Utica is a city in the Mohawk Valley and the county seat of Oneida County, New York, United States. The population was 62,235 at the 2010 census, an increase of 2.6% from the 2000 census due largely to a large immigrant refugee influx. Utica and the neighboring city of Rome are principal cities of the Utica–Rome, New York Metropolitan Statistical Area, which includes Oneida and Herkimer counties.
The city's importance along the Erie Canal was marked by its industrial success in the textile and silverware industries and as a stopover city along the canal, being at the junction of the Erie and Chenango Canals. Like other rust belt cities, Utica is working to recover from urban decentralization to nearby suburbs and industrial decline from industry moving to Asian nations and the Southern United States. Currently, the city is home to the Utica Comets of the American Hockey League.
Utica is located at the shallowest spot along the Mohawk River which made it the best place for fording across, and an Iroquois Indian crossroads and fording location made trade exceedingly easy for local merchants. With a shallow spot on the river that was already inhabited by trading partners, the location was ideal for a settlement.
Utica was first settled by Europeans in 1773, on the site of Fort Schuyler which was built in 1758. The fort was named Fort Schuyler after Col. Philip Schuyler, a hero of the French and Indian War. After the French and Indian War the fort was abandoned and then during the American Revolution the original settlement (Yunę́ʼnare·θ in Tuscarora) was destroyed by Tories and Native Americans. The settlement eventually became known as Old Fort Schuyler when a military fort in nearby Fort Stanwix in Rome, New York was renamed Fort Schuyler during the American Revolution and evolved into a village.
In 1794, a state road was built east-southeast from Utica to Albany, New York. By 1797 the road was extended west to the Genesee River, which demarcates the "Genesee Country" of Western New York, and the entire road was thereafter called Genesee Road. The creation of the Seneca Turnpike was the first significant factor in the growth and development of Utica, as this small settlement became the resting and relocating area on the Mohawk River for goods and people moving into Western New York and past the Great Lakes.
Moses Bagg, a blacksmith, built a small tavern near Old Fort Schuyler to accommodate weary travelers waiting for their horse's shoes to be repaired. After just a few years this small shanty tavern became a two story inn and pub known as Bagg's Hotel. The first bridge over the Mohawk River was erected in the summer of 1792 by a Long Island carpenter who had settled in Utica, Apollos Cooper, although local and regional architects that had seen the bridge were very skeptical to use it, and the bridge was soon destroyed in the spring floods.
The perhaps apocryphal account of Utica's naming suggests that around a dozen citizens of the Old Fort Schuyler settlement met at the Bagg's Tavern to discuss the name of the emerging village. Unable to settle on one particular name, Erastus Clark's entrant of "Utica" was drawn from several suggestions, and the village thereafter became associated with Utica, Tunisia, the ancient Carthaginian city.
Utica was incorporated as a village in 1798. Utica expanded its borders in subsequent charters in 1805 and 1817. Expansion and growth continued to occur in Utica; by 1817 the population had reached 2,860 people. Genesee Street was packed with shops and storefronts, a prosperous stagecoach line had expanded its business, a fully established bank was founded by Alexander Johnson, a newspaper company The Utica Observer established by William McLean, five churches as well as two hotels were all located within this center square of Utica. Suffering from poor harvests in 1789 and 1802 and dreaming of land ownership, the initial settlement of five Welsh families soon attracted other agricultural migrants, settling Steuben, Utica and Remsen townships. Adapting their traditional agricultural methods, the Welsh became the first to introduce dairying into the region and Welsh butter became a valued commodity on the New York market. Drawing on the size of the local ethnic community and the printing industry of Utica became the cultural center of Welsh-American life by 1830. The Welsh-American publishing industry included 19 different publishers who published 240 Welsh language imprints, 4 denominational periodicals and the influential newspaper Y Drych.
However, the Welsh community in Utica was never very large and was often dwarfed by other ethnicities, most notably the Polish and Italians. The largest nationality group of the great migration to America between 1880 and 1920, Italians trace their presence in Utica to the arrival of Dr. John B. Marchisi in 1817. A prosperous pharmacist, he was the first of thousands of Italians to arrive in Oneida County over the next century.
Utica's location on the Erie Canal stimulated its industrial development. The middle section of the Canal, from Rome to Salina, was the first portion to open in 1820. The Chenango Canal, connecting Utica and Binghamton, opened in 1836, and provided a further stimulus for economic development by providing water transportation of coal from Northeast Pennsylvania. Utica’s population with the creation of the canals began to skyrocket. The population began to increase threefold over a span of ten years since the first section of the canal opened in 1819. Utica was the virtual half-way point for canal travelers, thus making the town the perfect stop-over point. During the planning stage of the canal the cotton looms that would make Utica famous were in their infancy, and a vigorous real estate market in the town had ballooned lot prices tenfold since 1800. An anonymous traveler noted that by 1829, about five years after the canal's completion, Utica had become "a really beautiful place . . . [and Utica's State Street] in no respect inferior to Broadway in New York." Utica, along with other burgeoning towns such as Syracuse, would benefit from the fact that the Erie Canal ran directly through town.
By the late 19th century, Utica had become a transportation hub and a commercial center of considerable note, but was not like the heavy industrial towns in New England. Utica, in particular, was limited in its capability to produce industrial goods because the Mohawk River did not run fast enough to turn the industrial machines. Upon investigating the New England style of steam production, they found how to use coal in their manufacturing. With the recently completed Chenango Canal that connected Utica to the coal mines in Pennsylvania, there was a vast supply readily available. Because of the Embargo Act of 1807 that cut off the English textile production, the Northeast had a firm grasp on the textile industry. With investments from local entrepreneurs Utica’s textile industry began to take off.
Centered around the parishes of St. Mary of Mount Carmel and St. Anthony of Padua, Italian life and culture flourished, spreading throughout the county to cities, towns and small villages alike. While the immigrants arriving in the great migration usually found jobs in the local textile mills, brickyards, construction companies and unskilled manufacturing occupations, numerous entrepreneurs soon began small businesses running the spectrum of economic activity from push-cart peddlers and olive oil merchants to haberdashers, bankers and insurance agents. Italian language newspapers such as Il Pensiero Italiano, La Luce, and Il Messagero dell'Ordine, along with the humorous Il Pagliaccio and various organizational and cultural publications reflected the richness of Italian life in Oneida County.
The Italian community rapidly grew to political prominence, forming an important voting block in elections as early as 1888. By 1910 Italians were being regularly elected to office in Utica, while some historians credit the East Utica Italian community as the spark that ignited Franklin D. Roosevelt's campaign for governor of New York in 1928. From the early 1940s the Italian community has played a dominant role in Utica and area politics.
In the 1930s through the 1950s Utica became nationally if not internationally known as "Sin City" for the extent of its corruption and control by the political machine of Rufus P. Elefante. Utica, from the turn of the 20th century, had an organized crime presence, largely made up of the Italian mafia. The mafia presence was largely eliminated in the 1990s by federal indictments and convictions.
By the mid-20th century, virtually all of the textile mills closed and migrated to the American South. In the wake of the demise of the textile industry, Utica became a major player in the tool and die industry, which thrived in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, eventually declining in the late 20th century. In the early and mid-20th century, Utica had become a major manufacturing center for radios, manufactured by the General Electric company, which, at one time, employed some 8,000 workers there, and was once known as "the radio capital of the world." However, by the mid-1970s, General Electric had moved its radio manufacturing to the Far East. In the early 1990s, GE's Light Military Electronics operation in Utica was sold to Lockheed Martin and soon closed altogether. Like the textile industry before it, the machine tool industry largely abandoned Utica for the American South, with one notable example being The Chicago Pneumatic Company, which shuttered its extensive manufacturing facility in Utica in 1997 and relocated to Rock Hill, South Carolina.
Like many industrial towns and cities in the northeastern Rust Belt, Utica has experienced a major reduction in manufacturing activity in the past several decades, and is in serious financial trouble; many public services have been curtailed to save money. Suburban Utica, particularly the town of New Hartford and the village of Whitesboro, have begun to experience suburban sprawl; this is common in many New York cities. The city's economy is heavily dependent on commercial growth in its suburbs, a trend that is characterized by development of green sites in neighboring villages and does little to revitalize the city itself. Because of the decline of industry and employment in the post-World War II era, Utica became known as "The City that God Forgot." In the 1980s and early 1990s, some of Utica's residents could be seen driving cars with bumper stickers that read "Last One Out of Utica, Please Turn Out The Lights," clearly taking a more humorous stand on their city's rapid population loss and continued economic struggles.
City leaders and local entrepreneurs tried to build on the city's losses. In 1997, the former GE-Lockheed facility was purchased by ConMed Corporation (founded by Utica local Eugene Corasanti) for use as a manufacturing facility and the company's worldwide headquarters, bringing 500 new jobs to the area. The Boehlert Center at the newly restored, historic Union Station in downtown Utica is a regional transportation hub for Amtrak and the Adirondack Scenic Railway. Next door to Union Station is The Children's Museum of History, Science & Technology, a five-story building built in the 1890s.
Downtown Utica continues to be the focus of regional economic revitalization efforts. In 2010, Roefaro fulfilled a campaign promise and delivered the city's first comprehensive master plan in over 50 years.