The Mohawk Valley’s resources, geography and trade routes have historically attracted those with a quest to shape and develop thriving communities. The native peoples of the Iroquois’ Oneida Nation cultivated and stewarded the land for centuries before the first Europeans arrived. To their legacy layers of narratives and histories were added creating the ever-evolving cultural tapestry for which Utica and the Mohawk Valley are known
Non-native settlers found new lives in the region when they began arriving in the last decades of the 18th- century. Immigrants from western Germany were followed by early waves of Irish drawn to canal and railroad building jobs. Greater numbers of immigrants followed seeking their livelihood in an area ideally situated to industry, trade and regional inter commerce. During the Civil War era escaping slaves from the South found their way to Utica via the Underground Railroad. Welsh immigrants, drawn to the area’s fertile and affordable land, carved out agricultural enclaves and established Utica as America’s center of Welsh book publishing. Immigrants from Germany and Austria became Utica’s skilled craftsman or set to work in its textile and woolen mills. They joined immigrants from Southern Italy, Poland, Ukraine, Russia, Germany and Lebanon who set about creating neighborhoods, churches, temples, businesses and social and civic enterprises supporting their communities and integrating them into American life. All faced struggles and challenges with language and cultural assimilation, displacement, negative stereotyping, bias and often marginalization and racism due to their “otherness.” In spite of these challenges, Utica’s immigrant population is responsible for shaping making it the diverse city it is.
Since the late 1970s, Utica’s neighborhoods have been culturally transforming to include residences, businesses, mosques and temples created by refugees who have fled conflicts in the Balkans, South-East Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa. In 2005, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Magazine– REFUGEES– deemed Utica “The Town that Loves Refugees”. Many Uticans feel the city’s future revival, and its continued population growth, will be directly attributable to its expanding refugee community. It is this same population of refugees that is in particular need of sacred green spaces offering individual and community renewal, regeneration and reconciliation.