This past Thursday, the Kilmer Mansion invited Broome County historian Roger Luther for their “Hot Cider and History — Abandoned” event. With Binghamton’s winter weather creeping in, the hot apple cider warmed attendees as they learned about the fascinating history of some of Binghamton’s oldest abandoned buildings.
Located on Riverside Drive on the West Side, Kilmer Mansion belonged to swamp-root salesman Jonas Kilmer in the 19th century and now represents one of the “few remaining” historic properties of its age, significance and quality, according to the Kilmer Mansion website. Throughout his hour-long talk, Luther discussed the rise and fall of several notable historical buildings in Binghamton that have ultimately succumbed to abandonment and disrepair.
After grabbing the complimentary hot apple cider from the front table and signing in, the audience learned about the infamous Masonic temple on Main Street, its creation in 1922 and its path to erosion by 2023, including pictures taken by Luther on site.
The Cameo Theatre was also featured, representing the last of Binghamton’s neighborhood theaters to close in 2002, leading to a 21-year-long vacancy. Luther touched on “The Castle on the Hill” as well — the building that served as inebriate asylum and state hospital for 135 years before closing in 1993 after some stones fell off the facade. The Castle on the Hill is Binghamton’s only officially registered National Historic Landmark, and although it has been vacant for over 30 years, heating and cooling has prevented it from degrading in the same way other historic buildings in the area have.
Finally, Luther discussed the Stone Opera House and Strand Theater — which are next to each other on Chenango Street — and what led to their eventual 45 and 43-year abandonment. Luther, who is from Binghamton, also shared what made the Stone Opera House particularly special, especially considering the state of decrepit properties today.
“The Stone Opera House burned down in 1902,” Luther said during his talk. “And yet [it was] reopened in 1903 — only a year [later], even at that time.”
A core theme of the night was restoration and preservation when it comes to local historical buildings with the right resources and funding — a sentiment echoed by Lisa Blackwell, 52, of Vestal, and president of the Friends of Kilmer Mansion.
“I hope that seeing how formally stunning structures have fallen into disrepair or been demolished will inspire people to support the historic homes and buildings that are still standing,” Blackwell wrote in an email. “They are expensive to maintain and need all the love they can get. Together we can take care of them and make sure that they are here for future generations to enjoy.”
Luther’s presentation also included old photographs of the buildings during their heyday. Many of the buildings were tossed from owner to owner in the years following their abandonment who may have wished to restore or preserve the building by transforming them into new theaters, playhouses, senior living facilities or student housing. Ultimately, every proposed plan for restoration ultimately fell through.
Nina Collavo, Binghamton University ’23, reflected on how the information revealed by Luther in his presentation now transforms the world she sees every day.
“I’m always interested in learning more about the city I live in,” Collavo said. “Having a deeper understanding of the buildings around me makes daily life more interesting. When I go out to do an errand and pass the Stone Opera House, now I’ll know what happened there. It makes me feel more involved with the area I live in.”
Blackwell conveyed how “Hot Cider and History” nights, which sometimes discuss other historical properties around the area, are aimed at uniting the community via the sharing of intriguing local historical information.
“’[Hot Cider and] History’ is a great way for the community to enjoy a local historic treasure,” Blackwell wrote. “We’ve had many guests who have never been to Kilmer Mansion before and are excited to discover this landmark. These talks also bring together people with a common interest in the history of their town, whether they grew up here or are new to the area.”
Blackwell continued to reflect on why Kilmer Mansion holds events such as this one.
“Local history events are a great way to keep history alive in our community,” Blackwell wrote.
If visitors or members of the Binghamton community are looking to engage with local history in this way, Collavo strongly recommends taking advantage of the many resources available across Binghamton.
“To those interested in Binghamton’s local history, there are a lot of cool resources waiting to be discovered,” Collavo said. “The Broome County Public Library has a treasure trove of local history on the second floor. Local journalists have done many excellent pieces on historic places, events and people, and there are events like ‘Hot Cider and History’ where you can spend an evening getting to know your city.”
Visit https://kilmermansion.org/ for more information on events, tours and private bookings held by Kilmer Mansion.