The River Street birthplace of detective Philo Vance may still be saved.
On Monday, June 10, Bob Brzozowski, Greater Oneonta Historical Society executive director, went through the 31 River St. home where William Huntington Wright – aka S.S. Van Dyne – wrote parts of his debut novel, “A Man of Promise.” Later, while recovering from a cocaine addiction, is believed to have written his first detective novel, “The Benson Murder Case,” a best-seller and the first of a dozen novels featuring dandy detective Philo Vance.
The house, owned by his maiden aunts Bertha and Julia Wright, was sold to the Salvation Army earlier this spring for $90,000. The original intent was to demolish it for a parking lot and, eventually, a new building for expanded programming, including the food pantry.
But when word of the home’s literary history got to Brzozowski, he began researching ways to save it. He arranged a tour with the Salvation Army, who took him around the grounds and through the house.
“Right away, we noticed that the entire house was dry, even though the weekend had been very rainy,” said Brzozowski. “Though obviously, there are other issues.”
At some point, the residence was chopped into apartments, but strangely. “There are two kitchens right beside each other,” said Brzozowski. “There’s one living space on the first floor and two on the second.”
Though no furniture was left, Brzozowski did find some “knick-knacks,” including a 1966 newspaper, a WWII-era canvas pouch in a tin box in the basement and a couple of “really interesting lamps.”
“There could have been stuff there that belonged to the Wright family, but it would be hard to detect,” he said.
But perhaps the biggest revelation of all is that the cupola, where legend had it that Wright did all of his writing, wasn’t big enough to accommodate the writer – or anyone.
“It’s maybe three feet from floor to ceiling,” he said. “It’s not like a room. He couldn’t even sit in here.”
There is, however, a garret on the second floor south side of the house. “I could imagine a writer working in there.”
EARTH FEST – 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Annual Earth Festival features a clothing swap, an art contest, free paper shredding, workshops and more. Milford Central School, 42 West Main St., Milford. Info, (607) 547-4488. occainfo.org/earth-festival/
LIBRARY TALK – 3 p.m. Dr. P. Jay Fleisher presents “Cooperstown Scenery-in Geologic Time.” Free, Sponsored by the Friends of the Village Library of Cooperstown. Village Library, 22 Main St., Cooperstown.
Tom Heitz, local historian and volunteer at the Greater Oneonta Historical Society shows off some of the scores of historical advertisements on display at GOHS’s newest exhibit Oneonta Commercial Advertising: From the 1850’s to the New Millennium. The exhibit pulled from a collection of nearly 700 ads from the archives of the Oneonta Herald and other local papers from The Fenimore Art Museum microfilm collection. “We all sat down and went through them to pick out what we thought were the best ones.” said Heitz. The exhibit is presented in chronological order so trends in advertising can be seen through the decades. A reception will be held 2-4 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 2 at GOHS. (Ian Austin/AllOTSEGO.com)
Wayne Wright, the Greater Oneonta Historical Society’s, shows off a two-lens stereoscopic camera that is featured in three panels from the “Oneonta Photographers, 1850-1900” he staged for GOHS during the fall now being installed in the City Hall lobby. The show features work from William Mereness, Perry Young and Howard N. Smith, who took some of the earliest images of Oneonta. At right, Wright shows Mayor Gary Herzig a stereoscope of the D&H rail yards. Stereoscopes, photographs, cameras and other ephemera will be on display through the end of March. (Ian Austin/AllOTSEGO.com)
PIANO CONCERT – 6 – 8 p.m. Sing-a-long to player piano performing holiday carols, other favorites. Includes seasonal refreshments. Oneonta History Center, 183 Main St., Oneonta. 607-432-0960 or visit www.oneontahistory.org
Volunteers Taylor Knox, a SUNY Oneonta senior, and Brenda Korthauer, above, cheer as a slot machine, donated by Marc and Elaine Bresee, delivers a jingling prize, setting off a bidding war at this evening’s Benefit Auction, the Greater Oneonta Historical Society’s major annual fundraiser. Inset right, Alan Michael Rubin, attending the event at the Qualilty Inn with dad Al and mom Michelle, signals his $560 bid and wins the apparatus, all for the good cause. Other items up for auction included a weekend getaway at a Lake George camp and a lamp with a stained-glass shade, courtesy of stained-glass artist Doug Halberg. After a 10-year hiatus, Kevin Herrick of Lettis Auctions, who has rejoined the GOHS board, was the auctioneer. (Jim Kevlin/AllOTSEGO.com)
COOP LOOP RACE – 1 – 3 p.m. 5K & 10K race of moderate difficulty through scenic Cooperstown. Includes costume contests. Cost, $25/adult for 10K race. Begins & Ends at Clark Sports Center, Cooperstown. 607-547-2800, ext. 111 or visit www.facebook.com/clarksportscenter
ONEONTA – Wilber Bank, the last of the Dietz Street murals depicting the five historic occupants of the Oneonta History Center, 183 Main St., will be unveiled at 2 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 3.
Wilber Bank’s first location in Oneonta was in the southwest corner of the first floor of Walter Brown’s hardware store in the building now owned by the Greater Oneonta Historical Society. After a fire in David Wilber’s bank in Milford, his friend Walter Brown offered space in his business.