One of the Erie Canal's Last Halls

 

Union
A church may raze Union Hall, built in 1819, for a
parking lot or picnic area.

Credit: Steve Lindsey

Sept. 23, 2003

UPDATE: The Old Union Hall was demolished in December 2003.

Dear Preservation 911,

An original Erie Canal building is slated for demolition. There aren't many left; Old Union Hall, built in 1819 in in Chittenango, N.Y., may be the last. Today the hall is neglected, and plans call for the hall, recently sold to a church next door, to be razed. A green space for church cookouts or a parking lot may replace it.

Old Union Hall, better known as the Farmer's Supply building, has had a varied career, from serving the first canal boats to the first automobiles. The yellow ark of a building was built on the lateral canal branch which once ran to downtown Chittenango, as a storehouse for canal shipping. The Middle Portion of the Erie Canal became operational in 1820. Farmers brought their harvest to ship to urban areas while picking up incoming supplies from the cities.

Old Union Hall later served as an early automobile garage and bus terminal. But transportation was just one of the building's many roles. After a social hall was built upstairs, Old Union served as a dance hall and, in 1914, a movie house. Tickets cost 11 cents for children and 17 cents for adults.

L. Frank Baum, author of The Wizard of Oz, put in an appearance at the hall early in his vaudeville career, according to village historian Richard Sullivan. Chittenango, Baum's birthplace, celebrates the book. Old Union Hall is one of two physical links the community has left with the author.

Old Union should be saved. It is part of the nation's heritage. The state of New York has gone to great pains to publicize canal history as part of a Central New York renewal effort. Why surrender this last piece of Erie Canal history? It would be a shame if this it were to be lost now.

Sincerely,

Steve Lindsey
Chittenango, N.Y.

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