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Esther Hobart (McQuigg) (Slack) Morris was born August 8, 1812 in or near Spencer, Tioga County, New York. The “Mother of Woman Suffrage” as her oldest son, Edward, dubbed her, Esther holds the distinction of being the first American woman Justice of the Peace in 1870’s Wyoming Territory. As an early suffragist, she had an important role in gaining rights for women in Wyoming, playing a bit part in the early days of the national movement. This is her story… but first, a little background which led me to Esther.
While walking our former farm fields alongside the Catatonk Creek, the remaining dam structure and the back hill, I often pondered the fact that Esther and her extended families cleared and worked this land, hunted these hills, and sawed its timber. They watched countless sunrises and sunsets from the same perspective we have. They saw many a storm come down this valley from the north and west, smelled the same earthy aroma as spring arrived, stood in awe as beautiful rainbows appeared over that back hill, and admired the brilliant colorful hues of the valley’s various trees and sugar maples in the fall.
But, of interest to me personally, is Esther’s tie to the old “tenant house” as we called it when my husband’s Roorda family owned the farm on the corner of Ithaca Road and Fisher Settlement Road. This Greek Revival farmhouse had character! Built in the 1830s, it stood where our house was built in 1982. Esther grew up on the farmland here, but her brother, Daniel McQuigg, Jr. built this “little house” in the 1830s for his wife Eleanor’s mother, Mrs. (Rev. Asa) Cummings.
I loved its design and floorplan; but, alas, upkeep of the house had not been maintained during the nearly 150 years of its existence. By the time we contemplated renovating it, dry rot had consumed the support beams, the main floor had separated 3 inches from a main load-bearing inner wall, and the foundation was buckling. Original imperfect glass panes were still in the windows. And, while the main floor’s ceiling was 10-12 feet high, it was too low upstairs for my 6’7” husband to stand upright.
Though wood clapboard siding had been covered by ugly faux red brick asphalt sheet siding, I loved the Greek Revival design. Opening the front door, flanked by faux pillars and little windows, we entered the main hallway. To the left was the front parlor, formerly separated by sliding pocket doors (removed by a former tenant) which opened to the dining room. The second doorway on the left in the hall led into that dining room with its original but dysfunctional fireplace. To the left of the fireplace was a smaller room that had been converted into a bathroom. The door to the right of the fireplace led into the kitchen which had a door to the west porch entrance, and a rear door to a back shed. And, to the left at the rear of the kitchen was a door which opened onto a steep staircase and upper rooms.
This back staircase intrigued me as we climbed up to what was clearly servants’ quarters separated from the other rooms upstairs by a different door and latch than found in the rest of the house. At the top of the stairs which curved left was a small room. This room had what I perceived to be original early-mid 19th century wallpaper of young belles in hoop-skirt gowns. Back in the small open hall, there was a simple wooden railing protecting one from falling over and down the stairs. This open area had a small “sitting” area that overlooked the staircase, large enough for a small table and chair(s), with another small room to the side, directly above the kitchen. A door to the right in this hall led into a larger room. This room had a very antique simple latch/lock. In here, we found a large curtain stretcher frame which had likely seen decades of use in the distant past. Unfortunately, I never thought about donating it to the town’s historical society.
But, back on the first floor at the front entrance, we return to the main hall to take the stairs up. Ed and I recall that these stairs were so well built they did not squeak like those in our new house which squeaked fairly soon after being built! However, former occupants had also destroyed this staircase’s fancy posts and banisters for firewood. There were several rooms, two along the front, two on the side, and that larger room with the door which entered the servants’ quarters. But, again, the ceiling was so low that my husband could not stand upright at any point. And, as I said, the house was in such poor condition that it was not financially feasible for us to make renovations.
Apparently not long after this “little house” was built, a sugar maple was set centered halfway between the house and the road. Still thriving in 1982 when the house came down in the fire department’s practice burn, it was damaged by the fire. We used it for firewood, never thinking to count its rings.
Whether Esther Hobart McQuigg ever set foot in this house, I cannot say. Her middle name of Hobart was in honor of her mother’s family, early Massachusetts settlers who emigrated from England. Esther’s mother was Charlotte (Hobart) McQuigg, b. 1779 in Canaan, Litchfield County, CT, d. 1826 at Spencer, Tioga County, NY.
Charlotte’s father, Edmund Hobart, was b.1745 in Groton, Middlesex County, Massachusetts. On 01/01/1776, he married Mehetable/Mahitabel Peck at Canaan, Litchfield, CT, having nine children (Ancestry.com) – Prescott, Charlotte (Esther’s mother), Betsey (died young), Rodney, Mille, Isaac, William, Esther, and John. Edmund d.1808 aged 63 years, buried Spencer, while Mehetable d.1832 aged 77 years, making her birth about 1755, is also buried in Spencer’s Old Cemetery.
In 1795, Charlotte’s father, Edmund Hobart, traveled with wife and family likely by traditional wagon and oxen from Canaan, Litchfield County, CT, taking the popular road past Oneonta’s Otsego Lake. Passing through Owego, Tioga Co., NY, Edmund took his family on to Spencer, NY, purchasing land which then included our property. Hobart’s oldest son, Prescott, was b.1777 in Canaan, CT. Sadly, he holds the distinction of being the first death recorded within present-day Spencer soon after the town was settled. Injured while using the indispensable axe, 17-year-old Prescott died of lockjaw in 1795. He was buried on his father’s farm until land was set aside for a cemetery about 1800 from the estate of Joseph Barker in town. This became the Old Spencer Cemetery at the corner of Liberty and Main Streets. (Spencer History)
Edmund Hobart built a successful saw mill on the embankment above the Catatunk/Catatonk Creek, roughly 500 feet east of our house. A dam was built back to the steep hill which held back a 10-15 acre millpond to efficiently run the millwheel. The ubiquitous apple orchard was established below the mill on this side of the dam, trees still producing when my husband farmed with his father from 1968 to 1985. They provided shade for the cows, and bedding protection for deer as my son and I discovered on a hike one wintry day – along with tasty apples for the animals to enjoy!
Edmund Hobart’s second son, Rodney, operated a grist mill with Daniel McQuigg on the same mill site. Daniel McQuigg married Edmund Hobart’s daughter, Charlotte, purchasing the full property in 1815 after Edmund died. (Spencer History) Later, the Cook Mill on the same ground was known to saw “50,000 to 100,000 feet of lumber per annum” even though not running at full capacity (per the late Jean Alve, Spencer Town Historian in “Sounds of Spencer”, Random Harvest Weekly, 01/11/95). The dam was eventually breached and drained, creating a large field which my husband said contained very fertile “river-bottom” loam. All that remains of the mill(s) is a large pile of rocks among which we found a few small antique bottles. The dam was removed entirely to make way for Hollybrook Country Club’s golf course in the early 2000s.
There is quite a rich family history for Esther Hobart McQuigg and her paternal Hobart ancestors placed by a descendant at Find-A-Grave(FAGM) Edmund Hobart’s father was Shebuel Hobart, Jr., b.1715, Groton, Middlesex Co., MA, d.1805 at 90, Westfield, Chittenden Co., VT. He married Esther Parker in Groton in 1739, having 10 children. Esther was b.1721, Groton, Middlesex Co., MA, d.1789, aged 68, Hollis, Hillsborough Co., NH.
Shebuel Hobart, Sr. was b.1682 in Groton, Mass, d.1764 at Pepperell, Middlesex Co., MA; he mar. Martha Prescott b.1690, Groton, MA, d.1774 aged 84 yrs, Townsend, Middlesex Co., MA. Shebuel’s parents were Rev. Gershom Hobart, b.1645 of Plymouth County, MA, a graduate of Harvard seminary in 1667; he m. Sarah Aldis in 1675, b.1652, 14 children. Gershom survived the Groton, Massachusetts Indian massacre of 1676; one of his children was killed, while one taken captive was released a year later. Gershom’s father was Rev. Peter Hobart, b.1604 of Hingham, Norfolk, England; he is said to have arrived at Charlestown, Massachusetts on June 8, 1635. (FAGM)
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Esther’s father, Daniel McQuigg, Sr. was b.1776 in either New Hampshire or Massachusetts, and d.1833 in Spencer, Tioga Co., NY. Meeting in Spencer, Daniel Sr. married Charlotte Hobart, b.1779 in Connecticut; she died 1826 in Spencer, NY. They had 11 children, including (per the late Jean Alve, Spencer Town Historian): Daniel, Jr., b.1801, Charles b.1803, John b.1805, Edmund H. b.1807 in Spencer, Jane b.1808, brother Jesse/Jessie b.1810, Esther Hobart b.1812 (J.A.) or 1814 (online), brother Mindwell b.1814, Eliza b.1816, Charlotte Susan b.1819, and George b.1821.
John McQuigg, Jr., Esther’s grandfather, a Revolutionary soldier, arrived in Owego, NY from Massachusetts between 1785-1788. He was b. 1750 in Hillsborough Co., NH, d.1804 Owego, Tioga Co., NY. (FAGM) He m. 1) Mollie Gilmore – ch.: John M. McQuigg, III, b. Oct 13, 1771; and 2) Sarah Coburn – ch.: Mary b.1774, Daniel Sr. b.1776, Elizabeth b.1778, Robert b.1780, Jesse b.1783, Sarah b.1783, Patience b.1787, David b.1791, Rachel b/1793, Jane b.1795, Diadana b.1796. (J.A.)
John McQuigg, Jr.’s will was probated in December 1804, presumably the year he died (FAGM), though Alve noted he died in Owego in 1813. He was buried in the cemetery of Owego’s first church. After the church burned, the graveyard on Court Street was abandoned with John McQuigg’s gravesite now unknown. (FAGM) Spencer Town Historian, Jean Alve (JA), wrote in her 08/03/85 newspaper article, “A Pioneer Family and a Family of Pioneers”, that “John McQuigg of Scots-Irish descent came from Massachusetts to the village of Owego by way of Otsego Lake and the trail along the Susquehanna river in the period from 1785-1788. He died in Owego in 1813.” But, if his will was probated in December 1804 (FAGM), then he obviously died prior to 1813 (JA).
John McQuigg, Sr., was b. 1706 and d. 1794 in Bedford, Hillsborough Co., NH, recorded as a petitioner for the incorporation of Bedford May 10, 1750, a selectman from 1752-1759. He m. Mildred Lawson b. 1710, d. 1788. (FAGM)
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Into this hardy family was born Esther Hobart McQuigg, clearly descended from a long line of survivors unafraid of life on the western frontier.
As a daughter of Daniel, Sr. and Charlotte (Hobart) McQuigg, Esther was the eighth of eleven children, the second of four daughters. By the time she was 11, Esther and her siblings had become orphans, their mother dying in 1826, their father in 1833. Her youngest siblings were sent to live with older siblings or various relatives in New York and Ohio, possibly Michigan, while Esther was apprenticed to a seamstress. She “ran a successful millinery business from her grandparents’ home [perhaps her Hobart grandmother], ‘making hats, and buying and selling goods for women.’” Esther was also not afraid to take a stand as an abolitionist in opposing pro-slavery rivals threatening to destroy a church.
Two days after her birthday at age 29 in 1841, Esther married Artemas Slack of Owego on August 10, 1841 in Owego, Tioga Co., NY. A civil engineer with the Erie Railroad, Artemas was b. March 5, 1811, son of Jesse and Betsy (Burnham) Slack of Windsor, Vermont. Artemas and Esther’s son, Edward Archibald Slack, was born October 1842 at Owego, NY. Sadly, just seven short months later, Artemas Slack died in May 1843 at 32 years. “As a highly respected civil engineer, Artemas traveled throughout the Upper Midwest until he was accidentally killed in Illinois.” (p.11. Wyoming Woman Suffrage, WWS.) Artemas was buried in the Presbyterian Church Burying Ground at Owego, NY, leaving Esther a young widow and single mother. (Find-A-Grave, FAGM)
Since Artemas left property in Illinois to his wife, Esther removed to Peru with her young son, Edward Archibald. There, “Ester Slack” met John Morris, “a prosperous merchant and shopkeeper,” whom she married in Peru, Illinois on February 17, 1846 as recorded in the registry at LaSalle County, Illinois. (Biographical Encyclopedia, BE)
John Morris was born 1812 per gravestone, or between 1813-1817 in Poland per Federal census records (age 33, merchant, in 1850; 44 in 1860; and 57, miner, in 1870). The U.S. Army Enlistment Record (Ancestry.com) notes his enlistment on January 2, 1836 as John Moryoski, age 22, born 1814, Brestezo, Poland, a farmer. He was noted to be a saloon keeper, miner, and then a coroner in 1872. John and Esther’s first son, John, died as an infant, with twin sons born November 8, 1851 in Peru, Illinois – Edward J. and Robert C.
Edward J. Morris (1851-1902) was elected assessor of Laramie County, County Clerk of Sweetwater County, and was a partner in the W.A. Johnson store in Green River, later known as the Morris Mercantile Company, and also established the Morris State Bank. (FAGM)
Robert C. Morris (1851-1921) was noted to be “the most expert reporter the state ever had” for the Wyoming State Supreme Court, later partnered with his twin brother in the Morris Mercantile Company in Green River, taking over the business after his brother died. (FAGM)
As above, Esther was born in or near Spencer, Tioga County, NY on August 8, 1812 (year on tombstone photo at FAGM; date per JA) or 1814 as per numerous articles about her. Even Federal census records note her age discrepancies (Ancestry.com):
1850 age 32, husband John Morris, age 33, Archibald Slack 7 (her son), John Morris 1, Salisbury, LaSalle County, Illinois;
1860 age 43, listed as “Sarah”, husband John Merris/Morris age 44, twin sons Edwin and Robert, both age 8, Peru, LaSalle Co., IL;
1870, June 1st, age 57 as was husband John, South Pass City, Sweetwater, Wyoming Territory.
1880 age 77, census taken on the 4th and 5th days of June 1880, Sangamon, Springfield Co., IL. (Note 20 year age discrepancy between 1870 to 1880 by my review Ancestry.com.)
1900 age 85, 86 or 87, with 7 written above a 5 which also appears to have a 6 within it, residing in the home of her son, “R.C. Morris” (Robert C.). Perhaps she had previously claimed a younger age than she actually was so as not to be listed older than her second husband, John Morris.
Published August 3, 1950 in the “Waterloo Daily Courier” of Waterloo, Iowa under Ripley’s Believe It Or Not – “Mrs. Esther Morris of Cheyenne Wyoming was a justice of the peace 48 years before the U.S. gave women the right to vote! The first Woman Judge – Mrs. Esther McQuigg Morris (1813-1902), who died at Cheyanne, Wyo. on April 2, 1902, at the age of eighty-nine, was known as the ‘Mother of Woman Suffrage in Wyoming.’ She was the first woman judge in America, being chosen justice of the peace of South Pass City, Wyo. in 1870, shortly after women received the vote in the Territory, but 48 years before the U.S. gave women the right to vote.” (Ancestry.com) With her 90th birthday upcoming in August 1902, this notice would make her birth year the more accurate 1812.
In July 1869, John and Esther Morris joined the gold rush and moved their young family west, not to California but to South Pass City in Sweetwater County, Wyoming Territory. Gold was discovered here in the late 1860s. Though the working Carissa Mine closed in 1956, it remains open for public tours. With their children, John and Esther settled into a 24×26 foot log cabin on Lot 38, South Pass Avenue. (pg.11, Wyoming Woman Suffrage, WWS) The 1870 Federal Census for South Pass City records John, age 57, a miner, with his wife Ester, age 57, Justice of the Peace, Edward, age 19, occupation of clerk in store, Robert, 19, Deputy District Clerk, and Edward Slack, age 27, District Clerk.
Esther Hobart (McQuigg) (Slack) Morris was a woman of stature, a hardy pioneer. “Nearly six feet tall, weighing a hefty 180 pounds…a born reformer,” Esther was a woman who radiated strength. Speaking in a “blunt and fiery” manner and adept at articulate passionate speeches, she was a fervent crusader for her cause. (BE) With her ancestral background of pioneers on new western fronts, she supported and promoted women’s rights at a time when it was more often a volatile subject. After America’s Civil War granted rights to former slaves, she was now among the increasing voices promoting woman suffrage, or right to vote.
In Wyoming Territory, William H. Bright, introduced CB70, the suffrage bill to give women their right to vote and hold office. “Passing CB70 was not a joke gone awry. Instead, a genuine belief in woman suffrage, a way to promote the territory, and the notion of temporary experiment with this reform influenced the Wyoming legislators.” (pg.8, WWS) It was believed that “Being the first government to pass a woman suffrage bill would invite national publicity and create a positive, progressive image which would induce more settlement.” (pg.9-10, WWS)
On December 10, 1869, women were, indeed, granted the right to vote in Wyoming. “This same group of lawmakers also gave married women control of their own property and provided for equal pay for women teachers, many years before most other states would even begin contemplating such legislation.” It was of note that within a short time, the nation’s first female jurors were also seated, as was the nation’s first woman justice of the peace. (BE)
Not long after, on February 14, 1870, Esther Morris began her appointment as Justice of the Peace for South Pass City, Sweetwater County in Wyoming Territory. She paved the way as the first American woman ever to hold such a position. Newspapers around the nation informed interested readers of her auspicious appointment. Morris presided over a rowdy western town of about 2000 souls for eight-and-a-half months. Alcohol was readily available from two breweries for miners who frequented “a dozen saloons and several brothels.” https://www.nytimes.com/2018/05/23/obituaries/overlooked-esther-morris.html Morris tried about 30 cases (New York Times Obituaries, NYT) or 27 cases (pg.14, WWS), or over 70 minor cases (BE), meting out justice as her strong common sense deemed appropriate. Most cases brought before her involved debt disagreements, but she adjudicated “ten assault cases, including three with the intent to kill.” (pg.14, WWS) Indicative of Morris’s ability is that not one of her decisions was reversed by a higher court, even after one case was taken to appellate court.
As expected, the era’s news media “found the idea of a female judge somewhat amusing, or so their reports on Morris’s tenure would suggest. In April 1870, Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper recounted her first day in court, focusing primarily on what she wore – ‘a calico gown, worsted breakfast-shawl, green ribbons in her hair, and a green neck-tie’. A few months later, the same publication called Morris ‘the terror of all rogues’ and said she offered ‘infinite delight to all lovers of peace and virtue.’” (NYT)
A year later in June 1871, Morris supposedly issued a warrant against her husband for assault. Quite possibly a rumor, “one story asserted Esther had tried her husband, John, for drunkenness and had him tossed in jail. Denying it, she replied, ‘A man is not alowd to be judge of his wife much less a woman of her husband. It would not be a legal proseding.’ Common sense, more than the knowledge of the law, explains the success of Morris’ tenure as justice.” [pg. 14, WWS]
At the conclusion of her term, Esther decided not to seek reelection. Her son, Robert, “explained his mother’s decision by noting she had received ‘much glory’ from holding the job and demonstrated that women could perform well in elected office. In other words, she had accomplished her goals.” She also knew her husband opposed woman suffrage and probably her job as justice of the peace. [pg.14, WWS] Unfortunately, with their marriage already failing, the couple separated. Leaving John Morris behind, Esther Morris removed to Laramie, Wyoming to be near her eldest son, Edward Slack, a newspaper editor. (BE)
Morris recognized her own role in the national emergence of women’s suffrage. After completing her term as justice of the peace in 1871, she wrote a prominent suffragist, Isabella Beecher Hooker. Her letter was read at the national suffrage convention in Washington, D.C., and printed in Wyoming’s “The Laramie Daily Sentinel”: (NYT) “Circumstances have transpired to make my position as a justice of the peace a test of woman’s ability to hold public office… I feel that my work has been satisfactory.” In describing some of her responsibilities such as assisting in picking juries, depositing a ballot, canvassing votes after an election, Morris noted that “in performing all these duties I do not know as I have neglected my family any more than in ordinary shopping.” (NYT)
In 1873, John Morris bought his first liquor license for his saloon, continued to work in the local mines and speculated in properties. (WWS) He died in South Pass City on September 29, 1877. [In 2011, Clint Black noted for Find-A-Grave that “John’s gravestone in Cheyenne may be a memorial. City records record burial in 1876.”] John’s obituary in the Cheyenne Sun noted he was the step-father of the paper’s editor, Edward Slack. Age 63 at death, he had emigrated from Poland, arrived in South Pass City in 1868, established himself as a saloon keeper, a miner, and elected coroner in 1872. (FAGM)
In the same year of 1873, Esther Morris was nominated for Wyoming state representative from Albany County on a woman’s ticket. Withdrawing not long afterward from the election bid, she made it clear, however, that she was still very much a part of the “woman’s cause.” Moving back east to Albany, New York in 1874, she continued her suffragist efforts, taking part in ceremonies for the 1876 “Declaration of Rights for Women” at Philadelphia’s Centennial Exhibition.
Traveling west yet again, Morris eventually settled in Cheyenne, Wyoming in 1890 where her son, Col. Edward Archibald Slack (1842-1907), had become owner/editor of the Cheyenne News and later the Daily Leader. Slack gave his mother the honorary title of “Mother of Woman Suffrage.” Previously, Col. Slack had begun the publication of the Laramie Independent newspaper, followed by the Laramie Sun.
This was also the year of Wyoming’s statehood, being the 44th to join the Union on July 10, 1890. During celebrations, Morris, “honored and respected for her great ability and heroic womanhood,” was given a prominent celebratory role. Morris presented Gov. Francis E. Warren the new state flag of Wyoming “on behalf of the women of Wyoming, and in grateful recognition of the high privilege of citizenship that has been conferred upon us.” (NYT)
Morris was part of a tour by Susan B. Anthony in 1893 when Colorado women received the vote, attending a dinner given for Anthony in 1895. That same year, Morris was also elected a delegate from Wyoming to the national suffrage convention in Cleveland, Ohio. (BE)
Esther Hobart (McQuigg) (Slack) Morris died at age 87 or 89 (depending on source) on April 2, 1902 at home in Cheyenne, Wyoming, the town where she is buried.
A pamphlet published in 1920 on Wyoming suffrage by local historian Grace Raymond Hebard contributed in great part to establishing Morris’s reputation for the many women’s rights she helped achieve. In 1960, statues to honor Morris were placed in Statuary Hall in the U.S. Capitol and in the state house at Cheyenne, Wyoming. (BE)
Though Esther Morris will always be remembered for her brief time as the first woman Justice of the Peace, she is only rarely mentioned for her important advocacy for women’s suffrage. Yet, she worked fervently among the more recognizable suffragists like Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, Sojourner Truth (born Isabella Baumfree), Lucy Stone, Julia Ward Howe, Carrie Chapman Catt, Lucretia Mott, and so many others.
Being the first woman justice of the peace, Morris is typically named alongside Jeannette Rankin of Montana, the first woman elected to Congress in 1917, and Sandra Day O’Connor who, in 1981, became the first woman Supreme Court justice. (NYT) Not until 1920 were all American women given the right to vote, women who have benefited from Morris’s “satisfactory” execution of the trust placed in her as the first American woman justice of the peace.
As noted, the three sons of Esther Hobart (McQuigg) (Slack) Morris carried on their mother’s legacy and that of her siblings and extended family as leaders within their communities… rather fitting for a woman of hardy pioneer stock.
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Analogies give us a glimpse of similarities and truths of a story tucked within a story. Thinking about this concept after my poem was written brought to mind Mark Twain’s British book, “The Prince and The Pauper,” published subsequently in the U.S. in 1882.
In Twain’s beloved story, a young prince and a pauper (who happen to look a lot alike and were born on the same day) trade places in life. The prince experiences the roughness of a lowly life just as his counterpart once did, while the pauper tries to bravely find his way at the top of an unfamiliar kingdom. Common sense, so crucial to his survival in the real world, comes in quite handy as he makes his way through the upper echelon. Ultimately, the real prince returns to claim his rightful place as heir and is crowned king. Ever grateful for his real-life experiences as a pauper, the prince now understands life for the poor and hard-working folks beneath him, and is better able to comprehend their needs. And, then he makes his friend, the pauper, his aide.
Having never read Twain’s book, my poem was written without knowledge of the story line. After research, it’s clear my poem takes a similar albeit slightly different tack in relating a king who was used to observing the realm from his castle high above the fray of every-day life. Wanting to experience firsthand what life for his subjects was like, he walks among them dressed as a beggar. In this guise, he observes that most people continue on their way with their heads held high, seldom stooping to assist someone poorer than they. They live and breathe a self-serving arrogance.
But, on the other hand, a young woman notices the poor man in his tattered clothing. She kindly offers to feed him – and not only did she provide nourishing meals, but she repairs his coat to provide warmth against the cold. He returns often to talk with her, to learn the depths of her heart, and to simply show appreciation and gratefulness for what she has done for him, a beggar.
He was afraid to share that he had fallen in love with her, but was now in a dilemma for he needs to return from whence he came. Indeed, he knows that truth must always be told in any situation… and so he set out one day to let her know how much he loved her. He was willing to give up all he owned just to serve her for the rest of his life. And it was then that he could see his love was returned in her eyes as he knelt down to propose. With her “yes,” his heart leapt for joy to know their hearts would soon be united forever, as he shared who he really was.
Tucked within the depth of this poem’s story is the analogy of our Lord’s love for us. Leaving his throne in His beautiful and perfect heavenly home, He came down to dwell among us… into this world of sin and pain. Once here, He experienced life just as we do with all of its temptations and sadness, but also the joy. And thus He is able to be our advocate and comforter, knowing from personal experience what our life on earth is all about.
Yet, our Lord came that He might serve us, not to be served. “…just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." (Matthew 20:28) In His sacrifice, He gave His all for us… His life… that we might accept an awesome priceless gift; and, in so doing, share eternity with Him above. What joy there will be when we are united with Him, and remain in the presence of His love forever! What a King!
Ode to a King
Linda A. Roorda
I gazed from afar while observing my realm
And found with int’rest motives in action,
But often their lives showed merest concern
While I could see depths of their anguished souls.
Oh how I loved these people of mine!
And longed to walk the path to their soul
A chance to converse, a sharing of hearts
To bring them peace with comforting words.
So stepping down, I entered their world
Yearning to serve the rich and the poor
But they did not know this beggar in rags
Most never saw needs, just held their head high.
And then I noticed a young woman fair
Who spoke gentle words to a stranger coarse
She offered me food and to mend my coat
While love in my heart had only begun.
A love which grew on the winds of time
A chance to bond and learn of her heart
To know the depths of comfort and peace
Humility’s grace wrapped up in mercy.
Now deeply in love I’d sacrifice all
Yet she did not know the truth of my garb
How would I explain that she’d found favor
That her heart was true, like gold refined.
So I intended my dilemma to share
To let her know from afar I’d come,
That all I’d longed for I treasured in her,
Companionship sweet, a blending of souls.
Expressing my love for her tender heart
Overwhelmed was she as on knees I bent
Asking for her hand, with tears she said yes,
My heart leapt for joy that we’d become one.
And then I shared my journey in rags
From a kingdom rich in glory and fame
To this lowly world of sorrow and pain
To which I had come, others to serve.
For it was then my eyes did behold
Analogy of One with far greater love
Who left His throne to walk on this earth
To share our burdens and speak to our hearts.
His love ran red as He gave His all
To purchase with blood and redeem our souls
That He might draw near, from sin set us free
To offer His gift of life eternal.
12/21/15 – 12/24/15
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“Silent night, Holy night”. Christmas festivities in colonial America were in stark contrast to the celebrations and preparations of modern day. Christmas was celebrated by early settlers of Chemung and throughout the newly formed United States of America. New York was the 11th state to ratify the U.S. Constitution on July 26th, 1788, the same year the Town of Chemung was established. Although the celebrations would not have been as elaborate as those in the cities or of the wealthy, a modest celebration would have taken place. It has been noted in writings of how generous and extravagant George Washington was on Christmas to his family, guests and servants. The Christmas of 1788 found our Country without a President, it being run instead by the Confederation Congress.[ii] The election held for the First President of the United States of America actually ran from Monday, December 15, 1788, to Saturday, January 10, 1789. No doubt politics would have been a newsworthy item spoken around the dinner table. Whether or not the settlers in Chemung were given the opportunity to vote is not known.
Decorations would have been very simple by today’s standards. The German settlers most likely would have brought a small tree into their home. If they had the means to do so they might have adorned the tree with candles. New England Puritans preached against frivolity and the pagan heathen traditions of Christmas trees, Christmas carols and any joyful expression that desecrated “that sacred event.”[iii] Although there were hymns, Christmas Carols weren’t actually sung until the later part of the 19th century.
Fruit of any kind was too precious to be wasted on decorations. You would not have seen any apples or other fruit adorning the mantel. The home and church might have been adorned with what was called the "sticking of the Church" with green boughs on Christmas Eve. Garlands of holly, ivy, and mountain laurel were hung from the church roof, the walls, and perhaps the primitive church benches. Lavender, rose petals, and pungent herbs such as rosemary and bay were scattered throughout the churches, providing a pleasant holiday scent. Scented flowers and herbs were chosen partially because they were aromatic and thus were considered an alternative form of incense.[iv]
Anglicans, Roman Catholics, Lutherans, and Moravians celebrated the traditional Christmas season with both religious and secular observances in the Middle Atlantic colonies of New York, Pennsylvania, and Maryland, and in the South. However, the celebration of Christmas was outlawed in parts of New England by Calvinist Puritans and Protestants. [v]
By the 18th century, Santa Claus, St. Nicholas, Christkind or Kris Kringle might have made an appearance at Christmastime to leave a gift. Similar figures were a jolly elf named Jultomten, who was thought to deliver gifts in a sleigh drawn by goats and Father Christmas, Pere Noel, Babouschka and La Befana; depending on the nationality of the family home.[vi]
Although private celebrations would have been held in the confines of some of the first log cabins and frame homes in the town, it is possible that some of the families came together to celebrate with bible readings and prayers provided by family members. Little is known about the first church erected in the Town of Chemung. It sat on the bank of the Chemung River several miles from what is now “Chemung Proper” on the south side of the river. Travel to the church especially in the cold winter months would have been difficult. A ferry would have been needed to traverse the icy water in December. For those living on the south side of the river, their difficulties would have been to travel the rutted path with their families. At that early a time in the history of the town, there were few horses or oxen and little or no carts or wagons. Most settlers would have traveled by foot. It was here where “The beginning of Christian Organizations in Chemung and Neighboring Valleys” was organized. “The site of the first church of any denomination in Chemung Valley.” It was “organized September 2, 1789 by Roswell Goff, Pastor and William Buck, John Hillman, Peter Roberts, John Roberts, Jesse Locey, John VanCamp and Elizabeth Hillman. (All Baptists)”. (A monument, located ¼ mile from the site of the church can be seen today on the Wilawana Road, located approximately 2 miles east of Wellsburg at what is known today as the Tanner Farm.)
A small gathering met in worship, according to the early minutes of the Wellsburg Church. From this beginning, the Baptist Church grew, expanding to the building of a Meeting House in 1812 on land purchased by Abner Wells for 50 cents.[vii] The log cabin church and a cemetery were washed away in a flood. There are no remains today and no record of burials in the cemetery.
Traditions from various nationalities were brought with the early settlers from their homes in Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Connecticut and other New England States and from their homes across the Atlantic. Many of the earliest settlers arrived between the years 1788 and 1791. Depending on when they began homesteading and growing crops, their harvest and winter supplies of food may have been lean for several years. If they had a roof over their head, a warm fireside and enough food to eat, along with the courage and fortitude to better their circumstances, they were wealthy in their own right. “All is Calm, All is Bright”.
Merry Christmas to All,
Mary Ellen Kunst
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Fall has finally arrived on Wipjibber Mountain, which means the boys of Troop 000 are back up and running after time off for summer vacation. The scouts are just back from their first camping trip for the 2018-2019 season and I’m told it was one for the history books.
In an effort to train for next Summer’s backpacking trip in the Allegheny Mountains, the scouts hiked from the Methodist Church to the property of their scoutmaster, Gary Inzo. It was fair weather for the 5 mile hike with an overnight stop in the woods near the old railway station.
The following morning they arrived at Inzo’s property and set up camp. The older scouts instructed their younger charges in the ways of woodcraft including cooking a meal over an open fire. I’m happy to report no injuries other than an incident in which Lawrence Hubschmidt got smoke in his eyes and recoiled, sending his pan full of half done fried potatoes flying through the air. As his spuds returned to earth, some landing in a fresh mug of coffee, just poured, Lawrence lost his balance and went rolling down the hillside, his scoutmaster following closely behind him. Lawrence was uninjured, thankfully, largely in part to the strength of the adult leaders who restrained said scoutmaster until a fresh cup of joe could be poured for him. The adults later remarked it was a good thing Inzo forgot about the shotgun he’d brought in case of a visit by a nuisance bear that’d been having around his place.
The scouts enjoyed a rousing game of “Flashlight Tag” in the wooded section of the property until the game took an interesting turn which will not be soon forgotten.
Bobby Joe Olson, being designated as the person who was”it”, heard what he suspected to be another scout in a nearby thicket. He snuck up on the unsuspecting boy aided only by the moonlight. He was nearly on his quarry when he heard a low, deep snuffling sound.
“B-B-B… BEAR!!!!” he bellowed, before stumbling over a tree root and falling backwards, losing his flashlight in the process.
Scoutmaster Inzo, seeing the opportunity to finally be rid of the bear, remembered he'd brought his 12 gauge and, grabbing it, sprinted up the hill towards the sound of Bobby Joe’s yelling. Arriving where the boy was still thrashing in the dry leaves trying to get to his feet he took aim at the thrashing weeds where he knew the bear stood, and let fly with two rounds of buckshot.
At the report of the old Remington, Bobby Joe snapped to his senses. He also snapped countless small trees and limbs as he bolted into the night towards camp.
Certain the bruin was down, Inzo went to his tent, fetching a lantern and returned with the rest of the group. All were anxious to see the monster which nearly ate their fellow scout. All that is except said scout who was occupied cleaning up the mess in his shorts.
Shining the lantern on his trophy, Inzo was immediately crestfallen to find not the bearskin rug he’d long desired, but Ollie, his grandson’s prize Hereford steer which until this weekend was bound for next year’s State Fair.
The remainder of the weekend was a somber affair as scoutmaster searched for ways to break the news of the steer’s demise to his grandson. But all agreed it was a weekend they’d never forget.
The Wipjibber Mountain Audubon Club will host a Pancake Breakfast at the fire department November 10th from 8-11 am. A free will donation is suggested.
Scout Troop 000 announced they will be postponing their annual Fall Spaghetti Dinner. Instead, there will be an “all you can eat” roast beef dinner held in the dining hall of the Methodist Church on Nov. 17th from 4-7pm. Cost is $10 for those 12 and up, children $5. All proceeds will go towards the troops newly planned Summer trip to New York City.
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Without a doubt, we’re heading into some exciting times here in Chemung County. With the slate of candidates running for election this year, voters have the opportunity to enact change that could impact the county for decades to come.
It’s exciting times for ElmiraTelegram.com as well. Not only has the site stepped forward to offer the chance for voters to voice their support for the candidates, but the opportunity for the candidates to reach out to the voters as well.
Additionally, it’s a time of change for the website as a whole. Prompted by several people in our community and the void expressed by many, ElmiraTelegram.com will be making some major changes to the website in the next few weeks.
Starting shortly after the election, ElmiraTelegram.com will be getting a major facelift, offering a more user friendly, professional looking website.
Just a peek!
The changes won’t be just cosmetic however. We’ll be making it easier for readers and community figures to make their voices heard with an expanded “Opinion” section, modeled off of the traditional op-ed pages found in newspapers across the nation.
E.T will have a Special Features section appearing throughout the year including a section to celebrate the holidays.
And for those who enjoy the laid back chat, the the forums will remain available to those who have signed up.
Best of all, ElmiraTelegram.com will remain free to the public. No firewalls, no pop up, just news and information.
This change has been something I’ve wanted to try for a long time, and now feels like the right time to give it a whirl.The original plan was to make the changes to coincide with the site’s five year anniversary, but there’s no way I can wait that long.
So stay tuned and sometime after Election Day we’ll pull back the covers and unveil the new and improved ElmiraTelegram.com. I think you’re gonna like it!
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by Erin Doane
The Lake Street Bridge closed to vehicular and pedestrian traffic in March 2011. I started working here at CCHS in May 2011, so I never had the chance to go over the bridge that is just across the street from the museum. It was announced recently that work would start next summer to repair the bridge and open it to pedestrians. This is just the newest chapter in the history of this river crossing.
The first bridge across the Chemung River in Elmira was completed at the foot of Lake Street in 1824. Before that, one needed a ferry to cross the river. The wooden bridge was constructed by the Elmira and Southport Bridge Company. It had three piers, one in the center of each channel and another on the island in the middle of the river. Some years after it was built, the spans began to sag considerably. Once, a drove of cattle crossing the bridge, broke through the first span during high water and timbers and cows went floating down the river. In 1840, the bridge was badly damaged in the “great fire” of that year. A new covered bridge was erected on the spot with J.H. Gallagher supervising construction.
The covered bridge burned in 1850 when the tannery at its south end caught fire. It was replaced by a wooden truss structure. This new bridge was open at the top except for some crossing timbers. This allowed the snow to fall through onto the roadway during the winter so that sleighs could more easily cross. A considerable part of this bridge was washed away during the St. Patrick’s Day flood of 1865. The bridge’s only stone pier was undermined and most of the southern span dropped out and washed down the river. The bridge was repaired and remained in used until 1869.
By 1869, there were two bridges over the Chemung, at Lake Street and Main Street. Both were toll bridges. Businessmen on the north side of the river did not like that people had to pay tolls to cross. Customers from the plank road district and other parts of Southport were reluctant to cross the bridge to do businesses. Farmers didn’t want to pay a toll to sell their produce so they went south to Troy, Pennsylvania instead of to Elmira.
Early in 1869, the city passed a legislative act authorizing it to purchase both bridges for $25,000 (around $460,000 today). They dropped the tolls and used taxpayer funds to maintain the structures. Three years later, another act was passed authorizing the building of new bridges at both locations. The Main Street bridge was replaced first, then the Lake Street bridge was completed in 1874. The new Lake Street bridge was made of iron with three spans of 182 feet each and trusses that were 26 feet high. The piers were made of limestone. It cost $65,000 (about $1.4 million).
The Lake Street bridge was replaced again by a new steel bridge in 1905. While the work was being done, a temporary wooden pedestrian bridge was erected next to it so that people could still move across the river.
In June, 1959, City Manager Angus T. Johnson reported to the Elmira City Council that the Lake Street bridge was in desperate need of repair. The bridge supports were weakened, the metal fixtures were corroded, and rivets were missing from some joints. Salt used on the roads during the winter caused much of the deterioration. The Council closed the bridge to both all traffic and plans were made to replace the structure.
On June 21, 1961, between 1,200 and 1,500 Elmirans gathered in the rain for the official opening of the new Lake Street bridge. The bridge had been closed for two years but construction had finished two weeks ahead of schedule. The cost of demolition of the old bridge and construction of the new was $473,270 (just under $4 million today).
In 1972, flood waters rose all the way to the bridge’s deck but it survived largely unscathed. Eleven years later, in 1983, it was closed for two months while new expansion joints were installed, the structural steel was scraped and repainted, and the roadway was resurfaced with a new membrane liner to help preserved the concrete deck.
Regular maintenance was not enough to keep the bridge from deteriorating. Winters can be hard here in the northeast and, despite yearly washing, salt used to treat the roads damaged the bridge’s concrete supports and rubber expansion joints. In March 2011, the Lake Street bridge was declared unsafe and closed to vehicles and pedestrians. At the time, it had the lowest traffic count of all the city’s five bridges over the Chemung River. As early as May 2011, there were reports that the bridge would be repaired for pedestrian use only. Next summer, some eight years later, the project may finally get underway.
Erin Doane is the curator at the Chemung County Historical Society. To see more of their blog, go to http://chemungcountyhistoricalsociety.blogspot.com
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I’ve been a member of the Senate Task Force on Heroin and Opioid Addiction since 2014. The task force was established at a time when local police departments and addiction centers, including many across the Southern Tier and Finger Lakes regions, were pointing to the alarming rise in the availability and abuse of heroin and opioids.
Since its formation, this crisis has only accelerated and deepened.
Significant resources have been committed to examining the myriad causes and effects, and to find solutions. State funding, for instance, has doubled to nearly $250 million in this year’s budget.
Nevertheless, the work of responding is just beginning.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), “Every day, more than 115 Americans die after overdosing on opioids.”
The federal Centers for Disease Control (CDC) pegs the economic cost of prescription opioid abuse at nearly $79 billion annually in the United States, “including the costs of healthcare, lost productivity, addiction treatment, and criminal justice involvement.”
A report earlier this year from the Albany-based Rockefeller Institute of Government made this summary, “We found that drug deaths continue to surge in New York State. In one year, from 2015 to 2016, drug deaths increased 29 percent — from 3,009 total deaths to 3,894. In fact, it was the single largest annual increase in the number of deaths we examined going back to 2010. Overall…from 2010-16 there has been a 121 percent increase in the number of deaths in New York State.”
That’s just a small sampling of the impact. It does not even begin to tell the personal, family stories of loss.
Consequently, last week, our Senate task force released our latest, comprehensive report detailing a series of recommendations for ongoing state-level actions to address the burgeoning addiction crisis affecting communities. The report follows and continues to build on the series of public forums the task force has held across the state since 2014, including forums I have sponsored in Elmira and Penn Yan.
What the Senate task force has heard directly from the local front lines in fighting this heroin and opioid crisis is the foundation we are building on. This local input, which has been reflected in actions New York State has taken over the past several years, helps target the necessary responses and keep our strategies as up to date as possible.
Local input has been the driving force behind the recommendations we’re now putting forth to build on and strengthen the state-local partnership that's going to remain critical to putting in place the most effective combination of law enforcement, awareness and education, and treatment and prevention.
We need to keep acting and keep working, and we will. The report details the task force’s emphasis on a four-pronged response focusing on prevention, treatment, recovery, and enforcement. Among many other actions highlighted in the new report, legislation spearheaded by the task force has served as a national model for other states and in the creation of the federal Substance Use-Disorder Prevention that Promotes Opioid Recovery and Treatment (SUPPORT) for Patients and Communities Act recently approved by Congress.
The report’s 11 recommendations emphasize a plan to utilize public and private resources to help underserved populations and others without access to treatment, as well as improve existing support systems to keep enhancing and strengthening New York’s evolving fight against opioid abuse.
The full report, which includes more information on the recommendations and details about numerous legislative actions spearheaded by the Senate Task Force on Heroin and Opioid Addiction, is available on my Senate website, omara.nysenate.gov.
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The turkeys are back!! About two dozen are now scratching up all the vegetation below the bird feeders. Crisp leaves rustle like taffeta under their feet. Young turkeys in the dog pen provide some wild entertainment when Freckles decides he must go out. The birds race round and round, forgetting they can fly, and then suddenly they remember and soar over the fence with pounding wings and squawks of protest. Then we let the dog off his leash and he barks after them.
As the leaves continue to reluctantly fall, the catalogs have been pouring into our mail box; pages and pages full of Halloween, Thanksgiving & Christmas decorations and gift ideas. My mind boggles at the plethora of STUFF ----- I am amazed that anyone would spend money on some of these items. But then I remind myself that taste is surely subjective and what’s attractive, humorous or meaningful to one may not be equally so to another; I do not have a franchise on what is appropriate in décor, lawn ornaments or possessions.
Recently, we had visitors from Uganda --- a pastor and his wife --- and suddenly I looked at our house as they might see it. I was struck by the thought that they could well find all my stuff over-the-top too much in the spiritual value system that we share. Everyone’s culture is as different as everyone’s taste. Rethinking our living conditions and our possessions is probably a useful activity now and then. It’s so easy to accumulate, collect, and amass thoughtlessly.
Anyone who has visited our home knows that I’m definitely not a minimalist (you can all stop laughing now!). Each corner, the walls and all the shelves are full. I surround myself with items that are meaningful to me or beautiful in my eyes, from shells and stones to cut glass and silver tea pots. I like French provincial chairs and velvet pillows, homespun blankets and brass warming pans. But I can also appreciate homes that are quite different; I admire the sleek glass and steel rooms with splashy Georgia O’Keefe paintings and luxurious fur throws. I like the classic Arts and Crafts designs; Roycroft and Stickley. Then there’s the Adirondack-style décor all pine cones and Pendleton blankets. If I could decorate houses for a living, I’d be on cloud nine until my energy ran out. On the other end, I probably would live in a wilderness cabin quite happily if I had my own pillow and tea cup. I guess my point is that no one should feel a need to copy anyone else’s style – in homes, clothes or living. We are each unique and, hopefully, are able to embrace that. Alexandra Stoddard says: “Let the light that shines brightly inside you become the energy that guides the energy of your home.” * Now when any of my family lift their eyebrows at the multiplicity of my things ---- I’ll just respond that everything from the china and glass to the stacks of books, provide energy for my days------ but that I’m also trying to hold my possessions lightly.
In another three days, it will be Halloween. (And in thirteen days I hope you and all your friends, relatives and neighbors will be out to vote!!) We’ve harvested our few pumpkins for the steps and brought out the broom corn. These signs of autumn will remain until after Thanksgiving. My small concession to actual Halloween decorating, are three orange pails with cut-out faces, through which candles shine, and we do usually carve a pumpkin or two. I forgo the skeletons, ghouls, bats and spiders. They are a bit macabre for my taste.
Halloween began as the Celtic festival of Samhain (pronounced Sah-ween). This was a harvest celebration and the beginning of the Celtic New Year, but also a time when it was thought that spirits could come back; to vent their displeasure on those they felt had wronged them in this life. The lighted pumpkins and gourds were carried to protect individuals from the unhappy spirits. Bon fires were set in and around villages to make more light for said protection. Samhain became our Halloween due to Pope Gregory the First. In 601 AD, Gregory ordered the missionaries of the Christian church: stop trying to stamp out the pagan customs and holidays. Instead, adapt the times already customary for celebration and rename them to fit the Christian faith. So --- Samhain became All-Saint’s Eve, All Saints Day, and colloquially Halloween.
When I was a teenager, we went trick or treating for UNICEF. Our sons seldom went out unless they were visiting someone who did. However, we had several Halloween parties at home, where we and assorted friends constructed mazes, bobbed for apples, did skits and dressed in costumes. Back when I sewed more, I made Super Man, Bat Man and other heroic costumes that after Halloween, became pajamas or went into the dress-up box. Our house in the Catskills was a marvelous site for Halloween parties. It had a split-level attic, the upper part of which was all gabled. We set up mazes there with recorded ghostly music and props like cooked spaghetti and peeled grapes. It was great fun. Currently, since we live back from the road and away from the village, we seldom get any little voices calling: “trick or treat”. However I find that it is sufficiently good to consider the All-Saints aspect of October 31st and November 1st. Enough of my family and friends have gone beyond earth’s tether that I like remembering and celebrating them.
One of my current autumn activities is making potpourri – of two or three sorts. My favorite happens to be a basil, sage and marigold combination. This wouldn’t appeal to everyone --- including the men in my family who think that herbs are generally stinky. But that pungent aroma brings back all the greenness and robustness of summer vegetable gardens. I put phlox flowers and alyssum into another mix, creating a comfort-giving scent that triggers thoughts of warm conversations around my mother’s table accompanied by cocoa and molasses cookies.
Diane Ackerman**, a local, but internationally-known writer, speaks at some length about fragrances and our sense of smell, in her book, A Natural History of the Senses. Diane is a biologist, professor and poet; a woman of many interests. This is what she says about our sense of smell: “Smells spur memories, but they also rouse our dozy senses, pamper and indulge us, help define our self-image, stir the cauldron of our seductiveness, warn us of danger, lead us into temptation, fan our religious fervor, accompany us to heaven, wed us to fashion, steep us in luxury.” And she goes on to discuss perfumes, plants, animals and humans ---- our olfactory capabilities ----- and tells us what happens when the sense of smell leaves us --- we lose our sense of taste among other difficulties. Odors are often hard to describe, but we can conjure them up in our memories if we concentrate. Helen Keller*** said: “Smell is a potent wizard that transports us across a thousand miles and all the years we have lived.” I’m not fond of most commercial potpourris and some perfumes actually give me a head ache. But my home-made potpourri keeps me happy all through the long, NYS winters.
Because Halloween is imminent, I conclude with this poem by Harry Behn**** to bring back your Halloween memories. “Tonight is the night when dead leaves fly like witches on switches across the sky, when elf and sprite flit through the night on a moony sheen. Tonight is the night when leaves make a sound like a gnome in his home under the ground, when spooks and trolls creep out of holes mossy and green. Tonight is the night when pumpkins stare through sheaves and leaves everywhere, when ghoul and ghost and goblin host dance ‘round their queen. It’s Halloween!”
I hope this carries blessings and fragrant breezes wafting across your life this October time.
Carol may be reached at: email@example.com.
*-Alexandra Stoddard—American writer and life-style guru.
**-Diane Ackerman – American writer, essayist, biologist and poet; born 1948, resides in Ithaca, NY.
***-Helen Keller – American author, activist, lecturer; first person to achieve a BA degree who was both blind and deaf. Quote from “The World I Live In”.
****- Harry Behn – American screen writer; 1898-1973
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The Chemung County Matters blog exists to help promote discussions about local issues. The views expressed by guest bloggers do not necessarily reflect my own, but are rather shared here in order to provide information and hopefully stimulate ideas.
Last night the Chemung County Legislature voted 14-2 in favor of a new sales tax plan, with only Peggy Woodard (District 8) and Rodney Strange (District 15) voting no.
The old plan has been under intense scrutiny since it was passed in 2013 for taking resources from the towns, villages and City of Elmira, causing many of them to suffer fiscal hardships.
Numerous candidates for local office have strenuously advocated for a change in the way sales tax monies are allocated between the county and its municipalities, something that is undoubtedly part of the decision of county leaders to change course.
However, the new plan has many problems as well.
Prior to the vote, I offered comments to the sitting legislature about new plan as it relates to the towns and villages. I intend to describe my position in a subsequent post within the next day or so.
John Burin, a former manager of the City of Elmira and current candidate for legislature in the 9th District, offered comments about the new plans as it relates to the city. A copy of his statement is shown below.Quote
October 9, 2018
On September 24, 2018 I mailed each of you a letter with supporting documentation asking that you table this proposed plan to revise the reallocation of sales tax. I also referenced a process by which the 2019 county budget and budget message could move forward without the revised plan being in place. In my op ed on September 23, 2018, I pointed out in three months, newly elected officials should have the right to vote on this multi-year funding program.
I fully support a plan to reallocate sales tax revenue however, I believe the plan should be based on more than fund balances and debt. For example, the County apportionment of real property taxes creates an unintentional double taxation for certain services. These inequities, which are common to most of the towns/villages in varying degree, should be taken into consideration with the allocation of sales tax dollars. Additionally, from 2013 to 2018 Chemung County expenses increased $15 million dollars. During this same time period five county budgets were passed with deficits that required $10.5 million dollars of fund balance to close the gap. Future estimates of county revenues and expenses should be projected showing the impact of a sales tax reallocation plan.
In order for our county to realize desired social/economic growth, we must work together for a common cause. It was in this spirit that the City of Elmira allowed it’s Empire Zone Benefits to be used outside the City. The City’s willingness to share its zone in early 2000 produced economic benefits we still enjoy today and will continue to enjoy into the future.
According to the Chemung County Industrial Agency report, Project Information, December 31, 2009 the City of Elmira Empire Zone;
*Leveraged over $700 Million of private investment.
*Generated new property tax revenue for the County in excess of $900,000 and $1.7 million local and school tax revenue. Each year as property tax exemptions expire, the real property tax revenue increases and therefore current tax revenue is significantly greater.
*The City’s zone created 4,500 jobs and retained 10,000 jobs.
*14,500 jobs with an average salary of $20,000 generated $290 Million of payroll.
*$290 Million of payroll generates millions of sales tax dollars.
This is a billion dollar infusion of economic benefits. If not for the City of Elmira sharing its Empire Zone, Chemung County finances would be quite different today.
In June 2016, the New York State Financial Restructuring Board commented on the City of Elmira’s Bond Rating. “Prior to June 2015, the City had a bond rating of A2 with a negative outlook from Moody’s. On June 1st, 2015, Moody’s released a new rating for the City’s General Obligation bonds and lowered the rating by five notices – to Ba1 with a sustained negative outlook. This is non-investment grade (junk bond) rating from Moody’s.”
The reasons Moody’s cited for this severe reduction in the City’s credit rating are:
*Significant loss of revenue from the County sales tax sharing agreement;
*Health insurance overruns;
*Recurring general fund deficits
Moody’s will view new development positively however this plan that defers City debt will most likely not improve the City’s poor investment grade of bonds. The mixed use $14,000,000 development project in Elmira was granted a twenty year payment in lieu of tax agreement with the first four years being 100% exempt, after eleven years the project will pay 30% and in year twenty 60%. Property tax revenue from the affordable housing projects are restricted by law and proposed private developments have been given multi-year tax exemptions. It is for these reasons additional sales tax revenue to the City should be a part of tonight’s plan. Even if the revenue is restricted as to use, Moody’s may look favorably at a slight upgrade.
Sound business practice would suggest that this proposed sales tax allocation is deficient of solid reasoning for the suggested allocations. Over the next three months, a cohesive legislature working together should develop a plan that addresses the needs of the community keeping in mind the future needs of county government as well as the social and economic challenges inherent with high poverty levels, effective tax rates that stagnate real estate values and the ever increasing cost of providing efficient public safety services.
The plan before you tonight falls short in capturing these community needs. Lets take a step back, analyze the financial impact of what is being proposed and compare those findings to the needs of our community.
John J. Burin
I'm thinking about closing a blog site I've used, well..... haven't used in a few months, but I wanted to save some prior posts that I feel were good stories. I thought perhaps if I focused my attention here and shared some of my olders stories another problem would solve itself.
You see my ideas and words have no problem floating around in my mind, even when I'm sleeping, but when it comes to shaping the ideas and words into a story, poof, everything disappears. It's frustrating.
So that's why I'm sharing something I wrote a year or so ago. Hopefully re-reading and editing some of my older stuff will open up the blockage between my brain and fingers.
Fingers are crossed.
This is a first for me.
The first time the last sentence of a story was written before the story itself. The reason is simple. I couldn't forget four words our youngest grandson said. A moment that stayed with me as I've thought about what he said and what those words really meant.
Our youngest grandson was spending the day with us and something was quickly very clear when he arrived early that morning. He was starting his day tired. Anyone who has spent time with a tired 3 year-old knows how your day can go.
As a seasoned Grandmother now, I readily admit I have much more patience when it comes to the grandchildren than I did when my boys were growing up. It doesn't seem fair, to the kids you are raising at the time, but I guess that's the way life goes. With age you gain wisdom and it's your grandchildren who benefit from your parental growing pains.
As I was saying, Grandchild #7 was spending the day with us and Mr. Contrary came with him. Yes, he wanted Lucky Charms for breakfast, nope make that faffles (waffles). Grandma didn't have any faffles how about pancakes. Nope, he wanted meatballs (Spaghettio's with meatballs). Sorry, that's for lunch so you have a choice of Lucky Charms or Lucky Charms. This conversation was overheard by Papa who didn't like the little guy's tone of voice.
Lucky Charms it was with a side dish of "don't talk to your Grandmother like that".
Our day had started.
It's possible the little guy took exception to Papa's interference in our breakfast conversation because after that, hand in hand with Mr. Contrary, the little guy seemed to do anything and everything he could to get Papa's attention, if you know what I mean (wink, wink). It was also at this point Mr. Annoyance joined their little play group.
I was in another room when I heard Hubby's raised voice telling the little guy to stop whatever it was he was doing. When I checked it out, the little guy was on the couch with his head under the pillow, and Papa was in his chair watching him.
Papa's usual smile was MIA.
The phone rings at that moment and it's Mom calling to see how things are going.
"I talk to her" the little guy says as he gets off the couch with a look at his Grandfather. Said look told me Papa had told him he had to stay on the couch until Papa said he could get down. The phrase "pissing contest" came to mind as I watched the way he looked at his Grandfather and Hubby's return stare.
I hand the phone to the little guy and since he's standing next to me I can hear Mom too.
"How are you doing buddy".
"I pissed off Papa" he tells her.
There's a very brief silence on Mom's end.
Mom starts to say something at the same moment our Grandson looks at the phone and pushes the button for speaker.
"He's got you on speaker phone" I warn her while trying not to laugh. I can tell by Hubby's facial expression he's not amused. Knowing this boy the way I do I shouldn't have been surprised that he knew how to do that with the speaker button.
We have a brief four-way conversation about things and it may have been my imagination but I thought I detected a wee bit of concern in Mom's voice. She and I both know he's tired and a nap is a priority.
I've come to realize that's not always a logical excuse for poor behavior as far as most adult males are concerned, however.
Maybe it's that men are from Mars, women are from Venus thing, not that I really ever understood that either but it sounds good as excuses go I guess.
Anyway, Grandma decided it was time to get the boy settled. He had his meatballs for lunch and while eating we talked about this and that. I knew that he knew what was coming after his lunch.
Of course, he tried his best delay, distract and annoy tactics but Grandma, as usual, was going to win this one. After lunch it was bathroom time, wash your hands, get another drink and then to the couch. He protested, of course, cried a bit; that cry without real tears just to make noise cry.
Within minutes he was fast asleep.
"That boy was tired" Hubby told me.
"You're right Hon".
Two and a half hours later our little guy wakes up. Sitting up, but staying on the couch, he watches his Grandfather who is resting in his chair by the couch. After a few seconds, he climbs off the couch and moves to stand in front of Papa's chair.
"I no dick Papa" he tells his Grandfather, standing there and waiting for Papa's response. I watch as Hubby holds his arm out. That's all the encouragement the little guy needs to climb up and snuggle in with Papa.
P.S. His father can explain how he knew that he was or wasn't behaving like a dick.
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