The Old Badger
Originally published in The Freeman’s Journal on Aug. 3, 1977.
Willow Brook runs into Otsego Lake near the foot of Pioneer Street. Its course has been altered to run down the far side of a strip of land there, which is being readied for whatever is going to be built – probably houses. The brook ends at the Lake, but … Where does it begin?
I’ll trace it to its source by going upstream, like an eel. Once it leaves the Lake, the first obstacle is what we call Lake Street – at first it was First Street. This used to be a busy section of town: a tannery, a smithy and a butcher shop on the Lake side of the road with Cory’s coffin factory and Weeks Livery on the other. The brook runs under the road and along the edge of the skating rink behind the Cooper Inn (which Henry Phinney built in 1816 as a residence, calling it “Willowbrook”), under a delicate stone-arched foot bridge and then through a base of a fine stone wall and into a tunnel where it moves diagonally under Main Street toward the space between the banks.
In observer in 1909 wrote that “in front of Slote’s is dug very deep, as they are turning the course of Willow Brook close to the First National Bank, so as to have room to put up the new building of the (Otsego) Farmer (It actually became Crist Publishing Company and later the Second National Bank, then the National Commercial (and now Key Bank). The walls of the stream area made of concrete, and the top also, but what’s going to keep the top from falling in, no one knows.”
The stream re-appears behind the dry cleaners and runs along beside Doubleday parking lot before turning and going under the grandstand, only to show up again under the first-base-line bleachers. It runs under Chestnut Street, thence either through or next to Dr. Whalen’s cellar, depending on how you look at it. It divides several properties before going underground near Ellinwood Auto Parts, going under the railroad tracks, coming out for a few yards, and then under Grove Street. It runs between Hike Morris’ workshop and young Mitchell’s moving vans, behind Arnold and Rose’s Glen Garage (now the Leatherstocking Federal Credit Union), under the entrance drive to Dave’s garage, and on up the side of the glen (which used to be called the “gulf”). It crosses under Route 80 and then moves up and re-crosses, coming back to the silt filled pond where Irish Hill Road joins Route 80. Right there you can still see the old entrance drive to the Otsego Golf Course Annex, a nine-holer through which the brook runs. It passes below the clubhouse, which is now Dr. Carey’s house. (William Michaels caddied there). On up it goes right past the dump for the International Milk Company, which left us the thousands of condensed milk cans which still lie there rusting under the leaves. (Then it runs through theovergrown fields and thickets that were once part of the “Luludale” farm of Byard’s (1903), later called Brightside, and up over a small dam and into “Moe” pond (for Henry Allen Moe).
I’m never sure whether names like this are official as I’ve never met an official who officiated such things, but it used to be called Artificial Lake by some, Clark’s Pond by others and Bundy’s by still others. No matter, before it was Bundy’s Pond, it was a swamp, and there were foxes in the tag alders because Harry Cougear and Norn Calhoun both say so. Harry got a white rabbit in there, too.
But, to have a swamp, you need water, and there are two fine springs, one on either side. And one was used to supply the Brightside farm when Mrs. Bennett Potter lived there as a girl. A windmill stood at what used to be the end of the airport runway. It pumped the water into a storage tank behind the farmhouses. They cut down alders and dammed up the swamp in ’37 or ’38. So, the two little springs filled the swamp to make the pond which goes over the dam and down the glen and through the village where it picked up the name of Willow Brook from the big brick house that Phinney built.
But … if you ask Frede McGown (and he heard Rowan Spraker tell it), Willow Brook used to come down the glen and turn right. It used to go behind the Clara Welch Home, angle over through the Great American (Price Chopper) then cut under Walnut ad run towards the new high school behind the houses on Linden, turning in front of the old stables (now the bus garage, right where the driveway heaves and breaks up every spring) and dropping down into the Susquehanna. But, only a hundred people lived here then, and I don’t think any of them are still alive.
One of those hundred was James Averill – and now I’ll speculate. Averell first owned a farm outside of town (the Moe-swamp area used to be called the “Averell Place”). But he soon traded it for the lakeshore property where Willow Brook now enters the Lake, and there he ran a tannery. William Cooper, our founder and a great land speculator, mapped the village in detail in 1790 but did not show Willow Brook running through town. Averill, of course, would have known the value of the springs on the hill and, needing a steady supply of fresh water to run the tannery, he could have diverted the brook at the foot of the gulf and guided it toward the tannery. Or he could have diverted it first, watched where it went into the Lake and then bought the property. Who knew?
In any case Willow Brook has been altered again.