Oneida is a city located in Madison County with a population of 11,393. It is the only city in the county. Oneida has an area of 21.9 square miles. It is in the 23rd Congressional District, the 49th State Senatorial District, and 111th State Assembly District.
The Beginning of Oneida
Present day Oneida was once a wilderness area inhabited solely by the Oneida Indians until the early 1800's. Oneida is said to mean "people of the living stone," referring to a large boulder the Oneida Indians venerate. The Oneidas sided with the colonists during the Revolutionary War, yet this did not prevent their gradual displacement by white settlers in the decades following the war.
In 1818, one small store was built along an Indian trail by a man called Van Epps. Following this first "business venture," more settlers eventually moved into the area. In the 1830's the state built a feeder through the present city site to provide water for the new Canal System from Oneida Creek. This enabled canal boats to ship freight to town.
A man named Sands Higinbotham would prove to be major force in Oneida's growth. A clever businessman, he would have a great deal of influence in the area. The Oneida Depot was built and owned by him. The first railroad, later known as the New York Central, wanted to build through the area in 1839. To obtain a right-of-way across Higinbotham's land, the railroad agreed that every train would stop at the Depot.
Higinbotham took advantage of such a financial opportunity and built a hotel and restaurant at the rest stop. The increased income and activity led to the construction of additional hotels and businesses. These transportation arteries allowed local farmers to ship their goods to markets more easily. Business had begun with Oneida providing a home for the manufacture of furniture, caskets, carriages, cigars, and silver. A trading center soon developed.
The Oneida Community began in 1848 as a religious and social commune. The members of the community produced various items, eventually including silverware for their own use and for sale to the outside world. The Community was reorganized as a joint-stock manufacturing company (Oneida Limited) in 1880. The headquarters of the Community was a few miles south of the old Oneida Depot, but was included in the boundaries of the new City.
Before the Civil War, Oneida had obtained many attributes of a stable community, such as schools, churches, a post office, newspaper, and a bank. The three decades following the war brought more modern conveniences, such as gaslights, telephones, a water supply, street cars, electricity, and sewers.
Both the construction of the Erie canal feeder and the railroad stop, led to the incorporation of the Village of Oneida on June 20, 1848. The village was part of the huge Town of Lenox. Years of friction among different sections of the large Town led to the establishment of a new Town of Oneida in 1896. This town, in turn, was chartered as the City of Oneida on March 28, 1901.
Two more railroads had followed the New York Central, and Oneida maintained its place as a manufacturing and trading center thoughout the first half of the twentieth century. The City provided substantial quantities of material and personnel during both World Wars.
Since the early 1960's, though, Oneida has undergone notable economic changes. The new barge Canal System and the N.Y.S. Thruway had already by passed the City and by 1980 rail services had ended as well. Many of the City's manufacturing plants closed or moved away, and many local farm sites were converted to shopping centers, housing developments and other uses. Much of the retail Business had shifted from downtown to the Route 5 corridor.
Even though many residents now commute to jobs in and around Syracuse and Utica, Oneida is an employment center of Madison County. It also draws people from the surrounding towns for shopping, health-care, and financial services. The products of Oneida Limited are internationally famous. The Oneida Indians are also making their presence felt again. They have established a Smoke Shop and several Gas Stations in the City, and a casino-hotel complex a few miles away in Verona.
While the City's population peaked in 1970, nearly 11,393 people feel that Oneida is still "A little bit of America at its best!"