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Wednesday, August 13, 2014

The EFA/Ernie Davis Building
and Joel Dormand Steele’s Effect on Students

By Diane Janowski, Elmira City Historian
©2014 Photo by Denny Smith.

June 26, 2014 brought sadness to alumni of the school building on the triangle of land wedged between Lake, East Clinton, and William Streets. It was the very last day of school at Ernie Davis Middle School, founded as the Elmira Free Academy.

Early in the 19th Century in Elmira (then called Newtown), the first school was private.
There was no thought yet of a “free” education for Elmira’s scholars. Over the next thirty years came several private institutions.

In 1836, few students attended the Baldwin Street Academy, situated in the First Presbyterian Church on East Church Street Church. The New York Board of Regents accredited the academy in 1840. The academic course of study was four years, a suitable preparation for business or college entrance. New York State legislation required this private academy to become a free educational institution. In May 1859, the Elmira Free Academy (EFA), reformed under the jurisdiction of a Board of Education.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

American Girl, Elmira's Beloved Horse

American Girl as depicted by Currier & Ives.
By Diane Janowski, Elmira City Historian

$20,000 was riding on American Girl, the most famous racing trotter in the country, on October 2, 1875 right here in Elmira.

The Elmira Driving Park Association formed in 1874 to support and promote the sport of horse racing. Their half-mile track was on a 30-acre lot along Grand Central Avenue. The inaugural week of racing on the track was September 28 – October 1, 1875 with a “Free-for-All” race on October 2.

Dr. Eldridge & Elmira’s Rolling Mills

By Diane Janowski
The Rolling Mills in Elmira along the Chemung Canal,
circa 1860.  

Elmira City Historian

There is a big building on the Clemens Center Parkway that we pass every day and don’t think about. This building is all that remains of the Elmira Iron and Steel Mills, or, as it was known, the Rolling Mills.

Dr. Edwin Eldridge, of Eldridge Park fame, was born in Ulster County in 1815. He graduated New York Medical University and settled in Binghamton. While practicing medicine he built a villa and gardens and invited all of Binghamton to enjoy picnics and fireworks on his grounds. The New York & Erie Railroad took his property through eminent domain for their plans to extend the rail line across the Southern Tier in the late 1840s.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

History through Diaries

Elmira's East Water Street around 1910
By Diane Janowski, Elmira City Historian

Reading a personal diary can be exciting. We learn amazing things about the author, their friends and family, and the place they lived through their private thoughts. Diaries are a rare opportunity for us to feel what it was like to live a long time ago. They are simple stories, told in short entries like Facebook and Twitter posts.

Friday, February 28, 2014

The Evolution of Elmira's City Hall

Original county courthouse log cabin, Sullivan Street
at East Church, School #1 in the background.
Image courtesy of the Barnes Library.

By Diane Janowski, Elmira City Historian
from the Elmira Star-Gazette 2/28/2014

In January 1793, Newtown (now known as Elmira) built a “justice building” as a seat of regional government as required by Tioga County (now Chemung County). They built a two-story log cabin on the corner of Sullivan and East Church Streets that housed a jail and a home for the sheriff on the first floor. A room for holding court or public worship was on the second floor. Behind the cabin was a small cemetery. This building served the county for nearly thirty years.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

John Hendy, An Early Settler of Elmira

By Diane Janowski, Elmira City Historian
Printed in the Star-Gazette 2/15/2014
The Hendy Cabin in today's West Elmira

Elmira is 150 years old in 2014. But, isn’t Elmira older than that?

Cartographer Guy Johnson drew the first map of our area in 1771, called “Country of the Six Nations.” Chemung County was still a blank space. General John Sullivan destroyed the Indian village of Kanaweola (near today’s Kennedy Valve) in 1779. Four years later in 1783, Matthias Hollenback opened the first local trading post near today’s Holiday Inn on East Water Street. A few settlers arrived after the 1786 Treaty of Fort Stanwix that, theoretically, made our region safe for white settlers. The Iroquois were to remain in western New York. The villages of Newtown, Wisnerburg, and Dewittsburg combined into “Village of Newtown” in 1790. The name changed from “Village of Newtown” to “Village of Elmira” in 1808. Finally, the “Village of Elmira” became the “City of Elmira” in 1864. Therefore, although we are celebrating Elmira’s Sesquicentennial, white people have lived here about 231 years.