dramatic events of nature, including unusual volcanic eruptions, severe glacial ice flows and huge floods have all played a major part in the formation of this scenic area.

Oneonta Gorge is also the home of many rare mosses, ferns, lichens, and hepatics.

Oneonta, Hawaii

Hawaii was an independent country ruled by King Kamehameha II and Quenn Emma when Oneonta Beach was named in the 1870s.

Oahu is in the center of beautiful Hawaii. It is home to about eighty percent of its residents.

In 1873, a Hawaiian sold some land to two prominent American families - the Halls and Lewers - who held high positions in the King's cabinet. When Hall's son married Charlotte Van Cleve, who was from Wisconsin, she named the property Oneonta, meaning "place of peace." In 1889, the Halls sold that portion of the land known as Oneonta. This property would ultimately be developed into the world-famous Halekulani Resort Hotel. Oneonta Beach is near Diamond Head and Waikiki.

Oneonta, Kansas

Our Midwestern Oneonta is located in Cloud County, northwest of Concordia, Kansas. This railroad town on the Santa Fe Railroad and near the Republican River made it an ideal trade center of northwestern Kansas.

Oneonta Lake, Michigan

Picturesque Oneonta Lake is nestled among the lush forests of Goodman Township, Marinette County, Michigan. This 66-acre lake is ideal for fishing, boating, and hiking. A search of Marinette County historical records found no clues as to the origin of the Oneonta name there.

Oneonta Hotel Resort, Harvey's Lake, Pennsylvania

When visiting Harvey's Lake in Pennsylvania today - over a hundred years after the building of the Oneonta Hotel in 1897 - one is still in awe of the beautiful crystal blue lake surrounded by the think green forests of varied trees. Once in that picturesque setting, it's not difficult to imagine the stately Oneonta Hotel of that bygone era, when guests would be arriving by steamboat or trolley car for a festive weekend or summer resort stay. Entertainment provided by the resort included sailing, tennis, specially catered picnics, lavish dinners, and dancing the night away to the music of well-known bands from New York City and Philadelphia.

One of its more famous guests was President Teddy Roosevelt, who recalled his many pleasant stays at the Oneonta Hotel.

No documentation has been found regarding the naming of the "Oneonta Hotel," but there was a reference to its being an Indian name meaning a "place of rest."

One could assume that with the Delaware and Hudson (D&H) Railroad nearby in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton and trains running north through Oneonta, New York, this then is perhaps how the hotel derived its name. The D&H Railroad brought many of the guests to the Oneonta Hotel from all over the northeast.

After the mysterious fire in 1919, which burned the hotel to the ground, the name Oneonta still remained visible for many years, with some of the "big bands" of that era playing for dances held at Oneonta Pavilion, and pleasure boats docking at Oneonta Landing. The major water wells supplying drinking water to homes and businesses today, on this part of "The Grotto" at Harvey's lake, are the original wells dug a century ago for the Oneonta Hotel.

When one talks today to present or past residents of the Harvey's Lake area, their faces light up as they recall fond memories of those Oneonta Hotel days in an era long passed.

Oneonta, Kentucky

Oneonta, Kentucky, is located on the banks of the Ohio River in northern Kentucky approximately twelve miles from Covington.

In its day, Oneonta, Kentucky, was a busy steamboat landing site and later a railroad stop for the flourishing trade along the Ohio River. The Central Kentucky Railroad and the Louisville and Nashville (L & N) Railroad served this area well.

Long before this, what was later to become known as Oneonta, Kentucky, had a rich pre-history because a large Indian village and burial mound of the ancestors of the Shawnee were located here. An extensive archeological dig was done, and the recovered artifact collection is on display at the Behringer-Crawford Museum in Covington. In the early 1800s, the famous pioneer Daniel Boone owned land in the northern part of Kentucky.

When the Huntington family of Oneonta, New York, began to spread their railroad empire westward this area was served by the Central Kentucky Railroad. Henry Huntington was placed in charge of this railroad by his uncle Collis P. Huntington, who at that time owned the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad.

During extensive research, deed maps were found at the Campbell County Historical Society in Kentucky, showing the plots of land owned by Henry Huntington; these later became part of Oneonta, Kentucky.

It is believed that these plots were purchased in expectation of a major railroad and steamboat center being built on this site, but that never came to be.

Oneonta, Alabama

In Alabama, Oneonta is said to mean "the place we seek." The town of that name in northeastern Alabama's Blount County was supposedly founded in 1891 by William Newbold from Oneonta, New York, who was described as "a homesick railroad man." However, no Newbold family has been found in the records of our local Oneonta.

Another possible solution for the name of this Alabama community is suggested by the fact that the wife of New York's railroad builder Collis Huntington, Arabella DuVal Yarrington Worsham Huntington was born and grew up in this region of Alabama.

Oneonta, Alabama, is a well-designed community to handle the Loisville and Nashville Railroad and to mine and ship mineral deposits of iron ore, shale, sand, and coal. The Oneonta area of Blount County has the distinction of being called "the Covered Bridge Capital of Alabama," with four of the state's twelve covered bridges located here. All four bridges remain open to daily public use.

Its picturesque setting among rolling hills and rocky crests is reminiscent of our own "Table Rocks" which overlook New York's Oneonta Valley.

In 1992, Oneonta, Alabama, celebrated its 100th anniversary. The then mayors of Oneonta, Alabama, and Oneonta, New York, exchanged visits and are now close friends.


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