Vestal's Rivercrest Community Faces an Uncertain Future
It's a picturesque drive as you leave Binghamton and head across the river toward Vestal. Nestled tightly between wooded hills and the placid Susquehanna River this stretch of Vestal Parkway is just one of many drives that highlight the natural beauty of our Southern Tier.
In 1932 the road was narrow and traffic was sparse, but the hills, river and wildlife looked much the same. It was that spring that construction began on "Riverside Terrace," a planned residential subdivision on the banks of the Susquehanna River. The subdivision was located across the street from Vestal Hills Country Club at the eastern entrance to the town of Vestal, which at that time was rural farmland.
According to current resident Suzanne Geoghegan, shortly after construction began the river flooded and the name of the development was changed to "Rivercrest."
Over the next several years a total of 28 houses were built and initially occupied by doctors, bankers, teachers, and other professionals. Similar in construction and incorporating elements from several architectural styles, no two houses were identical.
Little did they know at the time, but Rivercrest would mark the beginning of Vestal's transformation from a rural agricultural community to the bustling center of activity it has since become.
Today the country club is long gone, replaced by a large housing development and shopping plaza. Just up the road is Binghamton University with 15,000 students and new construction under way. Shopping centers, strip malls, restaurants, parking and car lots fill every space along the parkway for miles.
But that quaint, unassuming 28-house community, a last vestige of historic Vestal, is still there - and at least for now it is still intact.
Twenty-four years ago a local developer began purchasing Rivercrest property. North Star LLC now owns twelve of the houses of which six are abandoned, and early this year the owner announced plans to demolish four of them. Although North Star has not divulged its intent for the properties, Geoghegan views the plan as a first step toward further demolition, rezoning of the area and using the properties for a commercial venture.
Rivercrest residents since 1972, Suzanne and Ross Geoghegan feel that such a move would undermine the integrity of the neighborhood, further commercialize an already overly exploited area, and at the same time destroy an important element of Vestal history.
Recently a group of residents formed the Rivercrest Neighborhood Association and launched an effort to block demolition and preserve the community. As a result, Rivercrest is now listed as an historic district on the New York State Register of Historic Places and has been deemed eligible for the National Register.
Unfortunately, neither designation can prevent demolition of a property by its owner. But according to Vestal Historian Margaret Hadsell, designation as a Local Historic District by the Town of Vestal could block such a move, and on October 14 a public hearing will be held to determine if Vestal's town board will approve the designation.
Suzanne Geoghegan is quick to add that although the immediate concern is to stop demolition, the long term goal is to preserve the neighborhood as an Historic District.
Some might question the justification for Local, State and National Historic designation. The houses are moderately sized and attractive, and those occupied are very well kept, not unlike any number of developments in town. The mix of Colonial, Tudor, and Arts & Crafts architecture is interesting, but not to be considered spectacular.
Rivercrest is historically significant, and stepping into the back yard of any house in this community the case becomes even more convincing. It's a different world back there. Long lots extend back through natural gardens and wooded areas, then slope down into the bed of the Chenango Canal Extension, still intact since it was abandoned in the late 1800's.
Unlike many former canal sites in the area, here the canal bed has not been filled in. It exists today as the best preserved remnant of the canal extension. On the other side, the old towpath separates the canal bed from the river and since 1932 has served as a community walking trail extending the length of the development. A well-worn path, fire pits and park benches are evidence that this trail serves the neighborhood well.
From the towpath there is little evidence of the hyper-activity on the other side of these houses. Traffic noise seems distant and looking across the river there is no sign of civilization - just water, woods and wildlife. Like it was when these houses were built.
Next time you drive the parkway into Vestal take notice of the small group of homes along the river and consider that just on the other side of that development is a well-kept secret, a peaceful wilderness, a rare intact section of a long-ago abandoned canal, and a piece of virtually untouched Vestal history.
That's Rivercrest, Vestal's string of pearls on the Susquehanna River. Oh, and those few in the string that have lost their shine… many in this community feel that with a little TLC they'll be good as new.