Utica is a city in the American state of New York, and the county seat of Oneida County.
The City of Utica is situated within the region referred to as the Mohawk Valley and the Leatherstocking Region in Central New York State. Utica has an extensive park system, with winter and summer sports facilities. Utica and the neighboring city of Rome are principal cities of the UticaRome, New York Metropolitan Statistical Area, which includes Oneida and Herkimer counties.
Utica Early History
Utica was first settled by Europeans in 1773, on the site of Fort Schuyler which was built in 1758 and abandoned after the French and Indian War. The settlement eventually became known as Old Fort Schuyler when a miliary fort in nearby Fort Stanwix was renamed Fort Schuyler during the American Revolution, and gradually evolved into a village. The perhaps apochrophal account of Utica’s naming suggests that around a dozen citizens of the Old Fort Schuyler settlement met at the Bagg’s Tavern to discuss the name of the emerging village. Unable to settle on one particular name, the name Utica was drawn from several suggestions, and the village thereafter became associated with Utica, Tunisia, the ancient Carthaginian city; Utica expanded its borders in subsequent charters in 1805 and 1817 During the American Revolution the original settlement was destroyed by Tories and Native Americans.
Welsh in Utica
Utica witnessed the development of one of the largest and certainly the most influential Welsh community in the United States. Suffering from poor harvests in 1789 and 1802 and dreaming of land ownership, the initial settlement of five Welsh families soon attracted other agricultural migrants, settling Steuben, Utica and Remsen townships. Adapting their traditional agricultural methods, the Welsh became the first to introduce dairying into the region and Welsh butter became a valued commodity on the New York market. Drawing on the size of the local ethnic community and the printing industry of Utica became the cultural center of Welsh-American life by 1830. The Welsh-American publishing industry included 19 different publishers who published 240 Welsh language imprints, 4 denominational periodicals and the influential newspaper Y Drych.
Utica Erie Canal/Textile Era
Utica’s location on the Erie Canal stimulated its industrial development. The middle section of the Canal, from Rome to Salina, was the first portion to open in 1820. The Chenango Canal, connecting Utica and Binghamton, opened in 1836, and provided a further stimulus for economic development by providing water transportation of coal from Northeast Pennsylvania.
Utica was well positioned to benefit from the Erie Canal, the civil engineering marvel of its time. Utica was the virtual half-way point for canal travelers, thus making the town the perfect stop-over point for weary travelers. During the planning stage of the canal the cotton looms that would make Utica famous were in their infancy, and a vigorous real estate market in the town had ballooned lot prices tenfold since 1800. An anonymous traveler noted that by 1829, about five years after the canal’s completion, Utica had become “a really beautiful place . . . and Utica’s State Street in no respect inferior to Broadway in New York.” Utica, along with other burgeoning towns such as Syracuse, would benefit from the fact that the Erie Canal ran directly through town.
By the late 19th century, Utica had become the home of the textile industry of the United States, boasting dozens of mills. The city still served as a Northeast crossroads, hosting the day’s most celebrated personalities. Samuel Clemens lectured to a sold-out Utica crowd in 1870, where Clemens noted in personal correspondence that he brought down the house “like an avalanche.”It was during this time that Utica hosted the 1884 New York State Republican Convention, an event covered in great detail in Edmund Morris’ Pulitzer Prize winning biography The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt, in which Morris describes Utica at this time as “a shabby canal-town in the middle of the Mohawk Valley.”. Senator Roscoe Conkling, a leading GOP lawmaker of the Stalwart political faction, resided in the city at this time, and figured as the region’s most historically significant politician until local native James Schoolcraft Sherman was elected the 27th Vice President of the United States, serving under President William Howard Taft.
Utica’s Loom to Boom Era
In the wake of the demise of the textile industry, Utica became a major player in the tool and die industry, which thrived in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, eventually declining in the late 20th century. Like the textile industry before it, the machine tool industry largely forsook Utica for the American South, with one notable example being The Chicago Pneumatic Company, which shuttered its extensive manufacturing facility in Utica in 1997 and relocated to Rock Hill, South Carolina.
By the mid-20th century, virtually all of the textile mills closed and migrated to the American South. In the 1930s through the 1950s Utica became nationally if not internationally known as “Sin City” for the extent of its corruption and control by the political machine of Rufus P. Elefante.
In the early and mid-20th century, Utica had become a major manufacturing center for radios, manufactured by the General Electric company, which, at one time, employed some 8,000 workers there, and was once known as: “The radio capital of the world.” However, by the mid-1960s, General Electric had moved its radio manufacturing to the Far East. In the early 1990s, GE’s Light Military Electronics operation in Utica was sold to Lockheed Martin and soon closed altogether.
Utica Rust Belt Era
Like many industrial towns and cities in the northeastern Rust Belt, Utica has experienced a major reduction in manufacturing activity in the past several decades, and is in serious financial trouble; many public services have been curtailed to save money. Suburban Utica, particularly the towns of New Hartford and Whitesboro, have begun to experience suburban sprawl; this is common in many Upstate New York cities, which are suffering from what the Sierra Club termed “sprawl without growth,” although recently notable efforts have been made to revitalize the Downtown and Oneida Square areas of Utica by planning the construction of quality apartment housing. The city’s economy is heavily dependent on commercial growth in its suburbs, a trend that is characterized by development of green sites in neighboring villages and does little to revitalize the city itself. Because of the decline of industry and employment in the post-World War II era, Utica became known as “The City that God Forgot.” In the 1980s and early 1990s, some of Utica’s residents could be seen driving cars with bumper stickers that read “Last One Out of Utica, Please Turn Out The Lights,” clearly taking a more humorous stand on their city’s rapid population loss and continued economic struggles.
Utica in the 21st century
Boehlert Center at Union StationCity leaders and local entrepreneurs tried to build on the city’s losses. In 1996 the former GE-cum-Lockheed facility was purchased by Oneida County’s Industrial Development Association for lease to ConMed Corporation (founded by Utica local Eugene Corasanti) for use as a manufacturing facility and the company’s worldwide headquarters, bringing 500 new jobs to the area . The Boehlert Center at the newly restored, historic Union Station in downtown Utica is a regional transportation hub for Amtrak and the Adirondack Scenic Railway.
Despite the obvious economic growth in its suburbs, Utica continues to be the focus of regional economic revitalization efforts, most notably in the area of arts and entertainment. The recent expansion of the Stanley Theatre and the popularity of Utica College Pioneer Men’s Division III Hockey continue to attract people to a downtown that was quite desolate in the late 1980s and throughout the 1990s. Night life in Utica has been significantly affected with the recent Saranac Thursday Night party sponsored by the F.X. Matt Brewing Company with proceeds donated to the United Way. Since its inception in 1998, the festivities, which include beer, soft drinks, food, and live music, has continued to draw thousands to Utica’s westside brewery district, invigorating nearby taverns and eateries.
Recognizing this trend, Mayor David Roefaro has recently given Utica the moniker “Renaissance City.”
Utica “Second Chance City”
The arrival of a large number of Bosnian immigrants over the past several years has stanched a population loss that had been steady for more than three decades. Bosnian immigrants now constitute about 10% of the total population of Utica. Other recent immigrant groups have arrived from Somalia, Cambodia, and Thailand.
This influx of refugees from many war-torn nations and politically oppressive regimes has drawn mainstream national media attention, from The New York Times (see citation above) to Reader’s Digest. Reader’s Digest dubbed Utica the “Second Chance City” in an article chronicling the crucial role that immigrants have traditionally played in invigorating Utica’s political, economic, and social life; the article argues that Utica now hosts thousands of immigrants that have taken advantage of the city’s affordable housing and entry-level skilled manufacturing jobs to start a new life, a trend that began nearly thirty years ago.