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learn more about the history of Chemung County 

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by Erin Doane

On July 5, 1914, Dr. Sherman Voorhees, his wife Lilian, and their son Sherman, who was known as “Laddie,” were motoring along what is now Comfort Hill Road in the town of Ashland. Somehow, the doctor lost control of his 1913 Chalmers, and it went careening over an embankment. The vehicle rolled over and over, expelling the three passengers along the way, and came to rest in a field of daisies. Sherman was gravely injured; Laddie suffered from multiple cuts and bruises; and Lilian was killed almost instantly when her neck was broken. This is thought to have been the first fatal automobile accident in the county.


Sherman was a medical doctor who came to Elmira in 1897 to open a practice. Lilian was a socialite and philanthropist who was well known throughout the city. Laddie was a care-free 13 years old. It was a lovely, dry summer day when the family decided to take a drive over South Mountain. They could never have imagined how the day would take a tragic turn.


Laddie was the first thrown from the tumbling car. He suffered comparatively light injuries, and was able to rush to his mother’s side and then to his father. Unable to help either, he climbed back up the embankment and hurried to the home of William M. Kimball for help. Floyd Kimball and Morris Butman and his mother, who were spending the day at the farm, rushed back to the scene of the accident with him. Someone went to the home of Arthur Millard and more people came to help. Soon, dozens had arrived to offer assistance including several doctors and the motor patrol from the city. Despite all efforts, there was no saving Lilian. 


Many worried that Sherman’s injuries were so severe that he would soon follow his wife, but he slowly and steadily improved over the course of many weeks. By early August he was finally able to move around his home on crutches, and in late August he was taken to the Glen Mary Sanitarium in Owego to speed his recovery. One month into the stay, he was walking about the sanitarium yard and was recovering his physical vigor. On October 9, it was announced that he would finally be returning home.

While Sherman was undergoing his convalescence, Laddie was also recovering physically and emotionally. He joined the newly-formed boy scout troop in Elmira and was chosen as No. 3 patrol leader. On October 10, the day his father returned from his stay at the sanitarium, Laddie and Scoutmaster John G. Addey led a boy scout hike to Daggett’s beyond Bulkhead.

While Sherman’s return home was celebrated, he never did recover from the injuries he suffered in the crash. Shortly after leaving Owego, he went to Atlantic City for three weeks then spent some time in New York City before moving in with his sister Dr. Belle V. Aldridge in Brooklyn. On May 1, 1915, ten months after the accident, Dr. Sherman Voorhees passed away from complications which developed from a fracture at the base of his skull. His body was brought back to Elmira on Erie train No. 7, and he was interred next to Lilian in Woodlawn Cemetery.

After Sherman’s death, John N. Willys of Elmira was formally appointed the guardian of Laddie. The young man went on to be a successful business man and was instrumental in bringing the first soaring and gliding contests to Elmira in the early 1930s. He passed away unexpectedly at his home in Hartford, Connecticut on February 7, 1964 at the age of 63.

Sometime after the accident, a cross was erected on the spot where Lilian died. No one is sure who created the memorial, but it may have been her husband or, more likely, her son. The inscription on the cross reads: This spot is made sacred by the death of Mrs. Sherman Voorhees by accident July 5, 1914.


In 1959, a sign was placed at the edge of the road to bring attention to and provide an explanation for the cross down below. The sign lasted about 14 years before it disappeared. In 1989, John F. McDonald, who lived next door to the monument, decided to recreate the original sign. He and his son Chad built the sign and holder, and he had Arden May of Millport paint it. 


Over time, the sign weathered and became unreadable, so the town of Ashland stepped in. In 2001, a new metal sign was unveiled. You can still visit the site today on Comfort Hill Road, about halfway between Rogers and Walsh Roads, and see both the sign and the memorial cross.


Erin Doane is the curator at the Chemung County Historical Society. To read more of the museum's blog, go to http://chemungcountyhistoricalsociety.blogspot.com


by Erin Doane

InternationalWhisk(e)y Day is coming up on March 27 and World Whisky Day is on May 16 (it takes place on the third Saturday of May each year). This is a great time to learn about whiskey in Chemung County. We have three local whiskey bottles here in the museum’s collection – Land Lord Whiskey, Old Lowman Whiskey, and Macmore Whiskey.


Old Lowman Whiskey

In 1792, Jacob Lowman set up a distillery on a parcel of land on the Chemung River in what is now Lowman. It was the first commercial distillery in the county, producing whiskey from mixed mash of rye and corn. Some years later, George Lowman operated a distillery on Baldwin Creek producing Old Lowman Whiskey using the same recipe Jacob used. The distillery operated until the Civil War when high taxes forced the business to close. 

In 1902, Edward Lowman, Fred Ferris, Fred L. Thomas, and Nathan Blostein incorporated the Old Lowman Distilling Company to manufacture, supply, and deal in whiskey and other alcoholic liquors. The company’s headquarters were in Elmira, and the distillery was in a converted creamery in Lowman near the Delaware and Lackawanna Railroad tracks. Jacob Lowman’s original recipe was used to make the whiskey.


Old Lowman Distillery and Warehouse. Image from “Hardwood Bark,” the magazine of Cotton-Hanlon and Ireland Mill, May-June 1973


I read somewhere that Klapproth’s Saloon in Elmira was said to have exclusive sale of Old Lowman Whiskey, but it was also available from Fred Ferris’s store at 201 Railroad Avenue in Elmira. Ferris was a partner in the distilling company, and he was also a wholesale dealer in wines, liquors, tobacco, and cigars. He had started his business in 1897. Additionally, he sold the “finest food for medicinal purposes,” and ran a saloon. 


Ferris’s store with Fred himself standing at the corner, early 1900s


On October 1, 1918, the city of Elmira officially went “dry,” making the sale of alcoholic beverages illegal. This effectively killed the Old Lowman Distilling Company’s business, and the distillery closed for good. 

Macmore Whiskey

In 1907, after 18 years working for J.J. O’Connor wholesale liquor, Michael E. McElligott opened his own wholesale liquor business at 111 Railroad Avenue in Elmira. One of his products was Macmore Whiskey.


In 1911, there were two versions of the whiskey available: Macmore Blend and Macmore Bottled in Bond. I don’t know precisely the difference between the two, but the blend bottle was labeled with McElligott’s name while the other had R.W. Wathen & Company of Kentucky as the distiller.


By early 1918, talk of local prohibition was in the air, and it seemed to be a perfect time for McElligott to diversify his business. He purchased what was known at the Richardson building at the corner of Railroad Avenue and Market Street. He set up his shop on the first floor, and rented out the upper floor.

Land Lord Whiskey

Around 1914, James G. McLaughlin and John R. Flynn opened their wholesale liquor business at the corner of Fox and Carroll Streets in Elmira. There they sold Land Lord Whiskey, among other things.


When the city went dry, McLaughlin & Flynn Co. suffered. In October 1920, the company sold off 1,000 empty barrels that were “first class for cider or grape juice.” Less than three years later, the company officially dissolved. McLaughlin went on to run the Carey Medicine Company, and Flynn worked in real estate.

Whiskey and Churches??

Finally, in my research, I found two interesting connections between these liquor companies and local churches that I just had to share. First connection: After the Old Lowman Distilling Company closed in 1918, Edward Lowman had the warehouse torn down. He then donated the lumber to the Lowman M.E. Church, and it was used to build a community hall. And the second connection: When renovations were being done on the Park Church in 1958, a bottle of Macmore Whiskey was found inside one of the walls there.


Erin Doane is the curator at the Chemung County Historical Society. To see more of their blog, click here.



Elmira's First Bridge

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


by Erin Doane

On August 4, 1904, a 14,920-pound siege gun arrived in Millport. The artillery piece was made by the Fort Pitt Foundry in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania for use during the Civil War. The army shipped it to Millport from Liberty Island, New York to serve as a monument to the local soldiers and sailors who had served in the war.


Dozens of men from Millport served during the Civil War. Many enlisted in the 50th New York Engineers. Company G was almost entirely recruited from village. The regiment built roads, battery position, forts, and bridges. It was attached to the Army of the Potomac and saw action at Yorktown, Antietam, Fredericksburg, Gettysburg, and Rappahannock Station. The men of the 50th were at Appomattox Court House to witness the surrender of General Lee and his army.  

In 1883, veterans of the war established Post 416 G.A.R. (Grand Army of the Republic) in Millport. The post was named for Private Wilson Dean who was a member of Company A, 89th New York Volunteers. He had enlisted in Catharine in 1864 at the age of 27. He was captured in Cold Harbor, Virginia and died at Andersonville. In 1904, members of the Wilson Dean post arranged to create a monument to honor its namesake and all the others who had fought during the war.


The siege gun was brought to Millport on a flat rail car which was shunted onto a Pennsylvania Railroad siding. From there, it was up to the people of the village to get the gun to its final location in the Millport Cemetery. The cemetery was almost a mile from the railroad siding and some 400 feet up a steep dirt road. The cannon was moved onto a low wheeled rig provided by the Reeves Machine Works. It took ten teams of horses and additional men hauling on ropes to move the piece to the cemetery. People cheered the workers along the way and, after several pauses to rest, the gun was placed on a concrete base in the northwest section of the cemetery near the graves of several Civil War veterans. Its barrel was pointed toward the south.


The monument was officially dedicated on October 13, 1904 at a daylong celebration. At 11 o’clock in the morning, G.A.R. members and other citizens marched to the cemetery. Post commander R.B. Davidson delivered opening remarks which were followed by the singing of a patriotic song and a prayer by Rev. E. Burroughs. Several young Millport girls then pulled strings which let the drapery that had been covering the cannon fall way. The crowd sang another patriotic song then listened to an address given by Dr. Robert P. Bush, a distinguished orator from Horseheads and a Chemung County assemblyman.


The festivities did not end there, however. At noon, the G.A.R. members and their guests returned to the village and had dinner at the Baptist Church. At 1:30pm, additional dedication exercises and speeches took place at the masonic hall. Sherman P. Moreland of Van Etten gave the keynote address. There was then a reception held to honor the surviving members of the famous 48th Regimental Band. There was singing, addresses, music, and stories by veterans. Coffee and hardtack were served at the close of the evening.

For almost 90 years, the cannon stood guard over the Millport Cemetery. Over the years, however, the monument suffered from the effects of weather and the occasional vandal. The concrete base had begun to crumble, and the gun and pyramid of cannonballs, which had been painted silver at some point, were looking worn.


In the summer of 1991, Duane Hills, commander of the Elmira Sons of Union Veterans, and a crew of his men went to the Millport cemetery four time to restore the monument to its former glory. They patched the concrete, removed graffiti, and repainted the gun and cannonballs. On October 13, 1991, they hosted a small ceremony to rededicated the memorial. At the conclusion of the event, fifteen men dressed in Union uniforms fired a rifle volley in honor of those who had served during the Civil War.


Erin Doane is the curator at the Chemung County Historical Society. To read more of their blog, go to http://chemungcountyhistoricalsociety.blogspot.com


The Theater House Riot

by Rachel Dworkin 

All the young Italian couple wanted to do was see a movie at the Colonial Theater one night in June 1914. Alas, it was not to be. Despite having paid the 5 cents to sit on the first floor, they told they could sit on the second floor or nowhere. There were plenty of open seats on the first floor, so why were they sent upstairs? Because, according to the manager, they were Italian and not fit to sit with respectable people.


The Colonial Theater, 1933


At the turn of the 20th century, no one in Elmira much liked Italians. They had begun coming to the area in the 1880s, mostly young, single men working as laborers to send money back home. The Elmira Sunday Telegram described them as an “infestation” which “injured, materially and directly, the chances and prospects of the poor laboring men of the city.” According to the paper, they were “taking the bread form civilized people” by accepting just $1 a day instead of the $1.50 demanded by native-born laborers. Apparently, it has always been popular to scapegoat immigrants rather than confront the rich about their refusal to pay a living wage. By the 1910s, there were nearly 2,000 Italians and their native-born children living in the area. Their neighbors may have seen them as dirty job stealers, but they knew that, as human beings, they were worthy of dignity and respect.

The couple filed a complaint with the police alleging a violation of their civil rights. The police chatted with the management about it, and decided to do nothing. That wasn’t good enough for the Italian community. On the evening of June 29, 1914, a small crowd of nearly 30 Italians went to the Colonial Theater. They all purchased first floor tickets and were all refused entry. A small altercation broke out. Theater owner John J. Farren allegedly assaulted Italian Frank Tress and police arrested Anthony Pronpi for disorderly conduct after he shouted abuse at the theater staff.    

Three men, Patrick Cassetta, Frank Tress, and Louis Muccigrosso filed a series of civil and criminal court cases against the managers of the Colonial Theater charging them with violation of the New York State Civil Rights Act of 1895. The law forbade discrimination in public accommodations, including theaters, on the basis of race, creed, color or nation of origin. Throughout July, there were five separate court cases concerning the incident. The theater managers were acquitted of all criminal charges, but were forced to pay $100 in damages in one of the civil suits.

The Italian community also petitioned the mayor to revoke the Colonial Theater’s operating license based on their repeated violation of the civil rights law. After a series of hearings, Mayor Hoffman sided with the Italians. On November 21, 1914 he issued the following proclamation: 



“I have thoroughly investigated the charges contained in your petition of July 20, 1914, asking for the cancellation of the license of Colonial Theater, and I find that the management of the Elmira Theater Co., Inc. did, in effect, previous to July 1, 1914, exclude respectable people of the Italian race from the first floor of that theatre for no other apparent reason than the fact of their race, and that the management of that theater company did say on various occasions that it was the policy of their company to segregate their patrons. This action is clearly contrary to law and will not be tolerated in any theatre.

However, since the Elmira Theater Co., Inc. no longer holds the license under which the Colonial Theater is conducted, said license having expired and the license for that theater having been taken up by Mr. Buddington, I am unable to take any action at this time.”


Rachel Dworkin is the archivist at the Chemung County Historical Society. See more of the museum's blog HERE


by Erin Doane

One of the most famous sights at Wisner Park’s summer market is the restored antique popcorn truck that was originally owned and operated by Frank Romeo from 1930 until his retirement in 1971. Many people who remember Romeo and his truck have fond, nostalgic memories of the kind man who sold popcorn, peanuts, and other treats in the park. Not many are aware of the struggles that he went through to become a beloved fixture in downtown.


"The Popcorn Man" by Lori Mustico

The website https://www.elmira-ny.com/popcorn/index.shtml has a wonderful history of the work undertaken by the Popcorn Truck Preservation Society in the late 1980s to restore the “Red Wagon” to its former glory. It is definitely worth reading about all the time and effort that went into bringing the popcorn truck back to life, so to speak. My focus here is going to be on the truck’s first life with Frank Romeo.


Constantina and Frank Romeo with the popcorn truck, 1971


Frank Romeo was an Italian immigrant who came to Elmira in 1912 at the age of 17. He was drafted into the military in 1918 and served in World War I. In 1922, he began his nearly 50-year career in the popcorn business. At that time, he had fallen ill and lost his job. He told a Star-Gazette reporter years later that his doctor told him “if I didn’t get more air I might as well build my own box. So instead of building a box, I built a push cart. And I started selling popcorn.” The southeast corner of North Main and West Church Streets in Wisner Park seemed the perfect place to get fresh air and sell popcorn he popped by hand over a coal stove on his cart.

In those early days, however, Romeo had not settled on that corner of the park as the only location of his business. In July 1929, he had a popcorn and soft drink stand on West Miller Street in front of the Southside playground. On the night of July 10th, a drunk driver crashed his vehicle into the stand. Romeo received $335 from the driver in $10 weekly installments to cover the damages done. A clerk who happened to be at the stand at the time also received $60 for hospital expenses and to replace his clothing that was ruined in the crash.


"Little Red Wagon Set" by Talitha Botsford

In 1930, a local car dealer made a specially designed popcorn wagon on a two-ton chassis for Frank Romeo’s business. With this new truck, he settled into his corner near Wisner Park at North Main and West Church Streets and had no desire to leave. Even his arrest that year for violating section 154 of Article 12 of the city ordinances would not move him. The text of the law reads: 

"No person shall permit any vehicle owned or controlled by him to stop upon or anywise encumber any public streets or places within the City of Elmira…for a longer period than 15 minutes along any block while engaged in selling or offering for sale any provisions or merchandise;…and no person shall erect or maintain any booth or stand, nor place any barrels, boxes, crates or other obstructions upon any such public street or places for the purpose of selling or exposing for sale any provision or merchandise."

Romeo’s arrest came after Alderman John B. Sheehe registered a complaint on the floor of the Common Council against the operation of freelance street peddlers. He introduced a resolution directing police Chief Elvin D. Weaver to act to enforce the ordinance. Romeo’s friends and fellow military veterans rallied around him after his arrest, believing he was being discriminated against. No other merchants had been arrested even though nearly every grocer or fruit dealer in the city was in violation of the ordinance for having boxes and crates full of merchandise on the sidewalks in front of their businesses.

Romeo pled not guilty before the Recorder’s Court and was represented by Attorney Harry Markson, a veteran himself of World War I. After the war, veterans were given state licenses to operate as peddlers. Romeo had such a license as well as a city permit to operate his business. The city’s recorder found Romeo not guilty of violating the ordinance regulating the operation of street peddlers and ruled that he had a legal right to sell his wares any place in the city at any time because of the ex-serviceman’s license he held. The recorder also noted that any peddler without such a license was in violation of the law and would be punished.


Elmira Star Gazette, April 26, 1930


Romeo’s victory in court helped establish him and his red popcorn wagon as fixtures in downtown Elmira for years to come. There were still some bumps along the way, though. On June 9, 1931 his truck was damaged extensively by a fire that was believed to have been caused by defective wiring. A leak in the gasoline tank added fuel to the fire. During World War II, butter became scarce and rather than use a substitute that would bring down the famous quality of his popcorn, he shuttered the business and did other work. At the end of the war, he returned to his parking spot on the corner of North Main and West Church Streets. 

Even when the city put in parking meters, public outcry led the city to set aside the parking space for Romeo for as long as he wanted it. And he stayed there until he retired in 1971. He was in his 70s at the time and had become a bit jaded by conditions in the area. His popcorn wagon was vandalized on occasion, once having its tires slit. In an interview several years after his retirement he said, “It was those park people. The hippies. I couldn’t see staying open just for them.”


Popcorn truck on the highway, 1971

After retiring, Romeo sold his popcorn wagon to Kenneth White, a school teacher, for $1,000. White intended to use the truck as a source of summer income but he only ended up selling popcorn from it a half-dozen times before parking it in a garage. Nearly 20 years later, the newly-restored popcorn truck made its triumphant return to Wisner Park. Now, the truck lives full-time in a specially-constructed brick and glass building near the corner Romeo had claimed as his own and it comes out to provide warm, fresh popcorn at the Wisner Market.


Erin Doane is the curator at the Chemung County Historical Society. To see this and more of their blog, go to http://chemungcountyhistoricalsociety.blogspot.com


by Kelli Huggins

I feel a bizarre kinship to Levi D. Little that is based solely on the contents of his scrapbook. In fact, I consider Little’s scrapbook to be one of my favorite items in our entire collection. It’s not so much that the contents are remarkable—it consists of newspaper clippings which are mostly available to read elsewhere. Instead, what I love about the scrapbook is that I feel like it gives a unique insight into his personality, and as it turns out, we like a lot of the same things.


Levi Little was born in the Town of Baldwin on May 20, 1850. As a young man, he quickly moved up the ranks of local law enforcement; he was elected constable in 1873 and, in 1874, moved to Elmira, where he became as deputy sheriff. Three years later, he was elected sheriff on the Republican ticket. Less than four years later, he became the Elmira Chief of Police on April 11, 1883, a position he held until his resignation from the force in 1895. Claiming he was tired of the job, politics, and criticism, he worked the rest of his life as a detective for the Northern Central Railroad. 

The scrapbook in our collection is from 1889 to 1890. Little mostly saved clippings of local police and crime news. That makes sense, of course. I used his scrapbook in my research for the “Great Female Crime Spree” chapter in my book Curiosities of Elmira because it includes clippings on the criminal dealings of forger Ella White, alleged murder Mary Eilenberger, and sex trafficker Mary Fairman (check out the book to find out more about these wild women). 

But the crime stories are not the main reason I love the Little scrapbook. Occasionally, Little would clip a news story that had nothing to do with his professional life. He seemed to have an interest in what we might call “oddities,” something Levi Little and I have in common.


He clipped a story about John Lawes, a local man who found unwanted fame for weight gain caused by a uncontrollable medical condition. Lawes’ is a deeply sympathetic story (which I also tell in Curiosities of Elmira) and it is unclear if Little knew Lawes personally or was just following his story.


Little also saved stories that had to do with the happenings of some of the local clubs and organizations with which he was involved, giving us a better sense of how he was a member of the community outside of his official duties.


I appreciate all of these things, but tucked away on a page toward the back of the scrapbook is the clipping I gravitate towards most:


This article and etching show the famous Railroad Jack, a train-riding mutt from Albany, NY, who is the subject of my next book (check out www.findingrailroadjack.com for more information!)
From my research, I knew Jack was a frequent guest of Elmira and was popular here, but to see him actually show up in a scrapbook (of the Chief of Police, no less!) gives me a better understanding of just how much local people liked the dog. This has become an important piece of evidence in my book project to prove the reaches of Jack’s celebrity.
Levi Little died unexpectedly on March 8, 1901 from complications from surgery for appendicitis. He had never married, a fact that earned him some gentle ribbing in an 1888 Elmira Telegram article about local eligible bachelors. What was Levi Little actually like as a person? Like all people, he was certainly a complicated figure, but I can’t help but to like the glimpses of the “real” him see in his scrapbook.
Kelli Huggins is the Education Coordinator at the Chemung County Historical Society. To see more of their blog, go to http://chemungcountyhistoricalsociety.blogspot.com

by Erin Doane 

Burlesque shows were a popular form of entertainment during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Today, people may think of burlesque as a glorified striptease but the shows were different in the early days. Drawing from vaudeville theater, American burlesque shows included a variety of short skits and performances, comedians, and music, as well as, attractive young women. Many of the burlesques playing in Elmira theaters from the 1890s through the 1920s were even meant for the whole family.


A burlesque was originally a literary work or theatrical performance that would satirize or lampoon another more serious work for comic effect. Shakespearian and classical dramas were commonly parodied. Burlesque shows became popular in Victorian England beginning in the 1840s and quickly spread to the United States. The shows included short theatrical scenes that could be absurd and crudely humorous, comic skits, and dancing girls. By the end of the 1800s, the English were losing interest in burlesque but Americans were still fans. Nudity, sexually suggestive dialogue, exotic dancing, and quick-witted humor were becoming distinct features of American burlesque shows by the 1890s. Many shows became more risqué through the early 20th century until burlesque became almost synonymous with striptease by the 1930s.


While these racier, cruder burlesque shows likely played in Elmira theaters, the shows advertised in the local newspapers tread a fine line between naughty and family-friendly. In 1899, Sam T. Jack’s Own Burlesque Co. played at the Globe Theatre in Elmira. Ads for the show promised “mostly girls” and “truly a great show Tobascoed with spicy decency.”  The three day run of the show broke house records. A review in the Star-Gazette praised the ladies of the show as being “young, vigorous and in goodly numbers” and wrote “of the men’s chorus – but who wishes to know much, if anything, about the men’s chorus? – it’s there, so let it go at that.” Despite the blatant focus on the “shapely maidens,” the reviewer pointed out that it was the type of show that elevated the standard of burlesque from the cheaper class of vaudeville houses to theaters that the more refined class of show goers would attend.


By the 1910s, burlesque shows seemed to have fallen out of favor in Elmira. In 1914, the manager of the Lyceum Theater announced that the Reis Circuit Company of New York City had been contracted to perform high-class burlesque shows at the playhouse in August. The shows were to be produced by talented musical comedy companies catering to both ladies and children with clean, up-to-date, attractive performances. Tickets to daily matinee performances cost just 25 cents (roughly $6 today) while evening show tickets ranged from 25 cents to 75 cents (about $18). Unfortunately, people were just not interested in the shows. The theater had barely covered its expenses because of the exceedingly small attendance. By October of that year, it was announced that there would be no more burlesque at the Lyceum. 

I found no report on the actual quality of the shows at the Lyceum but other poorly reviewed shows may have turned the public off to further attendance and made them the stuff of open ridicule. In 1913, the Elmira Telegram ran a scathing review of the “Merry Burlesquers” show at the Colonial Theater. The entertainingly acerbic article criticized the age of the chorus girls, lamenting that it was a difficult to see the elderly matrons so scantily clad at their time of life, and called the show’s leading woman the “largest in captivity.” In closing, the reviewer wrote, “a number of our married men were present at both performances without their wives. However, there were no wrecked homes in Elmira because of the ‘Merry Burlesquers’ and all wives should be pleased to have the troupe play here again.”


The Lyceum brought burlesque back to its stage in 1916 to fairly good reviews but the shows were discontinued again in 1921 because they once more proved to be unprofitable. In 1923, the Lyceum joined the Columbia wheel, one of the major burlesque circuits in the northeast. The Columbia Amusement Company organized refined burlesque shows that were not smutty or crude but still featured pretty girls. The Lyceum hosted a regular weekly series of Columbia Burlesques through 1925.


Burlesque shows in Elmira received mixed reviews through the early 1920s. Mediocre shows were said to still have good attendance but critics were lukewarm, at best, in their appraisals. “Big Jamboree” was considered “okay but could be better” and “Hippity Hop” was declared not “the worst burlesque that has visited Elmira.” At some shows, children in the gallery would throw pennies at the actors on stage or cause other disruptions for their own amusement. By the late 1920s, Elmira theaters hosted few, if any, burlesque shows. Audiences found entertainment in other forms such as plays, musical theater, and movies. In January 1930, Elmirans could go to the Colonial Theater to watch “The Broadway Hoofer,” a movie about the romance of life behind the curtain of a traveling burlesque show. 

Erin Doane is the Curator at the Chemung County Historical Society. To see more of their blog, go to http://chemungcountyhistoricalsociety.blogspot.com


by Kelli Huggins 


Our 2016 Woodlawn Cemetery Ghost Walk ended in a little-known part of the cemetery: the free ground or Potter’s Field. Many of those in the free ground were destitute and their families could not afford a private plot. Others outlived all of their family, leaving no one to make arrangements. Some were simply unidentified. For Ghost Walk, I researched some of the people buried there using the clues I could find with the help of the staff at Woodlawn Cemetery. This was understandably hard to do. Still, I found some information and with beautiful staging and performances by the Elmira Little Theatre, the stories of some of the inhabitants of the free ground were brought to light (you can read the script from that night here). But there was one story I found that we didn’t tell that night. I’ll share it with you now.

Hiram Day was born in his family home along the Newtown Creek in the late 1830s. At age 10, he ran away from home to work in a hotel in Syracuse. He was not long for the hotel business, because soon after arriving, he found work with a circus. Young Hiram traveled around the country and South America with the troupe.


He next joined Dan Rice’s famous show, where he was highly regarded for his impersonation, equestrian, and acrobatic skills. He skipped around from company to company, later even performing on a Mississippi River boat. He worked in the circus for 40 years. 


That, however, was the high point of Hiram Day’s life, because as one newspaper put it, “Hi Day had made and spent a fortune.” After moving back to Elmira at the end of his career, he was left with little money and even less family. Although he was twice married and said he had a son down south, his wives were dead by then and his son seemed not to care. Hiram repeatedly said his son would come help him out. That never happened. 

By 1895, “Hi” was far from his former glory and resorted to eking “out an existence as a ‘human sandwich’ for the ‘Budget.’ That is he wears a board over his breast and back, advertising the special features the next issue of the paper will contain.” Rheumatism had left him crippled, with his feet particularly affected. 

Hi Day died on July 16, 1897 at home of his brother Stephen Day at 608 Magee Street. He had been sick with pneumonia for 4 days before he expired. The Elmira Gazette published a sympathetic obituary that discussed his glory days in the circus, but ended with:

“In striking contrast to this picture of a dashing, strikingly-costumed young man with plenty of money in his pockets, is the familiar sight of the poorly-clad, bent old man hobbling along Water Street, asking for alms.”

Hiram Day was buried in the free ground at Woodlawn. His grave is unmarked. 



Kelli Huggins is the Education Coordinator at the Chemung County Historical Society. To see more of their blog, go to http://chemungcountyhistoricalsociety.blogspot.com


by Erin Doane

The Battle of Antietam took place on September 17, 1862. It is considered the bloodiest one-day battle of the Civil War with approximately 3,650 men killed and over 17,000 wounded. Around 9,550 of those wounded were Union soldiers. Those who were too badly wounded to make the trip to Frederick, Maryland were treated at two nearby Union field hospitals. Dr. Truman H. Squire of Elmira was in charge of one of those hospitals at John Greeting’s Farm near Keedysville, Maryland. The hospital was known as Crystal Springs or the Locust Spring hospital, and, with 24 tents, was the largest hospital on the Union left.

At the beginning of the Civil War, the Union army only had 98 medical officers. At first, the military did not think an official medical corps was needed because the war was not going to last very long. As the conflict dragged on, however, more medical personnel were recruited. Most men who became doctors in the mid-19th century did not attend medical schools. Rather, they would apprentice with established doctors. Those who did go to medical school were trained for two years or less and received practically no clinical experience. In general, little was known about keeping sanitary condition or the use of antiseptics to prevent infection at the time. “Surgical fevers” were a common cause of death for those wounded in battle. Only 1 in 7 wounded soldiers survived.


Conditions within the hospitals that treated the Union soldiers wounded at Antietam were notoriously bad. They were so bad, in fact, that the government performed inspections of the facilities that November because of all the complaints. While other hospitals won no praise during those inspections, the Locust Spring hospital was declared a model operation by Assistant Medical Inspector W.R. Mosely. Dr. Squire’s work at the hospital was specifically lauded by Jonathan Letterman, surgeon and medical director of the Army of the Potomac. He wrote in a letter to the Assistant Adjutant General of the Army of the Potomac that “great care and attention were shown to the wounded at the Locust Spring hospital by Surgeon Squire, Eighty-ninth New York Volunteers.”


Dr. Squire got his medical training at the Albany Medical College and the College of Physicians and Surgeons in New York City. He graduated from the latter in 1848 and moved to Elmira the next year. There he set up his private practice and married Grace Smith. The couple had three children and Squire spent the entirety of the rest of his life in Elmira except for the years he served during the Civil War.


The 89th New York Volunteer Infantry was organized in Elmira starting on August 29, 1861. On December 7, the regiment mustered in under Col. Harrison S. Fairchild with 870 officers and men for a three-year enlistment. Squire had been commissioned as surgeon for the regiment on November 28. During the course of the war he became a division field surgeon and then the Director of Field Surgery under General Burnside with the Army of the Potomac.



Squire was also commander of several field hospitals including Locust Spring in Maryland and later on Folly Island in South Carolina. The island served as a major staging area for Union troops that were attacking Confederate forces around Charleston. The field hospital there helped in part to distribute medicines and medical equipment to other regiments. Joseph K. Barnes, Surgeon General of the United States Army, praised Squire for having “gained a high reputation for zeal, intelligence and fidelity,” during the war. “His service was in the field, and he was considered one of the most efficient and useful surgeons of the Army of the Potomac.”


After the war, Squire returned to private practice in Elmira. He served as manage and a consulting physician at the Arnot-Ogden Memorial Hospital and was active in local and national medical organization. He continued to work as a surgeon until his death at age 65 in 1889. During his 20 years in medicine, he became known as a talented surgeon, a world-famous inventor of medical appliances, and one of the foremost medical writers of his time. 

Erin Doane is the curator at the Chemung County Historical Society. To see more of their blog, go to http://chemungcountyhistoricalsociety.blogspot.com


by Erin Doane 

In 1876, the Town of Veteran had a population of around 2,300 and it had 15 schools. 15!? To modern eyes, that may seem like a lot, but the majority were small, one-room schoolhouses. This was typical of most rural towns in the 19thand early 20th centuries. Nearly all of the students would have to walk to school, so the schoolhouses needed to be close to where they lived. Of the 867 school-age children who lived in Veteran in 1876, 717 were enrolled pupils. There were 12 male teachers and 21 female teachers and a library of 445 volumes shared across the schools.


The Town of Veteran Historians have a wonderful collection of photographs and materials related to these early schools. While researching the Towns and Villages of Chemung County: Veteran exhibit, which is on display here at CCHS through July 2018, I got to look through their school files. All the images in this post are from the Veteran Historians’ collection.


The first schoolhouse in the town of Veteran was built in the early 1800s just east of the village of Millport. Simeon Squires served as the first school teacher. By the middle of the century, more schoolhouses had been built in Sullivanville, Pine Valley, and more remote areas of the town.


Millport’s famous octagon school was built in 1869. The two-story building had two rooms, one upstairs and one downstairs, where students in grades 1 through 8 were taught. This was one of the only schools that had more than one teacher. In 1888, the two teachers were a husband and wife team who made a combined salary of $750 a year.


The interiors of the one-room schoolhouses were fairly similar. Typically, there were wooden student desks facing a teacher’s desk and a blackboard in the front of the room. The early schools had no electricity and water had to be brought in from either a well with a pitcher pump outside or from a neighboring home. A wood or coal stove would provide heat for the building in the winter. Since nearly every student walked to school, some were able to go home for lunch. Those who stayed would bring their own lunches or, at some schools, the teacher or parents would provide hot soup for all the students. Outhouses, one for boys and one for girls, were nearby. Some schools had a swing outside or a teeter-totter that students could enjoy at recess.


Most of the schools had students from grades 1 through 8 all in the same room. The teacher would work with one grade at a time but everyone could hear the lessons. Because of that, younger students often learned what their older counterparts were being taught. It was not unusual for students in these one-room schoolhouses to pass tests to skip into higher grades. After 8th grade, students would go to high school in Horseheads.


One of the neatest things that I found in the Historians’ files were photocopies of yearbooks from Veteran School No. 10 from 1935 and 1936. The homemade yearbooks included class photos, drawings likely made by students, and even a class will. I wonder how many schools produced their own yearbooks like that.


Veteran’s rural schools were consolidated with the Horseheads Central School District in 1950 and the days of the one-room schoolhouse came to an end. Several of the schoolhouses were torn down but may more remain as private residences. For more photos and information about Veteran schools visit http://www.townofveteranhistoricalsociety.com/id14.html. To see more photos of students and read stories from those who went to some of the one-room schoolhouses in Veteran visit http://www.townofveteranhistoricalsociety.com/id24.html



Erin Doane is the curator at the Chemung County Historical Society. This article was originally posted HERE 2/18/18


by Kelli Huggins


In the summer of 1930, a local scandal erupted when people discovered that there was a Communist summer camp for children operating in the town of Van Etten.  The fervor of the Red Scare had died down since its peak in the early 1920s, but many Americans still feared the threat of Communism. The Van Etten Workers' International Relief Camp housed 100 children ages 7-17 who hailed from New York and surrounding states. The camp was the target of local animosity from the time it opened on July 6. Leaders reported shots fired at camp from a car and the Ku Klux Klan burned a cross nearby. There were rumors that the children were neglected and that the camp used a hen house for a kitchen, but these were all untrue. However, these incidents were just a prelude for the life-threatening drama that would erupt in mid-August.

On Tuesday August 12, 1930, Mabel Husa and Ailene Holmes, the directors of the camp, were charged with desecrating the American flag. The women, both in their early 20s, were charged based on accusations by local American Legion members stemming from an incident at the camp on August 8. 

The exact events of August 8 are difficult to ascertain because both sides told different stories. That day, members of the Legion and the Patriotic Order of America arrived at the camp uninvited and tried to present the camp leaders with an American flag and asked that they run it up the pole. Husa and Holmes refused the offer and told the group to leave. Undeterred, the Legion members raised the flag across the street from the camp. Then, a boy from the camp allegedly ran out with the camp flag (which was similar to the Soviet flag) and ran it up a nearby telephone pole so that it was higher than the American flag. After that, the stories diverge. According to the Legion members, Husa allegedly led the children to the flag to boo at it. Mrs. Victoria Koons said the children stuck their tongues out at the flag, expressing her disgust with the following weirdly descriptive statement: "I saw more yards of tongue than I ever saw before." The children were also said to chant anti-American and anti-flag slogans.

Holmes and Husa refuted the Legion's claims. Holmes said she respected the American flag and considered it her flag, but she did think it "represented the rule of the boss class over the workers' class." She also claimed that the children's "boos" were directed at their visitors, not the flag, and that they were chanting "Down with the American Legion" and "Down with the Ku Klux Klan." 

The situation turned dangerous a couple days later when the women's trial was delayed briefly in order for them to secure council. On Thursday, August 14, 1930, a mob of 500 men surrounded the camp with the intention to burn it to the ground. 25 of those men went into the camp to tell them to remove the children but they were told the children would stay. In less than an hour, the crowd outside had grown to 2,000 people. A local chapter of the Ku Klux Klan was meeting nearby on school grounds and headed to lend their support to the mob. Simultaneously, a meeting of Finnish immigrants and descendants was also meeting and they joined in to support the camp leaders (there was a large influx of Finnish immigrants to the region beginning in the early 20th century). Police were able to first split up the supporters and detractors, and eventually, dispersed the entire group by 1:30 am, thereby averting any violence.


The camp closed Saturday and children were sent home. When the trial resumed, 150 people packed the small Van Etten Town Hall. On August 18, the women were found guilty and sentenced to three months in the Monroe County Penitentiary in Rochester and received $50 fines.  Husa and Holmes remained defiant. Talking to reporters, Husa decried the "un-American attitude of the men who call themselves Americans and who in numbers would seek to attack three defenseless women and 70 helpless children to gratify their supposed sense of patriotism...Surely it must require great bravery for our visitors to throw stones with women as their apparent targets...The Reds, whom that crowd seems intent upon destroying, cannot do much worse by way of showing disrespect for law, liberty and the rights of human beings regardless of their religious or political beliefs." 

Public sentiment on the case was divided. Many in the press were sympathetic to the women, especially in light on the incident with the mob. One report of their arrival in Rochester is as follows: "Two pleasant young ladies, barely past the high school ages, with blonde bobbed hair and the healthy tan of a summer in the open on their cheeks, arrived in town...They didn't have any horns on their heads nor any bombs secreted on their persons..." 

An August 30 editorial in the Ogdensburg Republican-Journal was more scathing: "The whole episode savors of that superheated 'patriotism' that caused so much trouble in this country during and directly after the late war. So far as reported, the camp was being conducted peacefully until the appearance of the mob...What right had the men to interfere in the business of the camp? By what exceptional virtues were they qualified to dictate patriotism to the camp? The action of the mob was much like the Ku Klux Klan...The mob's 'patriotism' was the poorest sort. The country would be much better off without it. Assuredly no medals for bravery need be awarded for mobbing two women and a group of children.


On August 27, the women were released from the prison on $500 bonds after being granted appeal. They lost the appeal on November 19, 1930. Even though we historically associate these types of incidents with the first Red Scare of the immediate post-World War I years and the second McCarthyism Red Scare of the 1940s and 1950s, the story of the Van Etten camp in 1930 serves as a reminder that fears about the rise of Communism did not disappear in the years between.


Kelli Huggins is the Education Coordinator at the Chemung County Historical Society. To see this and more of their blog, click HERE  


Knapp School Of Music

by Erin Doane

For more than 110 years, Knapp School of Music has operated on College Avenue in Elmira. In all that time, the business has only had five different owners: Frederick H. Knapp and his wife Anna, Harl J. Robacher, Donald Hartman, and Robert Melnyk.



Frederick H. Knapp


Frederick Knapp came to Elmira as a young man and began offering music lessons first at a studio on West Second Street near School #2 and then at a studio on North Main Street. The first instrument he had learned was the banjo, but he played and taught all types of stringed instruments – violin, mandolin, cello, and guitar. Various sources claim that Knapp founded his music school in 1901 but the earliest listing I found in the city directories for Knapp is as a musician in 1902. In the 1903 directory, he is listed as a music teacher at 117 Main Street. In 1905, he is listed as teaching at 110 College Ave. The earliest newspaper advertisements for Knapp School of Music appear in the Elmira Star-Gazette in 1911. By that time, the school had an established orchestra which all students could join in addition to taking individual lessons.


In 1915, the school moved to 112 College Avenue and was touted as a new type of music school set up for the benefit of those who could not normally afford music lessons. If boys or girls were interested in music instruction, showed talent, and it was shown that they could not afford the price of regular teachers, Knapp would enroll them in his school. He asked for just enough tuition to cover the expenses of keeping the doors of the school open. By September, there were 20 pupils enrolled.  Knapp taught violin, mandolin, guitar, and banjo. Two more instructors, Edward Unwin and Blanche Crandall, also taught violin and Florence Shaw taught piano.

On May 20, 1919, Knapp hosted A.A. Farland, the world’s greatest banjoist. Farland played a recital at the Park Church with Knapp’s 35-member mandolin orchestra serving as an opening act.  In the 1920s and the early 1930s, Knapp and students of the school played at events throughout the region. The school’s full orchestra played at the Knights of Columbus ball in 1920, its banjo sextet played at the Sons of Italy in 1927, and its 12-piece banjo band played an evening concerts at En-Joie Health Park in Endicott in 1930. At the park concert, the musicians dressed in Hawaiian costumes and were joined by ten tap dancers. There were also annual recitals by the students at the Hedding Church Annex.

At 10:30am on December 20, 1934, Frederick Knapp died unexpectedly of a massive heart attack at his home at 104 College Avenue. He was 56 years old. He had spent 35 years teaching music and was noted as one of the first local musicians to realize that “jazz” would become widely popular.


Anna A. Knapp



Just months before Frederick Knapp died, he had moved his studio from its longtime location at 112 College Avenue to 104 College Avenue where he had remodeled a house and equipped it with a series of modern studios. His wife, Anna, continued to run the school at that location. The annual recitals also continued with nearly 500 people attending the performance in 1935. In 1938, local newspapers started running advertisements for instruments for sale at the school. By 1943, Knapp’s was selling radios and phonographs as well as banjos, violins, saxophones, xylophones, and accordions.

Harl J. Robacher 


Harl Robacher became proprietor and director of Knapp School of Music in 1944. He also operated the American Musical Institute in Syracuse and worked as a basketball promoter. He is credited as playing a key role in bringing professional basketball back to Elmira in 1946. He created the Knapp School of Music basketball team, made up of established sports stars, as a member of the semi-pro Pioneer League. During his time as director of the music school, students continued playing at banquets, balls, and recitals. Robacher ran the school until June 21, 1953 when, at 12:25pm, he died unexpectedly of a massive heart attack at his home at 104 College Avenue. He was 50 years old.

Donald Hartman 


Don Hartman remembered his father driving him to Knapp’s for banjo lessons when he was a child. When Frederick Knapp died in 1934, Hartman was hired as an instructor at the school. Eighteen years later he became manager and after Robacher’s passing, became owner of Knapp School of Music. Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, the school expanded with as many as 40 affiliated studios within a 75-mile radius of Elmira including in Owego, Corning, Ithaca, Bath, Canandaigua, and Hornell, as well as, Tunkhannock, Montrose, Williamsport, and Dushore, Pennsylvania. The school also had a weekly radio program on Saturdays on WENY. 

By 1963, the “Eight Week Trail Plan” had been established at the school. The plan harkened back to Frederick Knapp’s early idea of giving all students a chance to learn music without having to make a large financial investment to start. Students paid for eight weeks of lessons and were given an instrument to use for free as a way to determine if they were really interested in serious instruction. After the trial period, they could purchase the instrument and continue with lessons.

Robert Melnyk


Bob Melnyk, a student and instructor at the Knapp School since 1955, took over the business from Don Hartman in 1965 and still runs it today.


Erin Doane is the curator at the Chemung County Historical Society. To see more of their blog, including the newest post, take a look HERE


The Spanish Flu

by Rachel Dworkin

Apparently, this year’s strain of flu is spreading faster than usual. Luckily for me, I’ve always made a point of getting a vaccine since I found out my maternal grandfather’s parents died of Spanish Flu in 1918. They were in good company. Nationwide, over a quarter of the population was infected while approximately 600,000 died. For comparison, the yearly average is somewhere around 20,000. There are no definite numbers due to poor recordkeeping, but somewhere between 20 and 100 million people died of Spanish Flu worldwide making it the second deadliest epidemic after the Black Death.

The Spanish Flu hit Chemung County in October of 1918 and it hit hard.  It started small, oddly enough, with an outbreak of what the City Health Department insisted was polio, despite the fact it didn’t fit the contingent model for the disease. By the start of October, Spanish Flu was killing 200 people a day in Boston, and Elmira officials were desperate to avoid a panic. On October 5th, the paper reported that ten Elmira College students were under quarantine for the flu, but City Health Officer, Dr. Dr. Reeve Howland, continued to insist there was no epidemic in the city. Five days later, there were over 100 people sick with the flu in Horseheads and the town had decided to shut down schools and churches in an ultimately fruitless attempt to contain the spread. The City of Elmira finally conceded to reality and followed suit on October 15th, shutting down schools, churches, theaters, and all public gatherings. 


It was too little, too late. Between the start of October 1918 and the new year, there were 3,549 reported cases of the flu in Elmira. That is to say that somewhere between 10 and 15 percent of the city caught it. Approximately 150 Elmirans died of Spanish flu during the 1918-19 flu season. Over 100 of them died in October alone. The Elmira Herald reported that there were between six and ten deaths per day at the height of the epidemic. 

The city struggled to cope with the sheer number of sick people. Arnot-Ogden and St. Joseph’s both ran out of beds and the Elmira Board of Health created a make-shift overflow hospital at the Hotel Gotham on State Street. Families struggled to survive as parents fell sick. The entire Wilcox family of Pearl Place was stricken except for the eight-year-old daughter who eventually had to call the police to help take her parents to the hospital. The Red Cross established a kitchen at the Federation Building to feed children whose parents were too ill to cook. At the height of the epidemic, they feeding some thirty families. 


By the time the war ended on November 11, 1918, the worst of the epidemic was over. Schools, churches, and theaters were re-opened on November 3rd. People were still falling ill (there were 12 new cases on November 12th) but that was way down from 60 new cases a day in October. The emergency hospital at Gotham Hotel was closed on November 15th and, just like that, the city was back to normal. Except, of course, for all the dead people.


Rachel Dworkin is the archivist at the Chemung County Historical Society. This originally appeared HERE in January 


by Erin Doane 

In May 1943, Edwin Morris gave the welcome address at the annual Memorial Sunday service of Baldwin Post 6 G.A.R. (Grand Army of the Republic) at the Centenary Methodist Church in Elmira. His wife Jane urged him to stay home instead of participating in the event. The 96-year-old Morris has suffered a heart attack a year earlier and had never fully recovered. In response to her concern he said, “It’s my duty to my dead comrades to take part in the service. If it causes my death, I will die in the line of duty.” Edwin Morris passed away less than 36 hours later on May 24, 1943 at his home at 356 Walnut Street in Elmira.


Edwin Morris was born on January 2, 1847 in Athens Township, Pennsylvania. In November 1863, he enlisted in the Union Army. He was 16 years old at the time and signed up despite his father’s objects. He joined Co. D of the 179thNew York Volunteer Infantry. He fought at Petersburg and in all the Army of the Potomac engagements including the Wilderness Campaign, Fredericksburg, Cold Harbor, and Richmond. He was at Appomattox Courthouse when General Robert E. Lee surrendered to General Ulysses S. Grant. He was reportedly just 20 feet away from the pair when Lee passed his saber to Grant.

After the war, Morris returned to Athens where he worked on his father’s farm for 20 years. He worked in the lumber business in Pine Creek, Pennsylvania for many years after that. In 1902, at the age of 55, he married Jane Currier of Waverly, New York. The two had met in 1901 at a G.A.R. encampment in East Towanda, Pennsylvania where she was caring for wounded soldiers. They moved to Elmira sometime in the early 1900s. Morris was one of the founding members of the Chemung County Historical Society in 1923.


Morris was an active member of the G.A.R. There were several G.A.R. posts in the county including Baldwin Post 6 which was organized on June 11, 1868 and named after local Civil War veteran Col. Lathrop Baldwin. Other posts were named after L. Edgar Fitch, Col. H.C. Hoffman, and Gen. A.S. Diven. Around the turn of the century, the Baldwin post had about 200 members. Morris served as commander of A.S. Diven Post 623 in the late 1920s. That post, as well as the others in the county dissolved after a time until Baldwin was the only one remaining. Morris became commander of the Baldwin Post in 1938. Upon his death in 1943, the post dissolved. Its charter and other materials from the organization are now in CCHS’s collection.


Morris was not only involved with the G.A.R. locally. He also held statewide offices in the organization. In 1938 and 1939 he served as Junior Vice Department Commander of the New York State Department G.A.R. and in 1940 he was elected Senior Vice Department Commander. Finally, in June 1941, he was elected Commander at the annual encampment at Lake Placid. He had been asked for several years to be the commander of the state organization but had always declined because he wanted others older than he to have the honor of the position before they passed away. He was 94 when he accepted. At the next year’s encampment in Utica, he was one of the first of nearly 1,000 guests to arrive, despite having suffered a heart attack just two months early on Appomattox Day. At that encampment, he was appointed Department Patriotic Instructor.

Morris also participated in Elmira’s annual Memorial Day commemorations as early as the 1920s. He and the other few remaining Civil War veterans were honored during the events throughout the 1930s.  In 1938, he served as honorary marshal of the parade. At that time, only four veterans remained: Morris, Bowman Jack, Edgar Houghton, and Thomas A. Dawes. When Jack passed away in 1940, Morris was left as the last surviving veteran of the Civil War in Chemung County.


The last time Morris participated in Memorial Day activities was in 1942. His health was failing but organizers wanted to include him in the commemorations. Col. James Riffe, a World War I veteran, suggested that the parade route be changed that year so it would pass Morris’s Walnut Street residence. While the Chemung County Veterans’ Council agreed to the reroute, plans were abandoned when Morris’s health improved enough for him to ride in the parade.


On June 17, 1943, an article reporting the passing of Edwin Morris appeared in the National Tribune: Washington, D.C.The final paragraph of the article illustrated Morris’s devotion to his country and fellow soldiers:

In December, 1941, when volunteers were being registered [for service in World War II], a card bearing his name was found among a stack of enrollments; it said, “Will gladly cooperate in advisory capacity or shoulder a gun if necessary.”

Erin Doane is the curator at the Chemung County Historical Society. This blog originally appeared HERE


by Erin Doane 

Many who grew up in this area remember Fawn sodas. Fawn Beverages operated as a company in Elmira Heights for forty years, producing a wide variety of fizzy soft drinks in bottles with the distinctive little deer on the front.



In 1934, John Woyak filed a business certificate to operate Fawn Beverages at 184 Sheridan Avenue in Elmira Heights. He was just 30 years old at the time but he already had experience running a bottling works. He had been working as proprietor of the Orange Crush Bottling Works on 11th Street since 1929. Woyak ran Fawn Beverages for forty years. In 1947, he expanded the plant on Sheridan Avenue and in the late 1950s, his son Donald came on as a partner in the enterprise. The last listing for the company in the city directories appeared in the 1973-74 edition. Woyak moved to Florida in 1981 and lived out the rest of his years there.


While running his beverage company, Woyak was also an active member of the community. He was a member of the Elmira Heights Rotary Club and served for several years on the soft drinks committee for the club’s annual children’s Halloween party. In 1944, when El-Hi-Inn, a new organization for young people ages 13-19 in the Heights, was throwing a party, he donated a beverage cooler and 20 cases of soda for the event. He was also a generous supporter of the Chemung County Community Chest and in 1943, he served on the Elmira Heights village board. 



Fawn produced a wide selection of sodas. In the late 1930s, eight flavors were available – ginger ale, lime and lithia, club soda, birch beer, root beer, strawberry, cherry, and orange. By the 1950s, Fawn was available in 12 different flavors. Orange was particularly popular and was advertised as a “special flavor thrill.” It was made from real California oranges and oil imported from Messina in sunny Italy. All the varieties were made in Elmira’s largest bottling plant with scientifically treated and purified water that brought out the delicious fruit flavors, locked in carbonation, and added zest to the beverages, according to ad copy from the 1950s.


In the late 1940s and early 1950s, Fawn Beverages seems to have made a major newspaper adverting push. Half a dozen new print advertisements appeared in 1949 alone. The carry home carton that held six 12-ounce bottles was a major selling point. Fawn advertised on the radio as well. In 1950, the company sponsored the radio show Boston Blackie starring Richard Kollmar on WENY. The radio series, produced between 1945 and 1950, followed the adventures of Boston Blackie, a jewel thief and safecracker turned detective. From the 1930s through the 1960s, the company also sponsored a bowling team.


Erin Doane is the curator at the Chemung County Historical Society. This was originally published HERE Sept. 11, 2017


The Anchorage

by Rachel Dworkin

On May 4, 1890, Lillian became the first ward of the Anchorage. At age 18, she had been arrested for licentious behavior and spent a little under a year confined there. Between its opening in 1890 and its closure in 1920, the Anchorage, also known as the Helen L. Bullock Industrial Training School for Girls, housed hundreds of girls and young women in need of help.


The Anchorage grew out of the work of Elmira Police Matron Esther Wilkins who argued for the need for a place to house the unfortunate young women who often wound up in her custody after being arrested for drunkenness, prostitution, petty theft, or other crimes. In 1888, a group of church women formed the Women’s Council for the Uplifting of Women to raise funds for the establishing of a reform school for troubled women and girls. Their vision was realized in the Anchorage, which was opened in the spring of 1890 with Mrs. Helen L. Bullock as director. Bullock was a temperance reformer and the founder of the local branch of the Women’s Christian Temperance Movement. She had a reputation for leadership and unimpeachable moral character which would make her an example to the girls in her care.


Girls between the ages of 11 and 25 were brought from over the Twin Tiers. Some of their stories are downright tragic. Many came from broken homes where parents were dead, drunken, or abusive. Over 20 of them had been raped, 10 by family members. Often times the resulting children were adopted or sent to the Southern Tier Orphan’s Home while the mothers moved on with their lives.

According to a 1900 fundraising brochure, the Anchorage had a 90% success rate when it came to rehabilitating these troubled girls. They offered the stable home which many of the girls had been denied, including positive female role models, private bedrooms, and three square meals a day. Girls were instructed in English, botany, music, French, Latin, gardening, and a variety of housework including, cooking, cleaning, laundry, and poultry raising. Most former inmates went on to marry or work as domestic servants, but not everyone was happy to be there. Over a dozen girls ran away, sometimes rather dramatically. In 1907, Agnes jumped out of an upper floor window and broke her leg trying to escape. That same year, Grace more sensibly made a rope out of her bed linens to climb her way to freedom. 



Rachel Dworkin in the archivist at the Chemung County Historical Society. This was originally published here in November 2017.


by Erin Doane

For over two hundred years, the clock that now lives on the first floor of the museum near the admissions desk has ticked away the seconds of history. George Lauman acquired the clock sometime in the late 1700s and it was passed through five generations of the family before finally ending up in the museum in 2016.



The clock’s dial is marked Osborne, Birmingham. The English foundry firm made dials from 1772 through 1813. At that time, it was common for dials and clockworks made in England to be shipped to the United States. While Osborne made the dial, the company did not make the wooden case. It was impractical and expensive to ship full clocks overseas so American cabinetmakers would construct the clock cases around the imported works. 

The clock’s first owners, George and Esther Maria Lauman, lived in Middletown, Pennsylvania. Both had German ancestry and were members of the Lutheran Church. George served in the Revolutionary War and then made his living as a stone mason. He died at the age of 65 in 1809 when a horse kicked him in the stomach. Esther lived until 1831. Upon her death, the family clock was passed down to Jacob, the oldest of their nine children.


Headstones of George and Ester Lauman in the Middletown, Pennsylvania. (from The Lowmans in Chemung County, 1938)

In 1788, at the age of 19, Jacob started a business transporting goods on the Susquehanna River to Tioga Point, Pennsylvania. He loaded a boat with 20 tons of goods including tobacco, liquor, dry goods, clothes, guns, ammunition, and tools and traded those goods for grain, flax, hemp, and animal pelts. The enterprise was very successful and he expanded it to the Chemung River. In 1792, he purchased land in Chemung, New York and started a lumber business. At that time, Jacob changed the spelling of his last name to Lowman. Over time, he acquired hundreds of acres of land, including a parcel at the mouth of Baldwin Creek near where the hamlet of Lowman is now located. The hamlet is named after Jacob Lowman. 


Home of Jacob Lowman, Sr. built in 1819 (from The Lowmans in Chemung County, 1938)

Upon Jacob’s death in 1840, the clock passed into the possession of his youngest child, Jacob, Jr. His son also inherited the family homestead and other property. Eventually, Jacob, Jr. became the largest land owner in Chemung County with more than four thousand acres of productive farmland. He was involved in the tobacco industry and established the first tobacco warehouse in Elmira in partnership with John Brand. He also operated a distillery in Lowman with his cousin George S. Lowman which produced Old Lowman Rye Whiskey.

Jacob, Jr. never married or had children so when he died in 1891, the family clock went to George S., his cousin and business partner. George S. and Jacob, Jr. operated their distillery in Lowman until high taxes during the Civil War forced them to close. In 1872, George S. purchased a homestead in Wellsburg and built a block of stores downtown. A large hall above the stores was known as “Lowman’s Hall.”

Benedictus Ellwyn, grandson of George S., became the next owner of the Loman clock. B. Ellwyn was born in the family home in Wellsburg and attended Wellsburg Union and High Schools as well as Elmira Academy and the University of Pennsylvania. He was involved with the Thatcher Manufacturing Company in Elmira.

B. Ellwyn had one daughter but when he died the clock went to his sister Georgia’s family. Georgia was married to Chester E. Howell, Jr. The last owner of the family clock was their son George Lowman Howell. George Howell was well-known in Elmira and the wider community as a businessman and philanthropist. He was devoted to community service and the preservation of history. Before he passed away on November 22, 2015, he arranged to have the Lowman Family clock donated to the Chemung County Historical Society.


Lowman clock on display at museum


Erin Doane is the curator at the Chemung County Historical Society. This article was originally published here July 2017


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