This block is the future site of Binghamton University's Southern Tier High Technology Incubator. Archaeological investigations conducted by the Public Archaeology Facility in 2013 uncovered remains from Binghamton's 19th and early 20th century past under more than 10 feet of later fill. This was primarily a residential block during the 19th century and archaeologists identified house foundations, outbuildings, and privies or out houses from this period in addition to the remains of 20th century industrial properties erected after the houses were removed.
documents, such as maps, deeds, and census entries provide a fairly clear
picture of divided block during the 19th century. When it was developed as a residential area
c. 1840, the two sides of the block initially attracted very different types of
families. The Hawley Street side closer
to the commercial and governmental center of Binghamton was occupied by native
middle and upper class households, while Lisle Avenue attracted working class
residents who were often immigrants. The
block became more unified socially within the last few decades of the 19th
century and the early 20th century as more properties along Hawley
Street became working class rental units and ethnic immigrants became more
common. During the 20th
century, housing along Hawley Street was replaced by industrial and commercial
structures, most of which had also been removed for parking lots by 2013.
The Currans were
among the few elite residents who stayed on the block and actually expanded
their housing along Carroll Street by purchasing an adjoining house lot 1880s. This pattern is not typical of urban
residential areas, which were commonly abandoned by the elite and middle class
for the suburbs beginning in the late 19th century. It may be related to the sense of place and
neighborhood ties that some elite families, such as the Currans, had. Benajah S. Curran, a wealthy lawyer and Mayor
of Binghamton, may have initially settled here because of ties to this
place. The Curran family seems to have
had other properties in the area and Curran also lived with his widowed mother
in this general vicinity prior to his marriage.
This location was also convenient professionally since Curran was within
easy walking distance of the court house.
The Curran family’s decision to remain on Carroll Street through the
early 20th century, however, was probably based on more than mere
practicality since they clearly had the wealth to move to the suburbs and
commute. Curran developed his social and
political power base while he was a resident of this area. Political ties, attachment to, and memories
of, place and home, probably all played a role in the Curran family remaining
on the block, reminding us that people’s lives are more complex than common trends,
such as suburbanization, would have us believe.
were one of the immigrant families who moved into this area, taking a mortgage
on the house at 120 Hawley Street in 1891.
Lorenz Herrmanns ran a tailor shop out of the family home and one of his
daughters engaged in a dressmaking business.
Historic documents suggest that the family were struggling economically
and they eventually lost the house through foreclosure in 1899. This economic struggle can be seen in the
trash they left behind in their privy or out house shaft. There are very few dishes or other things
related to the preparation or storage of food.
Limited economic means, quite simply, would have impacted their ability
to purchase consumer goods, including food related items. But it is also likely that female labor was
crucial to both the Herrmann’s tailor and dressmaking businesses. Christina Herrmann, Lorenz’s wife, and their daughters
may have helped with sewing and other tasks for both businesses. This work would have cut into the time
available for cooking and the family may have focused on simple meals that did
not require as much cooking equipment.
Soups and stews were often favored by poorer families since they used lower
cost cuts of meat and required less labor and less constant oversight during
cooking. This freed female members of
the household to perform other work, including income producing work. Animal bones found in the privy did include soup
and stew cuts, as well as thin chops and steaks that would also cook quickly
and required little equipment beyond a pan.
The Herrmann’s table dishes, such as plates, bowls, and serving pieces,
were also very basic and some of these were quite out-of-date and showed a good
bit of wear.
Herrmann’s death between 1892 and 1899 probably dealt the family both an
emotional and financial blow that may have contributed to their losing their
home. During excavations, archaeologists
recovered 64 opium bottles from the privy that may be related to Christina’s
final illness. Opium was commonly
available during the 19th century and was also widely used in an age
when medicine could do little to relieve suffering. Addiction was also reasonably common but these
64 small bottles would not scratch the surface of a true addict’s need and it
seems more likely they are related to health problems. Whatever the reason for the Herrmann’s
purchase of opium, the expense of this and the loss of Christina’s labor with
her death, would have been substantial hardships for the family.