William Bingham was a pretty big man—in Pennsylvania. He was a state delegate to the Continental Congress and a U.S. senator, and he helped found the Bank of North America in the late 1700s. He was also a land surveyor who worked extensively around the area where the Susquehanna and Chenango rivers cross paths, which is how Binghamton got its name.
Early settler Robert Harpur first made a name for himself in Binghamton history as an educator. He helped get Columbia University on its feet, but later in life he moved upstate and worked in a land surveyor's office. He might have given some early settlements their classical names like Scipio and Brutus, as Latin was part of the core curriculum in those days.
Once upon a time, the great SUNY Binghamton was a mere extension of Syracuse University. SU operated many extension centers in the first half of the 20th century, and by 1946 the Endicott outpost had become Triple Cities College. In 1950, this entity seceded from SU and jumped into the state university system. At that point, the new liberal arts institution was named Harpur College in honor of the pioneer-educator.
"Dr. Kilmer’s Swamp Root Kidney, Liver and Bladder Cure" might sound a little exotic, but it was a cure-all sold in Binghamton around the turn of the 20th century. Like other "miracle" elixirs of the time, it may have owed its popularity to its alcohol content. After Dr. Andral Kilmer's brother bought him out of the patent medicine business in 1892, he purchased a parcel of land near the town and built a spa around the mineral springs there, as well as a treatment center on Conklin Avenue in town.
“I can’t teach you how to make a film. Filmmaking is an experience,” Nicholas Ray once told his students at Harpur College. The "Rebel Without A Cause" director knew how to put his money where his mouth was. In the early 1970s, he set out to make a film with his students in Binghamton on a shoestring budget. A cut of the film, "We Can’t Go Home Again," was shown at the Cannes Film Festival.
Minor-league baseball was a favorite pastime in Tri Town well before the New York Yankees bought the Binghamton Triplets franchise and turned it into a farm team. The acquisition helped add some new excitement to the team’s Johnson City ballpark. Every year the big club played an exhibition game there, which allowed local fans get up close and personal with their heroes—Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio and Mantle, among others—without having to make the long trek downstate.
Later Yankees players would spend a summer or two with the Triplets, including Hall of Famer Whitey Ford and all-star catcher Thurman Munson. Munson played for Binghamton in 1968, a year before he reached the majors. He once claimed that the Triplets’ infamous, run-down clubhouse was the worst he ever saw. “We couldn’t wait to get out on the field,” he wrote. “Maybe that was the idea.” Johnson Field was demolished after the 1968 season.
That other dimension—of sound, of sight and of mind—has its origins in Binghamton. Writer and “Twilight Zone” host Rod Serling is a television icon, but he never forgot his roots. “Everyone has to have a home,” he once said. “And Binghamton is mine.” The Twilight Zone museum website continues to pay homage with photos of Binghamton street scenes and the carousel at Recreation Park.
The entity that helped build Binghamton is now buried under State Street. The Chenango Canal, which connected Binghamton to Utica (and the all-important Erie Canal), was a commerce bloodline and also a major attraction for immigrants looking for jobs. Once the canal closed in 1878, it was filled up and paved over. By that time, though, Binghamton was manufacturing plenty of its own goods, most of which were transported via railway.
Edwin Link, the inventor of the flight simulator, may well be the most famous Binghamton resident. But one of his pursuits took him far away from the southern tier: He avidly sought out shipwrecks in his 65-foot shrimp boat, Sea Diver. He was particularly interested in remnants of Christopher Columbus’ voyages in the Caribbean, but Sea Diver traveled even greater distances and—at times—into hot water. In 1961, Greek authorities fined Link $740 for "unauthorized underwater archaeological activity."
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