The corner of Genesee and Bleecker streets, Utica, 1914.
In 1900 Utica was the country's 66th largest city.
Refugees and their children now make up nearly 20% of Utica's population.
At the start of the 20th century, Utica was in the midst of a manufacturing boom that drew tens of thousands of immigrants to the city. Between 1880 and 1930 it grew by nearly seventy thousand, as Italians, Poles, Germans, Irish and Arabs arrived to work in the city’s textile mills. For the next 30 years, Utica maintained a population of more than 100,000, a vibrant American city with a decidedly ethnic flavor.
Then Utica began to struggle. Beginning around 1960, industry and other employers left. By 2000, 40% of its inhabitants were gone, too. With the city emptied, properties lost value. An arson epidemic in the 1990s brought the Utica to its nadir.
But as entire neighborhoods fell into disrepair, many Uticans were unaware that help was on its way--from an unexpected source. In the '80s, Utica had begun accepting refugees. The '90s brought a heavy influx of Bosnian refugees fleeing the civil war that ravaged their home in Yugoslavia. Quietly, refugees were beginning to revitalize the area.
The angular stucco facades favored by Bosnian builders began to appear across the city, ethnic restaurants opened, and the city's population stabilized. By 2005, UNHCR had devoted an issue of its magazine to Utica, declaring it, "The Town That Loves Refugees." Utica now has three mosques, two Buddhist temples, and several Christian churches, with predominately refugee congregations. As of 2020, more than 16,500 refugees have passed through the city's Refugee Center.