Our community blogs
I have seven grandchildren; six grandsons and one granddaughter. The six eldest are now teenagers ranging in age from 17 to 13. Our youngest grandson turned 5 this past July.
When the six older grandchildren were little, I started calling them all Roy, including our granddaughter. I told them I was doing this in case I became forgetful as I got older and couldn't remember their names. The boys thought it was hilarious that I also called our granddaughter Roy.
The fun thing was that when all the grandkids were at the house and playing outside I would just yell Roy and they would all come running, laughing like crazy. I thought of it as something special between us. When our youngest grandson was born he was known as Little Roy.
Something else I always did with my grandchildren was to randomly ask them "who loves you". Their answers were always "you do". I realized the other day, after a conversation with my youngest grandson that I haven't asked that question of my teenage grandchildren in a long time.
I will have to remedy that.
I have never seen myself as a very demonstrative person. I always knew my parents loved me but I don't ever remember hearing the words. Saying "I love you" is not always easy for me. With age comes wisdom and I'm working on that, consciously saying the words especially to those who are important to me. I don't want them to assume like I did, I want them to hear the words and know they are loved.
Unfortunately old habits and patterns are difficult to break and my most recent reminder came from Texas.
Hubby's cousin Patsy moved back home with her husband, Len. They are two very kind, thoughtful and caring people.
Patsy's mother, Aunt Marian, was such a loving, kind, thoughtful woman who loved freely and shared that love with everyone. The first time I visited Aunt Marian and her family as a young bride, I remember feeling so uncomfortable. They were not the cause of my discomfort, it was something within me. You see, Aunt Marian and her family hugged each other just leaving and entering a room. "I love you's" were said like "hello's" and you knew they were genuine. Aunt Marian was always telling someone "you're so special", "you're wonderful", or "you make me so happy".
Patsy reminds me of her Mom and has also reminded me that the words are just as important as the actions.
The other day Little Roy was riding along with me as I drove to finish my last errand, and as always he talked about everything. The changing colors of the trees, the shapes and colors of the clouds, what his brothers did, how he cracked his Mom's cell phone and was grounded.
We were chatting along and I asked him "who loves you".
"You do" was his immediate reply. He then started talking about how he won't be going to kindergarten because he doesn't like school and his next question was "Grandma, will you love me when I get big"?
"Of course I will" I told him, "just like I love your older cousins".
"Will you love me when I get older" I asked him.
"Grandma, you're already old" he calmly told me.
"Yes, I know I'm old but hopefully I'll get older. If my hair turns white and I get wrinkles (luckily he let that go by), will you love me then" I asked him.
"Yep" was his short and sweet answer.
He changed the subject to where we were going next and we talked about that; one question leading to ten more.
"Will you love me forever, Grandma" he asked out of the blue.
"Yes I will" I told him.
"Forever is a long time Grandma" he reminded me.
"Yes, I know. That's exactly how long I'll love you".
Three little words, so very important to say.
All rights reserved.
I love to sew! And to think it all started in 7th grade Home Ec sewing class in Clifton, NJ. Making a simple A-line skirt and a beach wrap (displayed on the wall by the teacher) were the humble beginnings of better things to come.
With my mom too busy with a new baby brother to teach me more, my dad’s mother took me under her wings. A former professional seamstress, Grammy helped me sew a western shirt, not an easy project with those angled points, and taught me well to use the seam ripper. I learned to rip out my mistakes, start over, and make it right! After all, in making life mistakes, it’s how we accept correction or change that makes all the difference. So, when I tried to make a quilt on my own, totally wrong, my Grammy taught me the correct way. She gifted me with several fabrics as I made a cardboard template to cut out 6-inch squares. Laying the fabric squares out on the living room floor, I set them in a pattern. I then sewed up the long strips, and sewed each long strip side by side. My mother gave me a flannel sheet for the lining and a white sheet for the backing, and voila! I had just made my first quilt! With that success, Grammy then gifted me with fabric every Christmas over several years for yet more skirts and dresses.
After my family moved to Lounsberry, NY in 1969, I bought a c.1900 treadle machine that my auctioneer cousin, Howard, was selling for only $3. My dad oiled it, fixed the tension, got a new leather belt for the wheels, and my sewing obsession took off. More skirts, suits and dresses were made on that treadle machine to carry me through high school, including my prom gown and wedding gown.
Turning 20 on my first birthday after we married, my husband bought me a new Singer electric sewing machine! And oh, if it could talk, the miles of thread and fabric it has sewn in clothes for myself, shirts for my husband, clothes for my children, and tiny clothes for their dolls. And, now, using this same sewing machine, I’ve been making quilts in log cabin and prairie window designs, along with simple and more detailed table runners. And I wish my dear Grammy could see them for she taught me well!
Have you known that feeling of contentment as you worked to create something of value for yourself or others? Have you known what it feels like to be so engrossed in a project that you lose all sense of time? Have you known the frustration of having to take the time to rip out a seam, or correct something that just wasn’t right? And, because you did so, you then felt the satisfaction of seeing your finished project in all its beauty?
This poem was written in a reflective moment, remembering that various hardships and testing over the years have helped to define character and create who we are deep in our soul. I may not want to face the trials which might be coming in the future; but, in looking back, neither can I imagine life without the hardships we have worked through – for they refine our life and shape us for the better.
And I can’t help but realize that the Lord knows what He’s doing as He works His will through those trials which He allows each of us to face. “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him...” (Romans 8:28, NIV) For through these difficulties, He shapes and molds us into the unique and special person He means for us to be.
The Master Tailor
Linda A. Roorda
As the seamstress sits and begins to sew
Her loving care goes into each stitch
And correlation stirs within her thoughts
Of the Creator’s design deep in her soul.
In her mind’s eye she sees it take shape
From simple concept to finished result
And beams with joy, her dream made complete
As she holds with pride her creation dear.
But what the world just cannot see
Are errors which loomed about to destroy
For outward beauty can never reveal
The seam ripper’s hand in disciplined cuts.
When I beheld what the seamstress had wrought
I could not miss the significant key
Of one who deftly shaped my own soul
From even before my life came to be.
The Master Tailor gazed into the future
And pondered the me who I should be.
He planned and designed each path for my good
As He cut and sewed the fabric of me.
He carefully stitched and eased the seams
And reigned in penchants of wayward threads,
But now and then along the way
The seam ripper’s edge He gently employed.
For don’t you see without the hardships
Life’s burdens and pain cannot reflect
The greater good down deep in my heart
As seam ripper cuts shape my will to His.
On a journey I am, a work in progress
For someday when my time has come
He’ll gaze upon His workmanship
And see exactly who He planned me to be.
All rights reserved.
May not be reproduced without permission of author.
The Battle of Newtown on August 29, 1779, 240 years ago, near present-day Elmira in Chemung County, New York was significant to the Revolutionary War. It played a crucial, though seldom discussed, key role. It was not a bloody battle, but it was instrumental in breaking up the power of the Six Nation Iroquois Federation, thus allowing westward frontier expansion for colonials.
For centuries the Iroquois Nation included the Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga and Seneca tribes. In the early 18th century, the Tuscarora joined their ranks by heading north from what is now North Carolina. As the Revolutionary War commenced, the Iroquois Federation tried to stay neutral. In time, however, most of the Iroquois gave their loyalty to Great Britain while the Oneida and Tuscarora tribes chose to align themselves with the colonists who were seeking independence from the British Crown.
Under Thayendanegea (commonly known as Joseph Brant), the Native Americans (referred to by the Colonists as Indians) joined forces with Loyalists and attacked western frontier settlements just as they did those further east in the Mohawk and Schoharie Valleys. They carried away prisoners, ruthlessly murdered and scalped adults as well as children, and burned and destroyed the crops and homes of Patriots in both outlying and established settlements. And a cycle of retaliation ensued.
I am not here to open a discussion or pass judgment on the negatives and positives of the why, wherefore, and how regarding what was or was not done 200 to 400 years ago in our nation’s history by either the Native Americans or the white European settlers. May I say, however, that conflict and conquering of other lands and peoples has been taking place since world history began. Their times are not ours.
The Chemung River valley basin and its surrounding hills near present-day Elmira were home to Indians for centuries, but by the 18th century the Iroquois were in consistent residence. Here they had ample room to grow crops along the fertile river bottoms. Easy access to virgin forests filled with wildlife supplied them with meat and valuable pelts as they hunted and trapped. The rivers and streams provided them not only with an ideal means of transportation, but an abundance of fish. A healthy way of life for sure!
Atop a steep hill which overlooks the Chemung River and the Southern Tier Expressway (formerly State Route 17, now Interstate 86) is the Newtown Battlefield Reservation State Park, once part of the Iroquois’ territory. The 100th anniversary of the Battle of Newtown was celebrated August 29, 1879 with the dedication of a monument on top of Sullivan Hill. The area was designated a national historic landmark in 1965, with battle re-enactments held annually in the park. I’ve wanted to observe the re-enactments to learn more about the battle, but have never managed to make my way there. So, come along with me and we’ll learn together what happened all those years ago.
To understand what took place, though, is to know the precipitating chain of events which led to the small but important battle at Newtown. In the early days of the Revolutionary War, both the British and the Colonists attempted to gain the loyalty of the Native Americans as noted above. The ultimate decisions caused division among the great Iroquois Federation when the tribes split their loyalties. The famed Iroquois’ leader, Joseph Brant, worked closely with the British stationed at Fort Niagara. He frequently took to the warpath against the white settlers on the western frontier, as well as back east in the Mohawk and Schoharie Valleys. But the question begs to be asked, why?
Along with the vital convergence of the Hudson and Mohawk rivers, the greater Albany region was of key importance in the Revolutionary War to both sides. Schoharie County, part of western Albany County prior to 1795, has historically been considered “The Breadbasket of the Revolution.” With its fertile lands, the area produced an abundance of crops which kept Washington’s armies fed. Thus, the area’s assets, the rivers for transportation and the productive land, became a root of contention among the Loyalists and Tories, or supporters of the Crown. Their loyalties festered and erupted into violence and destruction against their neighbors and kin, the supporters of independence.
In the early stages of war, the Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army, General George Washington, preferred that these vulnerable settlements use their own local militia to guard and protect against attack. And repeated attacking was the game plan of marauding bands of Indian-Loyalist troops. Often, “forts” of refuge for Patriots were established to escape these bands of Indians and Tories. Among such forts is the old Dutch Reformed Church, now called the Old Stone Fort, home to the Schoharie County Historical Society in the town of Schoharie, New York which I have visited several times to research my maternal family. Its stone walls still exhibit a hole from the direct hit of a cannonball.
In May 1778, Joseph Brant set out on raids in Cobleskill (near my mother’s home town of Carlisle) and the neighboring frontier settlements. Soon after, on July 3, 1778, Col. John Butler and his Loyalist Rangers joined Chief Sayenqueraghta’s Seneca and Cayuga Indians in an attack of Pennsylvania’s Wyoming Valley. Settlers from Connecticut had established homes and farms along the Susquehanna River in this fertile valley, an area which also produced an abundance of grain for the Continental armies. Here, at Forty Fort (a few miles north of the fort at Wilkes-Barre, but on the opposite side of the Susquehanna River), about 360 local Patriot militiamen were killed with over 200 scalped in the Wyoming Massacre.
That September, Patriot soldiers under Col. Thomas Hartley took their wrath out on the Seneca, Delaware and Mingo Indians by burning and destroying nearly a dozen towns on the Susquehanna, including Tioga (now Athens, PA) and Chemung (NY). At the same time, Butler’s Rangers destroyed Patriot houses and crops on the German Flats up north in the Mohawk Valley. This brought the Patriot militia back out to attack and destroy the Indian settlements at Unadilla and Onaquaga (now Windsor) along the Susquehanna River in New York.
To read William E. Roscoe’s “History of Schoharie County, New York” and other related books about the killing and destruction throughout the region is to gain a better understanding of the larger picture. Indians were known among settlers, including my ancestors; some were liked, others were feared. The war cast a pall of deadly fear among residents of the Mohawk and Schoharie Valleys - one’s loyalties were usually known, whether for the Crown or Independence, and often one’s life depended upon that knowledge. Neighbor was pitted against neighbor, even against one’s own blood relatives. My various direct ancestral families were Patriots with one Loyalist, while some extended relatives were killed or taken captive by the Indian-Loyalist bands. I have also dined with friends (Cheryl being a distant maternal cousin) at the George Mann Tory Tavern north of the town of Schoharie, beautifully restored to its colonial elegance, Mann having been a well-known supporter of the Crown during the War.
In November 1778, Butler’s Rangers, 320 Iroquois under Chief Cornplanter, and 30 Indians under Joseph Brant attacked Cherry Valley, northeast of Oneonta in Otsego County and northwest of Cobleskill in Schoharie County. Encompassing the fort to ensure soldiers could not escape, the Indians began their massacre. They killed and scalped 30 or 32 residents (numbers vary in reports, mostly women and children) and 16 soldiers. An additional 70 to 80 adults and children (again, numbers vary in reports) were taken captive into Indian territory after the homes and crops had been completely destroyed. More retributions followed from both sides with further loss of life, but the Cherry Valley Massacre was a devastating blow. Something had to be done to stop this slaughter of innocents.
Gen. Washington was now convinced of the need for an offensive campaign against the British, Loyalists and Indians who held Forts Niagara and Oswego. Settling on Maj. Gen. John Sullivan as commanding officer, Washington wrote Sullivan on May 31, 1779: “The Expedition you are appointed to command is to be directed against the hostile tribes of the Six Nations of the Indians, with their associates and adherents. The immediate objects are the total destruction and devastation of their settlements, and the capture of as many prisoners…as possible. It will be essential to ruin their crops now in the ground and prevent their planting more… You will not by any means listen to any overture of peace before the total ruinment of their settlements is effected. Our future security will be in their inability to injure us…” Essentially, a “scorched earth” policy was to be executed.
Thus, in August 1779, Washington sent Major General John Sullivan and his troops up the Susquehanna River from Easton, PA while Brigadier General James Clinton and his army traveled southwest from Canajoharie in New York’s Mohawk Valley down to Otsego Lake and to the Susquehanna River flowing west. Known as the Sullivan-Clinton Campaign (or, Expedition), Washington’s goal was to destroy Indian ties to the British by decimating the Indian towns and supplies of corn, vegetables and fruit at their source. It was this produce which not only kept the Indians well fed, but also the British army. Sullivan and Clinton were ordered to then continue northward with their armies to capture the British forts at Oswego and Niagara in order to disrupt their military hold on the region.
On August 22, 1779, Sullivan and Clinton met at Tioga Point along the Susquehanna River (present-day Athens, PA). With combined troops numbering at least 2300 to under 4000 (accounts I’ve read vary as to numbers), they traveled northwest along the Chemung River. On Sunday, August 29, advance scouts found hidden horseshoe-shaped breastworks/earthworks about half a mile long. Roughly 150 feet up the southeast slope of a mile-long hill (now called Sullivan Hill), these earthworks were within shooting range of the road and near the Iroquois village of New Town. From this vantage point, those approaching the hill could be observed or ambushed before reaching the Cayuga Indian towns of Nanticoke and Kanawaholla where Elmira was later established. See Newtown Battlefield military placements.
At that time, the slope was densely covered in virgin forest. At its base and to the east was a marsh, Hoffman Hollow, thickly covered with grass and trees. Baldwin Creek ran through this marsh and emptied into the Chemung River (called the Cayuga Branch by Sullivan in his reports). My online search of Google maps shows what is likely Baldwin Creek to be, surprisingly and confusingly, labeled the Chemung River as it flows under I-86 and empties into the main Chemung River. What was then called Baldwin Creek runs near to and west of Lowman Road within the area still labeled Hoffman Hollow.
Manning the breastworks were 15 British troops, 250 Loyalist Rangers, and about 1000 Indian warriors. The initial intent of Loyalist Major John Butler and the Iroquois chief, Joseph Brant, was to harass the Continental troops. Sayenqueraghta and other Indian chiefs rejected that proposal, favoring instead attempts at luring the Continentals into a full ambush.
One of the forward scouts for the Sullivan-Clinton Campaign, Lt. Col. Adam Hubley, recorded the discovery of these breastworks that morning. “On our arrival near the ridge on which the action of the 13th commenced with light corps, our van discovered several Indians in front, one of whom gave them fire, and then fled. We continued…[and] the rifle corps entered a low marshy ground which seemed well calculated for forming ambuscades; they advanced with great precaution, when several more Indians were discovered who fired and retreated. Major Parr… judged it rather dangerous to proceed any further without taking every caution to reconnoiter almost every foot of ground, and ordered one of his men to mount a tree and see if he could make any discoveries; … [and] he discovered the movements of several Indians… as they were laying behind an extensive breastwork. “ (online source available upon request)
Learning of the breastworks’ locations through Lt. Col. Hubley’s findings , the Continental commanders knew there was an attempt in the offing to lure them into an ambush. Moving cautiously forward into position, an initial attack on the breastworks came late that morning when Brig. Gen. Edward Hand put his infantry on the far side of Baldwin Creek. From that position, they could easily fire into the enemy’s defense works.
In early afternoon, Gen. Sullivan met with commanders under him to plan their next move. Essentially, Sullivan’s men were to attack the fortified works of the enemy from the south and east with artillery and troops, while the men under Gen. Clinton were to attack the fortifications from the northeast.
The 1st New Jersey Regiment under Col. Matthias Ogden, detached from Brig. Gen. William Maxwell’s New Jersey Brigade, slipped south and west along the Chemung River to come around to the right and rear of the Loyalist-Indian forces. The New York Brigade under Brig. Gen. James Clinton and New Hampshire’s Brigade under Brig. Gen. Enoch Poor marched northwest through Hoffman Hollow toward the hill’s eastern slope where they turned to flank the British left. At the same time, Sullivan’s Pennsylvania and New Jersey brigades stayed behind with the remaining light infantry companies. Brig. Gen. William Maxwell’s 1st Brigade was to take aim at the center or face of the British breastworks.
Ten guns from the light infantry were placed near the road, ready to open fire on the defense positions and the land in between. Once these guns began firing, Gen. Hand was to fake an attack on the center of the horseshoe breastworks while the brigades from the east were to turn inward, take the summit of the hill, and then turn to attack the left and rear section of the breastworks. All together, with Maxwell’s artillery support, the goal of their three-pronged attack was to surround the defenseworks on the hill in a complete crossfire.
It was a detailed plan which was put together quickly, but one in which the troops readily proved their mettle. The brief battle resulted in a significant defeat for the British Loyalists and Iroquois; however, it could have been much worse for them had it not been for unavoidable delays by the Sullivan-Clinton armies. In maneuvering through the swampy ground of Hoffman Hollow, Poor’s and Clinton’s troops got bogged down. This put the timing of the plan off, and caused enough of a delay that the Loyalist-Iroquois men escaped full encirclement and thus slipped the noose of an utter and complete defeat.
In the meantime, Lt. Col. George Reid’s 2nd New Hampshire Regiment was to position itself to the left of Poor’s troops. Unfortunately, with Reid’s men climbing the steepest part of the slope, they lagged behind the rest of the troops. Joseph Brant took advantage of this opportunity to lead a counterattack with fellow Indians, almost completely encircling Reid. Seeing this, the next regiment in line, the 3rd New Hampshire Regiment under Lt. Col. Henry Dearborn, turned around abruptly to fire into the enemy who were positioned downhill. Clinton and his brigade, climbing up the hill from below and off to the right of Poor, saw these events unfold and sent his 3rd and 5th New York Regiments to Reid’s aid, further thwarting Brant’s attack. [For more details, and above military placements see Wikipedia's Battle of Newtown.]
See also: JOURNALS OF THE MILITARY EXPEDITION OF MAJOR GENERAL JOHN SULLIVAN AGAINST THE SIX NATIONS OF INDIANS IN 1779 WITH RECORDS OF CENTENNIAL CELEBRATIONS.
For a few hours, the peaceful valley and hills echoed with the blasting of cannons (ranging in size up to six-inch field howitzers), the resounding shots of a few thousand muskets, and the strong acrid smell of gun powder with its residual smoky haze. The sounds of gunfire combined with the hair-raising battle cries of Indian warriors must have reached a deafening pitch at its peak. Naturally, there were losses and injuries on both sides. But, with the realization that they were overpowered, Loyalist Major John Butler, Capt. Walter Butler, and the Iroquois chief Joseph Brant wisely cut their losses and withdrew. With their troops, they retreated towards Newtown and crossed the river with the Continentals in pursuit, but without additional losses on either side.
After the battle, the Sullivan-Clinton Campaign continued on their way north through the finger lakes region, burning and destroying at least 40 Indian villages, reportedly destroying 160,000 bushels of corn and a significant quantity of vegetables and fruit which the Indians had set aside for winter. By the end of September, the armies were returning to Morristown, New Jersey for the winter.
“Teaogo [Tioga], Sept, 30, 1779.
SIR:—In mine of the 30th ultimo to His Excellency George Washington, and by him transmitted to Congress, I gave an account of the victory obtained by this army over the enemy at Newtown, on the 29th August. I now do myself the honor to inform Congress of the progress of this army... The time taking up in destroying the corn, in the neighborhood of Newtown, employing the army near two days… I sent back all my heavy artillery on the night of the 30th, retaining only four brass three pounders, and a small howitzer; loaded the necessary ammunition on horseback, and marched early on the 31st for Catherine's Town. On our way we destroyed a small settlement of eight houses, and town called Konowhola, of about twenty houses, situated on a peninsula at the conflux of the Teaogo and Cayuga branches. We also destroyed several fields of corn. From this point Colonel Dayton was detached with his regiment and the rifle corps up the Teaogo about six miles, who destroyed several large fields of corn. The army resumed their march, and encamped within thirteen miles and a half of Catherine's Town, where we arrived the next day, although we had a road to open for the artillery, through a swamp nine miles in extent, and almost impervious. We arrived near Catherine's Town in the night, and moved on, in hopes to surprise it, but found it forsaken. On the next morning an old woman belonging to the Cayuga nation was found in the woods. She informed me that on the night after the battle of Newtown, the enemy, having fled the whole night, arrived there in great confusion early the next day; that she heard the warriors tell their women they were conquered and must fly; that they had a great many killed and vast numbers wounded…”
The Iroquois, who had supported the British by attacking settlements, killing and taking captives, and feeding the British military, were now forced further west to Niagara and northwest into Canada. Under protection of the British forts, but without their winter food supply, many died from starvation, disease and the winter’s cold. Yet, even John Butler, in correspondence that previous May, had referred to the fact that the Indians were not doing well, lacking in production of their own food supplies.
Although successful at Newtown, the Sullivan-Clinton Campaign has often been referred to as a “well-executed failure.” Congress congratulated them for what they had accomplished, but they were essentially not looked upon in a favorable light for their failure to take the British forts on Lake Ontario. True, their armies destroyed the Indians settlements and crops throughout the finger lakes region, but Major General Sullivan stopped short of completing General Washington’s orders. They had been ordered, and expected, to continue north to Lake Ontario and capture the British forts at Oswego and Niagara.
However, knowing their field artillery was limited to lighter guns, Sullivan and Clinton returned instead to headquarters in Morristown, New Jersey by the end of September. In fairness to Sullivan, he realized he was not equipped with big enough artillery to take on the well-defended British forts; he and his troops would likely have been annihilated. Also, in worsening health, Sullivan resigned command in November 1779 and returned to his home in New Hampshire.
With Sullivan not completing the balance of his campaign orders, Joseph Brant and his Indians returned to rejoin forces with the Loyalists in 1780. Once again, they viciously attacked western settlements and the established communities back in the Mohawk and Schoharie Valley regions.
These raids and massacres touched my ancestral families in that part of New York. At Beaverdam (now Berne) near the Switzkill River on September 1, 1781, a British soldier led Loyalists and Indians in an attack on the Johannes Dietz family. Johannes’ son, Capt. William Dietz, commanded the local Patriot militia, and was, therefore, a target of the Loyalists who engaged the Indians to make Dietz an example and put fear into the hearts of all other Patriot settlers. After capture, William Dietz was forced to watch his elderly parents, wife, four young children and Scottish maid be killed and scalped. Two young brothers who happened to be visiting from another family were also taken captive. At Fort Niagara, Dietz died of a broken heart not long after arrival as witnessed by another captive from Schoharie County. Capt. Dietz’s father, Johannes, was an older brother of my ancestor, John Hendrich/John Henry Dietz (referenced in my Independence Day article at my blog, Homespun Ancestors. (Book source: “Old Hellebergh,” by Arthur B. Gregg, The Altamont Enterprise Publishers, Altamont, N.Y., 1936, p. 24; signed by Gregg, in my library from my father’s collection) [See painting of Dietz Massacre by Jacob Dietz, son of Johannes, Courtesy of the Greater Oneonta Historical Society.]
The final and most devastating attack was in the lower Mohawk Valley in October 1781 where everything over a distance of 20 miles was utterly destroyed.
When the war was over and the colonists had won, Joseph Brant and other Iroquois settled land given to them by the British Crown on the Grand River in Quebec (now Ontario). The area of Brant’s river crossing became known as Brant’s ford, later simplified to Brantford. Other Indians moved on to the Ohio River Valley region, or joined the Cherokee in the southern states.
Ultimately, the Newtown Battle, or Battle of Chemung, opened the narrow southern gate to settlers who had been forbidden from traveling through this part of Indian territory on their way to settling the western frontier. For American soldiers who had fought in the Revolutionary War, the Chemung Valley drew many men back who had taken part in the Sullivan-Clinton Campaign.
Certain to have admired the beautiful countryside in both Pennsylvania and New York while detailed there on campaigns, it was only natural former soldiers would seek its fertile land as their bounty award for service to their new government. New England and eastern New York were considered heavily populated, with many regions too rocky for good farming. Western New York was the perfect place to homestead with wide-open fertile land available to establish a new life. With the soldiers settling this area, we can assume their descendants walk among us today, perhaps even unaware of their family’s history.
- Read more...
- 0 comments
“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
- Read more...
- 0 comments
Recent EntriesLatest Entry
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.
- Read more...
- 0 comments
Recent EntriesLatest Entry
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!
- Read more...
- 0 comments
Recent EntriesLatest Entry
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
- Read more...
- 0 comments
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.
- Read more...
- 0 comments
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
- Read more...
- 0 comments
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