Binghamton: A Brief History

Chances are if you’re viewing this page you live in or around Binghamton, whether you’re a student or a local resident. Ever wonder how this strange little city came to be? Here’s a brief bulleted history of Binghamton to give you a general idea of how we got here:

  • The first Europeans who came to the general area were soldiers of the 1779 Sullivan Expedition. They destroyed local villages of the Onondaga and Oneida tribes who were living there.

William Bingham, image courtesy of the Library of Congress

  • In 1786, a wealthy Philadelphia man named William Bingham bought a 10,000 acre patent for the land, which was then called Chenango Point. Agricultural growth and the building of roads, railroads and the Chenango Canal through the 1800′s led Binghamton to become a ‘Valley of Opportunity’ for manufacturing companies.
  • Binghamton officially became a city in 1867. In the late 1800′s and early 1900′s, immigrants flocked to the area, drawn in by the abundance of jobs. In the 1920′s, the major employer of the region became Endicott Johnson shoe company, which was known for treating workers well under the system of welfare capitalism. “Which way EJ?” was said to be what they asked immigration officials at Ellis Island in New York City.

 

Workers in an Endicott Johnson Shoe factory. Image from Broome County Historical Society.

  • Binghamton became so prosperous through this industrial boom that it gained the nickname ‘The Parlor City’ due to the large number of stately mansions that were built by those who made it big in industry. You can still see some of these mansions on Riverside Drive today.
  • In 1935, Binghamton experienced devastating floods which, unfortunately, would hit the area again the early 2000′s.

    Bird’s Eye View of Binghamton (from top of courthouse). Note earlier version of bank on right side of Chenango Street)

  • During WWII Binghamton continued to grow as IBM, which was founded in greater Binghamton, flourished in the transition to a high-tech economy. Edwin Link’s famous invention of the flight simulator in Binghamton would also contribute to this growth. The population of the city peaked in the mid-1950′s, when it was home to around 85,000 people.
  • What is now known as Binghamton University was established in 1946 as a subsidiary of Syracuse University under the name Triple Cities College. Similar to Broome Community College, it was created to cater to the needs of returning WWII veterans. The school was renamed Harpur College upon its induction into the SUNY system in 1950.

Washington Avenue Looking North, Endicott, N.Y. Postcard courtesy of The Endicott History Project

  •  Unfortunately, Binghamton’s prosperity would not last forever. Post-war suburbanization led people to settle in smaller suburban sprawls, drastically reducing the city’s population. As the Cold War wound down in the late 1900′s, the defense-related industry in Binghamton began to pack up and leave, including the economic juggernaut IBM. These companies laid off thousands of workers and the local economy plunged into a deep recession, with jobs dropping by 64% from 1990 to 2013.

Abandoned Endicott-Johnson Factory building

  • Binghamton is rocked by tragedy after being hit hard by the Mid-Atlantic US Flood of 2006 and later floods from tropical storm Lee, which caused $1 billion worth of damage, and then on April 3, 2009, when shootings at the American Civic Association left 14 dead. 
  • Despite these tragic events, Binghamton continues to push towards revitalization. The city is working closely with Binghamton University, creating student housing complexes and promoting local businesses to diversify its economic base.  Binghamtonians and University students are working to  make the city better each day, preserving the art and culture of its vibrant past and looking forward to the promising future.

    Downtown Binghamton at night

Sources

Broome County Historical Society

Ghosts in the Valley of Opportunity