Binghamton is a city in and the county seat of Broome County, New York, United States. It lies in the state's Southern Tier region near the Pennsylvania border, in a bowl-shaped valley at the confluence of the Susquehanna and Chenango Rivers. Binghamton is the principal city and cultural center of the Greater Binghamton metropolitan area (also known as the "Triple Cities"), home to a quarter million people. The population of the city itself, according to the 2010 census, is 47,376.
From the days of the railroad, Binghamton was a transportation crossroads and a manufacturing center, and has been known at different times for the production of cigars, shoes, and high-tech products. IBM was founded nearby, and Edwin Link invented the flight simulator in the city, leading to a notable concentration of electronics- and defense-oriented firms that continue to exist to this day. The population of the city has declined significantly in the second half of the 20th century, from a high of 85,000 in 1950, as a result of suburbanization and economic stagnation. The region lost a significant portion of its manufacturing industry, following cuts made by defense firms after the end of the Cold War. Some, but not all, of these jobs have been replaced by significant retail development and the growth of the region as an educational center.
Today, Greater Binghamton is home to Binghamton University, a driving force in the community as an academic, athletic, and arts center, along with a continued concentration of high-tech firms, including Lockheed Martin, IBM, BAE Systems, and Rockwell Collins.
The city was named after William Bingham, a wealthy Philadelphian who bought the surrounding land in 1792. Before that, the first known people of European descent to come to the area were the troops of the Sullivan Expedition in 1779, during the American Revolutionary War.
The industrious Joshua Whitney, Sr. arrived in 1787, and his son Joshua, Jr. worked amicably with Bingham in managing his estate. He was a merchant and judge who built the first roads and court house, and helped a bridge to be erected beginning 1807. Originally, Bingham called this area Chenango Point, the junction north of the Susquehanna where it meets the Chenango river. All the lands west of the Chenango were known as Town of Union and to the east Town of Chenango.
Binghamton was first incorporated and officially named in 1834, growing into a city by 1867. Abel Bennett became the city's first mayor. His extensive property on the city's west side is known as the Abel Bennett Tract.
The New York State Inebriate Asylum opened in 1858 on the eastern end of Binghamton. It was the first ever center to treat alcoholism as a disease, but by 1879 was converted into a hospital for the mentally ill. The main hospital building, designed by Isaac Perry, is now a New York State and National Historical Landmark. This facility is currently being developed as a clinical campus for Upstate Medical University.
Valley of Opportunity: Growth as a manufacturing hub
Originally an agricultural market town, the construction of the Erie Railroad (now Norfolk Southern) in the 1840s made Binghamton the commercial and then the manufacturing hub of the Southern Tier of New York and the adjacent counties in Pennsylvania. The railroad was absolutely vital to the development of Binghamton. Prior to railroads the only economical means of transportation of goods was via water, and the Susquehanna River is not navigable between Binghamton and the Atlantic coast. Equally important, the railroad cut travel time from Binghamton to New York City, then the most rapidly growing area of the United States, from 5 days to 12 hours.
Binghamton was nicknamed the Parlor City for its neat streets and attractive homes, including many stately mansions. During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, many immigrants moved to the area, finding an abundance of jobs, leading them to call it the Valley of Opportunity. Early on, Binghamton had been the second-largest manufacturer of cigars in the United States. However, by the early 1920s, the major employer of the region became George F. Johnson, a shoe manufacturer whose development of welfare capitalism resulted in many amenities for local residents. Binghamton's population began growing rapidly from this influx, with many European immigrants settling in the area.
During the Second World War, this growth continued as IBM, which was founded in Greater Binghamton, began emerging as a global leader in technology. IBM's presence, coupled with Greater Binghamton being the birthplace of the Link flight simulator, led to an unusually large concentration of engineers living in the area. Other major manufacturers included Ansco and General Electric. Until the Cold War ended, the area never experienced an economic downfall, due in part to its defense-heavy industries. The population of the city of Binghamton peaked at around 85,000 in 1950.
Binghamton saw other companies grow during this time. Some of the more notable businesses included Valvoline, which started here before moving, and the Nineteen Hundred Washer Company, which merged to form Whirlpool. Another important, if dubious, product from the era was Swamp Root, a famous patent medicine developed in the late 19th century. The original Dick's Sporting Goods started out as a fishing store in the East Side of the City of Binghamton in 1948, and the business remained headquartered in Binghamton until 1994.
In 1913, 31 people perished in the Binghamton Clothing Company fire, which resulted in numerous reforms to the New York fire code. Major floods in 1935 and 1936 resulted in a number of deaths, and washed out the Ferry Street Bridge (now the Clinton Street Bridge). The floods were devastating, and resulted in the construction of flood walls along the length of the Susquehanna and Chenango Rivers.
While employment and population steadily moved west to less crowded areas of Broome County during the early and mid 20th century, Binghamton maintained its place as the commercial, transportation, and retail center of the region up to about 1950. However, the long period of prosperity beginning in the late 1940s (which allowed most residents to acquire cars), also led new retail development to build on cheaper land along highways near the newer residential areas of Vestal and Endwell. These former hamlets became the most prosperous areas of Broome County after 1950 because of the enormous success of the then Endicott-based International Business Machines Corporation (IBM). These new retail sites had large parking lots which proved to be a great advantage over retail businesses in downtown Binghamton. By the mid-1960s, most of the prosperous retail businesses in downtown Binghamton had moved to suburban sites.
The acquisition of cars by local residents in the 1940s and 1950s also ended Binghamton's role as a transportation center. Demand for passenger rail service to and from Binghamton collapsed in the 1950s and trucking companies replaced the railroad for the transport of most goods. Increased car traffic resulted in the construction of the interstate-model highway Route 17 through Binghamton and Johnson City in the early 1970s, replacing the Binghamton railroad station as the transportation hub of the region.
In an effort to reverse these trends, urban renewal dominated much of the construction during the 1960s and early 1970s, with many of Binghamton's ornate buildings torn down during this period. The construction included the creation of Government Plaza, the Broome County Veterans Memorial Arena, and North Shore Dr. (NY 363). In 1973, the Kopernik Space Center, the largest public observatory in the northeastern United States, was built. These well-meaning efforts failed, and downtown Binghamton is now primarily a government center, not the regional center it once was.
With the Cold War coming to a close, a large portion of the defense-related industries in the area suffered severe cutbacks and closures, with several high-profile sales scavenging many local firms. This was compounded by a large series of layoffs at IBM throughout the early 1990s. As a result, the region went into an economic recession. Today, the city is attempting to diversify its economic base in order to spur revitalization. Major emphasis has been put on Binghamton University. A downtown campus was built in 2007, and there are currently plans to create several student housing complexes downtown. In 2007, Binghamton was named the ninth-greenest city in the U.S. by Country Home magazine.
Tragedy has also hit in recent years. While flooding has been common with Binghamton sitting at the confluence of two rivers, a major flood was able to overcome the city's flood walls and wreak havoc in June 2006, causing millions of dollars in damage. This occurred again in September 2011 as the remains of Tropical Storm Lee passed through the region. The city's American Civic Association is the location of the April 3, 2009 shootings, which left 14 dead.