Monday, June 3, 2013

Remembering My Hometown

Where is my hometown?  To me it's not the place I was born - New York City; or the place I’ve lived the longest - New Paltz; it’s the place I see, hear, feel when the word hometown is spoken - Gilbertsville. I spent most of my fifth grade year and all of high school there, all tolled less than five of my seventy-one years, but I still consider it home.

In his book, The Nine Nations of North America, Joel Garreau restructured the boundaries of the continent into logical nations, areas that shared a common interest and culture. I mention this only because upstate New York was, in my opinion, miscast. He made it part of The Foundry, the industrialized area of the continent, when it in fact the bulk of it fits much more into his demarcation  of New England: a land of small farms and no economic future.  My hometown is there.

The village has a population somewhere between three-fifty and four hundred, and has had for the last 150 years or so when, as legend has it, it opted out of being a railroad stop and the Delaware, Lackawanna, and Western routed through Oneonta instead.

Commercial Avenue, the village's Main Street, is about the length of a football field. The western end T’s at Marion Avenue (state route 51 on New York maps). At the opposite goal line, it forks to either side of a civil war monument to become Bloom Street on the left and Spring Street on the right. Across Marion is Overlook Park, a tiered hillside with low stone walls and polished granite benches, fronted by a large concrete fountain that has never in my memory contained anything but leaves. The “commercial” part of Commercial Avenue consists mainly of a two-story Tudor style building, housing a dry goods store and a supermarket of sorts. There are actually three storefronts in the building but the market occupies two of them now. When I lived there in the fifties, the center store was a druggist/soda fountain and the other was a Victory Market. Across the street is a two-story derelict that once housed the town’s weekly newspaper, the Otsego Journal. Its uneven typeset and totally unrecognizable photos provided our tiny village with local news and gossip. Whenever I’d come home for a visit from college or later the US Air Force, the newspaper published an itinerary of my stay with details that would today be considered a gross invasion of privacy.

 The Marion Avenue end of Commercial sports the two claims-to-fame in this small village: The Majors Inn – a massive Tudor building that dwarfs anything else in town; and across the street, the Gilbertsville Post Office – featured once in the New York Times as the smallest post office in the state. For most of my time in town, the Inn was unoccupied. During my senior year someone with more money than sense tried to open it as a restaurant. I worked there with my friend and classmate, Dick Foster, cleaning the place up. One of my jobs entailed freeing a service for two hundred from twenty years of dust and rodent droppings.

When I went off to college on Long Island, I'd call my girlfriend, by then a high school senior, at least one evening a week.  The call had to go through the Gilbertsville operator, often as not Dick Foster.  If Marnie wasn't home he usually knew where in town she was and either connected me to that house.

 That description was a bit of a tangent I admit, but the place lives in my heart and memory and I wanted to share that.  Hometowns – I’ve asked folks over the years, “What’s your hometown?” and after they answer, I follow up with “Is that where you were born?” Sometimes the answer is “No.”

Where is your hometown, your heart?


  1. Nice musing Tom. I definately feel that New Paltz is my hometown.

  2. My fondest memory of Gilbertsville is sending letters to Grandma Violet. We lived on Long Island, and I got the biggest kick out of addressing letters to, "Grandma, Gilbertsville, NY" - with the zip code, which I've long since forgotten. Despite the omission of her name or address, she always got the letters - to this day, that's my definition of a "small town"!